Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Since bursting onto the scene in the early 2000s, Kanye West has garnered and sustained as big of a media tidal wave as any hair metal lead guitarist could have ever dreamed of during a decade long coke binge in the 1980s. From interrupting Taylor Swift’s Grammy acceptance speech, to getting into a live screaming bout with Sway Calloway on his Morning Show, the kid from the Windy City has created more soundbites, and hysterical moments, than any celebrity on this side of Y2K. But early into his journey of becoming one of the few entertainers mentioned by name by the present and last two U.S. Presidents, Yeezus was a master of his trade, and showed brilliance behind the boards as a music producer.
In the build-up to his 2004 debut, Kanye came into much acclaim as a Roc-A-Fella Records beat-smith, who was a major architect for Jay-Z’s 2001 masterpiece The Blueprint, and Scarface’s 2002 album The Fix. Honing his mic skills among the best circle imaginable, Kanye spent his time away from the studio on the road, as an opening act for Talib Kweli, tearing down stages alongside A Tribe Called Quest affiliate Consequence.
His hard work would eventually bear fruit, along with a stroke of pure magic as Kanye survived a near fatal car crash, living to tell the story with College Dropout’s lead single “Through the Wire.” From the onset he showed that he may have come to possess music’s secret recipe of hitmaking, as he served up a Chicago style plate, packed with enough soul to have come straight out of Big Momma’s kitchen.
Aside from narrowly missing the mark of musical perfection, College Dropout’s impact is undeniable, not only introducing Kanye, but also his R&B protégé John Legend. The album also served as an early platform for comedian DeRay Davis and violinist Miri Ben-Ari.
Perhaps its most impressive feat, College Dropout manages to skillfully merge mainstream hip-hop artists like his Roc-A-Fella cohort with the hardcore backpackers of the Lyricist Lounge movement. Dropout was one the first albums aside from a soundtrack that saw the marriage of such odd couples as Mos Def and Freeway and Jay- Z with Def Poetry alumni J. Ivy.
In retrospect, College Dropout is one of the major albums that reinvigorated soulful ‘60s and ‘70s samples, used a decade earlier by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Gang Starr’s DJ Premier, and no doubt influenced North Carolina’s 9th Wonder and the Justice League. It entertained all the way through with a star studded cast, and seemed to endlessly dominate radio with colossal hits like “Jesus Walks,” “Slow Jamz,” and “All Falls Down.”