Following success producing for numerous contemporaries including Talib Kweli, Beanie Sigel and most notably Jay-Z, Kanye West released his debut studio album, The College Dropout, on February 10, 2004.
The album features string arrangements, choirs and his signature soul sampling, frequently branded as chipmunk-esque for its sped-up and high pitched nature. Contrary to the popular gangster-persona lyrics that were so popular in hip-hop at the time, his lyrics mostly revolved around themes of family, materialism, religion and racism. Kanye explained the title in an interview with MTV:
The name of my album is called The College Dropout. All that’s saying is make your own decisions. Don’t let society tell you, ‘This is what you have to do.’ Society told me, ‘Man, don’t move from Chicago.’ People told me to stay in school, this music is this, this music is that. I listen to John Mayer, and his song ‘No Such Thing’ is exactly what my [philosophy] is about, but in different words.
Kanye himself happens to be a college dropout: he initially attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago and then transferred to Chicago State University, where his mother was a professor. He dropped out of Chicago State at age 20, as he already had a production deal on the table from Columbia Records. His mother later commented on him dropping out, saying:
It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life … but some career goals don’t require college. For Kanye to make an album called College Dropout, it was more about having the guts to embrace who you are, rather than following the path society has carved out for you.
The inspiration for finally making his own music came when he was involved in a near-fatal car crash. With his jaw wired shut, he recorded the album’s lead single, “Through the Wire,” which was released on September 30, 2003. On December 2, 2003, Kanye released the album’s second single, “Slow Jamz.”