kanye west college dropout

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of The College Dropout today, Complex’s Editor-in-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever has raided the Yeezy vaults and unearthed this previously unpublished interview from the summer of 2002 — before the car crash, before “Through the Wire” and before Kanye West was Kanye West. Even then, it was clear Ye was brimming with self-confidence, like how he told Jay Z he should put him on his first Blueprint 2 single. We also get to read about the time he traded his first Jesus Piece for No I.D.’s SP1200, why he called his album The College Dropout, and the moment Dame Dash knew he should sign Kanye West to Roc-A-Fella.

Then [Jay Z] got this other song that the Neptunes produced. I was like, “Yo, man. I know you going to laugh when I say this but you need to let me rap on your first single, right?” [Laughs.]

How’d that go over?
The song was already complete, he wouldn’t let nobody — not Cam, not Beans, nobody was rapping on this shit. Not Michael Jackson. No one. I was like, “Let me rap. Because I’m really finna surprise y’all how big of an artist I’m finna be. Y’all gon’ be like ‘Damn, don’t he do beats too?’”

Read more quotes from the interview, plus Kanye’s statement about The College Dropout below…

On signing with Roc-A-Fella:

This is what Dame told me when he heard it: “Yo, man. Yo on the real that shit is scary, man. Fuck with me I’ll fire niggas.” I was about to sign with Capitol Records and I just wanted to play some songs in the studio with Cam and these real rapping niggas just to see how far I got. So I played this one song and Dame was like, “Oh shit! It’s not even wack. It’s not even wack! That shit is kind of hot. OK, OK play some more.” Young Guru was telling me which songs to play, because he was the ghost A&R at Roc-A-Fella. So then I play “Jesus Walks” and he heard that, he’s like, “Yo, Cam. Cam! We should sign Kanye. What you think, man? We could do like the East Coast Chronic!”

On wanting to become a rapper:

Now, is he going to be a good rapper? We got Grammy nominated for “H to the Izzo” for the album The Blueprint and I said, “Look, I’m going to focus on rap,” and I ended up on the hottest rap label in the world. What the fuck I look like rapping? How did I end up on Roc-A-Fella? I never had a good voice. I never really had a good rapper story. I wasn’t ever that much of a pimp where I just had mad girls. I never was shooting at niggas, so what was it? It was just focus. I decided I want to do this.

That’s another reason I want to rap, too. Not just to be a rapper, but to express my sarcastic, my asshole opinion about things. My blunt, “Like, look dog, that’s stupid to me,” opinion. I wanted the opportunity to not just be having hot shoes on, then the rapper see the shoes, and put them on TV. I want a chance. Let me do the photo shoot. Let me get a deal and see my face.

On college:

My whole goal when I went to Chicago State was just to walk around with my Ghostface chain, Polo’d up. Just be the coldest.

On why he called his album ‘The College Dropout’:

That’s exactly what I want people to think with that title [‘The College Dropout’]: “I’m right there with you.” I’ve thought about calling my shit ‘I’m Good,’ because that’s a “cool” title, like just having a title that’s like, “Yo, you can’t criticize that.” But for me to try and put on the facade of being the coolest motherfucker ever, it’s not going to come across like that. I’m not saying I’m the coolest motherfucker ever, I’m just saying I’m just a fucking smart-ass. I got to put it in raps.”

Favorite rappers and rap albums:

The reason I’m so real today is because of MC Hammer and Kid ‘n Play. Those were my favorite rappers back in the day. I felt like they was real. They making music that I wanted to hear. I remember someone played me some Jungle Brothers, and I was like, “Ew, I’m not feeling that right there.” De La Soul’s “Me, Myself, and I” was the first hip-hop song I liked. At that point it was EPMD, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys. Remember that? I’d be at my mama’s crib. This is back when people used to sit they record player on top of they TV.

What music do you listen to for inspiration?
Midnight Marauders. I listen to certain classics to figure out where I want to go. I listen to Lauryn Hill’s album, Pharcyde’s first album, that’s one of my favorite albums of all time. That joint still sells 1,000 a week.

On race and rapper stereotypes:

I always talk about racial issues — black people and white people interacting and racial profiling and all that — because I got locked up one day for having braids and driving in an Expedition. And they said, “Your braids is what gave you away.”

How all this relates is — I ain’t trying to front. I’m aware of shit. Because a lot of rappers…. Am I supposed to get here and say, “Yo man, I sold drugs and I did this?” Because I never did none of that. Is that automatically going to lower my record sales like crazy because I said I never sold crack? I apologize. I just went and got a job. Whatever.

Trading his chain with No I.D.:

Then it got to the point where No I.D. was finna play out his album, and he wanted my chain for the video shoot, but he didn’t want to wear somebody else’s chain. He said, “I’ll trade you my SP1200 for your chain” because my drums was weak so he was saying, “Yo, you need an SP1200.” I ain’t have no money, but I had the chain so we just traded and he rocked that chain in his first video with Doug Infinite.

On Ma$e’s A&R skills:

Ma$e is the type of rapper that wanted to give new producers that he felt a new drop. So let’s not forget Ma$e, to a certain extent, found Just Blaze, Kanye West, and The Neptunes. That’s a nigga that knows how to pick beats. Ma$e found them, but Hov—to a certain extent—made Just Blaze, Kanye West, and The Neptunes stars.


Watch: Vintage Footage of Kanye West & A-Trak on ‘The College Dropout’ Tour
Read Kanye West’s Insightful Conversation with Steve McQueen For Interview Magazine
Watch Unreleased Footage of Kanye West Rapping for Pharrell (And Pharrell’s Reaction!)