February 10 marks 10 years since Kanye West dropped his debut album, The College Dropout. He’s been on a winding journey to get from “Jesus Walks” to “I Am a God,” but his constant outrage, conviction and inability to exercise self-control has remained steady over the past decade. Coupled with an undeniable ear for melody, that has made Mr. West nothing short of iconic.
In February 2004, less than two years after a life-altering car accident, MTV News’ Sway Calloway sat down with the Roc-A-Fella rapper/producer to pick his brain about his career and album, and some of his words still reverberate years later.
“I got a lot of frustration because I’m hurt,” he said emphatically. “People told me I couldn’t rap, I couldn’t sell a record, that I didn’t have a f—ing chance and it hurt me. I just wanna stunt.”
New decade, slightly different issues.
“The way I’m acting right now as a new artist, I’m not gonna be like this [in the future],” he continued. “I’m gonna be like [Dr. Dre] in a few years. If you interview Dre, he be like, ‘Yo, I’m rich I have nothing to say to you.’ I have everything to say because there’s so many doubters and I’m talking sh–, but I realize that I will grow.”
At the time, Kanye tried to predict his future temperament, explaining that he wanted to take queues from artists like Fiona Apple and The Strokes, who didn’t waste time venting about their issues with labels and other big corporations. It didn’t work out so well though, and I’m thankful for that.
His most recent album, Yeezus, was jolting, with sounds that were borderline abrasive on the eardrums and raps that were dripping with frustration. He admitted that “I Am a God” was birthed out of his rage toward YSL’s creative director, Hedi Slimane, for trying to shut him out of the world of haute couture, and he would later go on to rail at corporations like Nike, specifically, for underestimating the cultural impact of his Air Yeezy sneakers.
Looking back, it’s obvious that Kanye couldn’t anticipate how much his passion would push him to deliver infamous — and incredible — pop culture moments, like that time he all but accused former president George Bush of being racist on national TV. “On “‘Last Call,’ I got a lot of that out, but when I make albums…I’m not gonna be hating and doing all of this stuff 3 million records later,” he said at the time. “I’m really happy right now. I just think hating makes good TV.” Wrong!
‘Ye did succeed at keeping his mouth shut for a brief period of time between My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, dodging the media and burying himself in music, only making sporadic and sometimes awkward public appearances. But that didn’t last for too long. When he lifted the gag order on himself, everything came tumbling out once again.
This is the beauty of Kanye West. Ten years ago his creativity was fueled by frustration and negative feedback from the doubters, and 10 years later — with seven albums under his belt and praises for being one of the greatest producers of all time — he’s still fueled by negativity from the doubters, and still dedicated to pouring his heart into records. It’s nice to know that some things do remain the same.
“As far as me writing my songs, I don’t really vent that much on the album because there’s so much more important stuff for me to say than me actually just venting,” he said in 2004. “There’s real life [issues] that needs to be brought up in song form. It’s so many messages, so many things that people are going through right now that nobody’s speaking about.”
He was off the mark with the plan to refrain from venting on wax, but his dedication to brazenly addressing topics that can be difficult to broach has also remained constant. One of those touchy subjects was a deep struggle with insecurity, which he delved into on The College Dropout single, “Jesus Walks.” He was so passionate about the message in the song that he noted, “I couldn’t let nobody else sing that for me either. That’s why I sing a lot on my choruses.”
For all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Kanye West in 2014, with his impending marriage to one of the most famous reality TV stars of our generation, let’s give it up to this man for keeping the music real for a decade and counting.