Having already earned his stripes as one of rap's most in-demand producers, Kanye West will release his debut album, The College Dropout, on January 27th.
Though West's resume -- which includes beats for Jay-Z, Talib Kweli and a who's who of contemporary hip-hop -- would allow him to call in an all-star roster of favors for the record, he chose to serve up the album's rhymes himself, leaving the occasional guest to sing a sporadic hook. Ol' Dirty Bastard and Mos Def are among those who chip in with brief cameos, but West says, "I didn't want them to rap on it. I'm not really trying to hide behind anybody else."
Indeed, the album will play out as something of a hip-hop biography for West right down to the title, referencing his incomplete stab at a run through art school. "This is one of the first reality-based rap albums in a long time," he says. "People are always frontin', 'I got this many cars, I got this and that.' Basically rap is the idea of coming from the hood. And say you didn't pay your light bill, you got your lights turned off, and you got candles on. You don't tell anybody you got your lights turned off, you just say you're trying to catch a vibe in your house or something. This album is the opposite of that. I come right out and say, the shit is turned off."
That reality is at the heart of the single, "Through the Wires." Last year West was in a car accident and broke his jaw. Despite his condition, he was harassed by police at the scene of the accident and harried medical treatment resulted in the bone setting incorrectly, which will require it to be re-broken and re-wired shut later this year. "It's pretty fucked up," he says. "But I'm able to fight through it, turn tragedy into triumph. Things happen in life for a reason."
West's debut also overcomes preconceived notions of what producers could and could not do, namely rap. "People have all these stereotypes," he says. "People used to say white people couldn't rap before Eminem. They also said producers can't rap. That's before I come out. I don't know if people ever thought about the fact that Prince made his own beats, that Stevie Wonder made his own albums. When I go in to produce, I take it all the way there. I'll sit upstairs and work on a song for hours and hours, days and days. This is not rap fast food right here."
To that end, West's album -- some of which was previewed on this summer's in-demand mixtape I'm Good -- features an ambitious production palette with quieter fare and soulful embellishments contrasted with more bombastic songs featuring string sections and the Harlem Boys Choir.
And don't look to West to exude any sort of complacency after wrapping Dropout. The album's the first in a thematic series, the second of which is already in the can. "A lot of times people get the sophomore jinx," he says. "The first album becomes their entire life and the second album is just about the past year and a half on the tour bus." Late Registration is next in line, and West is already kicking around titles like "Graduation" and "Good Ass Job" as contenders for his third and fourth records. "People ask, 'Is he arrogant or just way too optimistic?'" West says. "But a lot of people have five or ten year plans. Are they arrogant for wanting to get somewhere and taking the steps to get there? I always look way ahead. That's one of the reasons I dropped out of school. It was slowing down my thinking process."