Today marks the 10th anniversary of Kanye West's long-delayed debut, The College Dropout, which also marks the anniversary of West's wild and impossibly strange life in the public eye, more or less. So we turned to our staff for stories of the first time we heard Kanye, or heard of Kanye, or really anything of the sort that came to mind. Share your own reflection in the comments section. How time flies!
The College Droupout?
Someone gave me a CD (I assume) of MP3s from College Dropout. Except that the identifiers on the album were all wrong and said "College Droupout." So I just figured that was what the album was called, because on prehistoric iTunes you could barely see the cover art and it's not like I had a subscription to Spin, which at the time was still a magazine.
Then I kept playing "Jesus Walks" on a loop, because it has one of the best hooks in the history of hip hop, the end. —Philip Bump
The Year of 1,000 Bar Mitzvahs
I definitely remember when The College Dropout came out. Back then, seventh-graders like me didn't have debit cards, and so I would have to get my parents to drive me to a brick-and-mortar store to buy media. So for most of the spring of 2004, you couldn't enter a Borders (oh, also, Borders existed in 2004) without seeing a poster of a sad bear mascot and the words The College Dropout. This was a time when music store poster prominence was, I believe, directly proportional to record sales, so I would bet that a lot of my friends bought the album. I had no interest in it though because I wasn't really interested in hip hop, but also probably because I planned to go to college.
2004 was the Year of 1,000 Bar Mitzvahs for me, yet oddly enough, neither I nor any of the friends I polled remember hearing Kanye at any of them. "Get Low" was spun ad nauseam though, so Kanye's absence can't have anything to do with explicit lyrics—it might have been that the album's biggest single, "Jesus Walks," just doesn't work well at Jewish coming-of-age ceremonies.
By high school, I had eventually come around on Kanye (and rap, and popular music in general). I don't remember exactly when I listened to The College Dropout for the first time, but I do remember thinking it was weird to open the album with the voice of M̶r̶ ̶3̶0̶0̶0̶ Bernie Mac, and I thought it was funny that "We Don't Care" had little children singing about drugs (I own literally one thousand graphic tees featuring Stewie the Family Guy baby). A lot of girls at sleepaway camp were into "The New Workout Plan," but I think someone eventually told them that it wasn't actually a fitness plan.
Anyway, The College Dropout remains my favorite Kanye album, and I not-so-secretly think "Family Business" is still my favorite song of his. —Brian Feldman
Donda Raised a Kayne
The first time I ever heard about Kanye West was on MTV, which at this point seems like a hilariously old-fashioned way to find out about a musician. Kind of like your dad telling you he first saw Joni Mitchell on The Dick Cavett Show. But it's true. In between reruns of The Real World San Diego (probably), MTV would still air the occasional music video (or I would be watching on MTV Hits, maybe? Gosh, I loved MTV Hits), and the video for "Through the Wire" was certainly an eye-catching one. With an opening title card about how Kanye had his jaw wired shut after a car accident, the implication was that "Through the Wire" was not only a single heralding an exciting new hip hop star, it was a triumph of the human spirit. What a brave and courageous way to assert your resolve after a calamitous setback! Very much like Gloria Estefan in her "Coming Out of the Dark" phase! Certainly there was no element of attention-grabbing self-mythologizing going on here. Not with this Kayne West.*
*Right, yes, also, because I am a dummy, I misread Kanye's name on the video bug, and I referred to him as "Kayne West" until I was finally set straight at some point around "Jesus Walks." —Joe Reid
Memorizing Mr. West
I went to a private Jewish elementary school, and so I had a pretty limited knowledge of rap music aside from the occasional Ying Yang Twins or Lil Jon Bar Mitzvah jam. This was fine for my sheltered little bubble, but when I moved over to a public middle school, it became harder to talk about music with my friends without knowing much about hip hop. So I asked a friend of mine for a good rap album to ease in to, and he gifted me a burnt College Dropout CD. I absolutely loved it, especially Anna Nicole Smith's part in "The New Workout Plan." It took me about 20 listens to figure out what "Row da plane" meant. One of my secret skills is that I'm really good at learning song lyrics, and I immediately set about memorizing "Get 'Em High." Finally nailing the Talib Kweli verse is one of my prouder moments, and I've been a big fan of Kanye and Kweli ever since. (Common, not so much.) —Eric Levenson
That One Time at Time
When I was an intern at Time in the summer of 2005, they put Kanye on the cover. My fellow intern, who is black, and I spent a lot of time joking about how Kanye was the first black man on the cover since Darth Vader. In fairness, Darth had been on the cover only a few months earlier. (Before that, the last black man on the cover was in December 2003, when "The American Soldier" was Person of the Year.) Barack Obama's presidency has made this issue a less pressing one. And when you read the 2005 story, it does feel like its from another era. "More GQ than gangsta, Kanye West is challenging the way rap thinks about race and class—and striking a chord with fans of all stripes," the subheadline said. Here's an excerpt:
Executives at record companies large and small failed to reconcile West's appearance and demeanor with their expectations of what a rapper should be. They had no idea how to market him. "It was a strike against me that I didn't wear baggy jeans and jerseys and that I never hustled, never sold drugs," says West, 28, who grew up in suburban Chicago and often dresses as if he's anticipating an acceptance letter from Exeter.
The Miracle Fan
I was always aware of Kanye, sorry, I can't help you. —Abigail Ohlheiser