Every Sample On Kanye West’s College Dropout

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Kanye West arrives when he’s needed. Three years after changing the face of hip-hop production on Jay Z’s Blueprint in 2001, Kanye was finally ready to step out on his own. Dame Dash had signed him to the Roc under the assumption that Kanye would entirely produce a Roc-A-Fella compilation. Only later did everyone learn that wasn’t the Chicago MC’s focus at all. He was working on his solo LP.

No one at the label took Kanye seriously as a rapper until he funded his own video for “Through The Wire.” That song, and the car accident that inspired it, proved to be a pivotal point in Ye’s career. “He was like, ‘I figured it out,'” recalled No I.D., Kanye’s mentor. “He said, ‘I’m going to rap about this accident. I’m going to use a song and change the direction. I’m going conscious with my music.’” On Plain Pat’s Behind The Beats mixtape with Kanye, West had this to say about “Through The Wire”: “Every word I said after that accident was like, ‘What if this was the last rhyme of my life?'”

That attitude gave shape to College Dropout. Locked up in a room doing five beats a day for three summers, Kanye West made his formal introduction to the world. Yet while the album was lyrically anachronistic at the time – as 50 Cent and street rap reigned supreme – it was the production that got Kanye in the door. Most of College Dropout was a result of Kanye sitting in his room, playing old records, and picking out short sections to sample. From those samples came the beats, and from those beats came the rhymes.

So to celebrate one of the most important rap albums of the last 15 years, we remember the samples. Take a look back at Every Sample On Kanye West’s College Dropout, and below, listen to a mix of them that Gianni Lee and Mike Blud put together in 2014.


“We Don’t Care”

Sample: Jimmy Castor Bunch – “I Just Wanna Stop” (1979)

This (originally titled “Drug Dealing”) was Kanye trying to mix his own “conscious” persona with Roc-A-Fella’s rough and tumble reputation. It also exemplified Kanye’s extraordinary ear for samples: he chopped up both the beginning and the middle section of the original, and the way he flips that vocal sample shows he could see hip-hop in any genre.

“Graduation Day”

Sample: Edward Elgar – “Pomp and Circumstance – March No. 1” (1901)

Again, Kanye flexes his digging skills by interpolating this classic graduation song for his own ironic interlude.

“All Falls Down”

Sample: Lauryn Hill – “Mystery Of Iniquity” (2002)

Kanye originally performed this as a spoken word poem called “Self Conscious” on Def Poetry Jam. Problems came when he tried to sample Lauryn Hill’s performance of “Mystery Of Iniquity” from her classic 2002 Unplugged 2.0 album. Hill apparently didn’t like that specific performance Ye was trying to sample, so while she cleared the use of her words (which Syleena Johnson ended up singing), she didn’t allow the actual audio to be used.

Devo Springsteen, Kanye’s cousin, added an interesting tidbit about the making of the song: “‘All Falls Down’ was made on a fairly cheap Roland 18-track digital recorder and it wasn’t re-done in the studio. It was just put on the album. Things would be made in his apartment, and it’d sound amazing. A lot of times when then we’d do it in the studio it didn’t sound ‘good.’ So that first time would end up on the album.”

“I’ll Fly Away”

Sample: The Humbard Family – “I’ll Fly Away” (1940)

Again, the range of music Kanye listens to is on full display with “I’ll Fly Away” as he samples a blues standard from 1940. He slows down the tempo, puts different music behind it, and essentially updates the song for the modern era.


Sample: Marvin Gaye – “Distant Lover”

This was originally fellow Chicago rapper GLC’s record. He recorded it with Kanye in Hoboken after telling ‘Ye he needed a beat to get on the radio in Chicago. Kanye flipped through some records, picked “Distant Lover,” and made it right there in front of GLC. The song was originally intended for one of Plain Pat’s Akademiks mixtapes, but it was too hot to not be on College Dropout.

“Jesus Walks”

Sample: ARC Choir – “Walk With Me” (1997)

“Jesus Walks” is essentially built on “Walk With Me,” a 1997 gospel song by a compelling group called the Addicts Rehabilitation Center Choir whose members are all former drug abusers. The sample is powerful enough, but the context gives the song added weight. Kanye often carries the theme of redemption in his music, and here the sampled artists vocalize their pain, suffering, and ultimate triumph.

Sample: Curtis Mayfield – “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go” (1970)
Sample: Lou Donaldson – “Ode To Billie Joe” (1967)

Kanye chopped the shit out of these drums. It’s a classic break, but the way Kanye enfolded it into an almost revolutionary kind of rap song sheds a whole new light on this Lou Donaldson classic.

Producer 88 Keys was the one who brought this sample to Kanye: “For ‘Jesus Walks,’ I had given him the drum sample for that song. We had a real deep conversation on the drums that he heard on there, that he imagined using, and I told him I had that record… To date, he’s the only person who chopped that. Everyone who has used that record has looped it. He chopped it, which I always give him props for. A lot of ‘College Dropout’ was really him sitting down in his apartment with crates of record all around him, him just picking out a record, listening to it, finding a part, chopping it up and adding drums on it.”

Sample: Manual of Arms – “Authentic Sound Effects” (1987)

Yes, Kanye even sampled an authentic army march to make “Jesus Walks” perfect. You can’t think about the song without that intro.

“Never Let Me Down”

Sample: Blackjack  – “Maybe It’s The Power Of Love” (1980)

Kanye’s sound wasn’t completely original. Early in his career he often jacked Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” drums for songs like “This Can’t Be Life,” and the influence of RZA’s chipmunk soul on ‘Ye’s music was apparent to any Wu heads from the ’90s. It was Kanye’s ear for samples, however, that made him special.

Blackjack was a band that existed for two years, 1979 and 1980. It was headed by Michael Bolton, who belts out the chorus that morphs into the hook on “Never Let Me Down.” To my knowledge, no other rap producer has ever sampled Blackjack, except for Kanye himself, two years earlier. It’s worth noting that Kanye made this song on the day Jay Z had a concert at Madison Square Garden – the same concert he gripes about not having tickets for on “Big Brother.” Also worth noting that Jay’s first verse was from the 2003 “Hovi Baby” remix.

“Slow Jamz”

Sample: Luther Vandross – “A House Is Not A Home” (1981)

Though it was Kanye’s ear for samples that made his beats stand out, most of those samples came from one crate of vinyl that his then-girlfriend Sumeke Rainey’s father gave him around the time of recording College Dropout. The “Slow Jamz” sample was perhaps the best-chosen record of that bunch, because it ended up becoming the tipping point for Kanye as an artist in the eyes of the mainstream.

“Breathe In, Breathe Out”

Sample: Jackie Moore – “Precious Precious” (1971)

Lyor Cohen loved this song. He loved it so much, he opened up Def Jam’s budget for Kanye after he heard the song. Kanye really wanted a Luda guest verse – he even gave Luda beats for free – and though the record is one of the weaker selections on College Dropout, it was probably included on the strength of Kanye’s sentimental connection to finally landing a guest verse from Ludacris.

The flip is genius, too, as Kanye chops the first couple seconds of horns and makes it a very simple loop. ‘Ye has said that when making College Dropout, he had music like Tribe’s Midnight Marauders in mind. This sounds like the kind of clean-cut funk he might have been shooting for, though history shows it’s the experimental, risky stuff of Kanye’s that ends up being so timeless.

“School Spirit”

Sample: Aretha Franklin – “Spirit In The Dark” (1970)


There is an infamous story about Aretha Franklin allowing Kanye to sample her “School Spirit” with one stipulation – he couldn’t curse. Franklin cleared the sample only if ‘Ye kept it clean, so that’s why it’s edited on the album. You can hear an uncensored version right here. Gee Roberson, who was co-managing Kanye at the time with Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua, called on Craig Kallman, the then-head of Atlantic, to get the sample cleared.

“Two Words”

Sample: Mandrill – “Peace And Love (Amani Na Mapenzi) Movement IV (Encounter)” [1971]

Kanye drove four hours north to record with the Harlem Boys Choir for this song. Remember Miri Ben-Ari, the “Hip-Hop Violinist” who also dropped a mixtape? She got her shine on with songs like this, and Kanye loved her work so much, he made a strings-only version of the song that was never released. He even wanted to make a whole edition of College Dropout that was only orchestration, but it never happened.

Sample: 5th Dimension – “The Rainmaker” (1971)

In the past, Kanye has admitted his drums are his “achilles heel” – you’ll recall Timbaland coming in to redo the drums on “Stronger” – and he got added help on the percussion tip for Yeezus. That might be why he sampled 5th Dimension here. It’s not that he doesn’t know what to do with drums, because the break here is chopped up nicely, but he’s always seemed to have trouble with making drums sound the way he wants them to. Hence why sticking with original samples is often a surer shot.

“Through The Wire”

Sample: Chaka Khan – “Through The Fire” (1984)

Chaka Khan didn’t want to clear this sample. Luckily, Kanye’s friend Coodie, a video director, would often throw BBQs with people like Kanye, John Legend, and others. One day, a friend named JB Marshall brought Chaka Khan’s son to a BBQ. They told him he had to see the “Through The Wire” video, and after he watched it, he went home and told his mom to clear the sample. Just a few weeks later, the sample was approved for use.

Sample: Outkast – “Player’s Ball (Extended Remix)” [1993]

Again, Kanye needed help on the drums to make this hit single as good as it could be. It’s easy to not realize that Organized Noize laid a dope drum break at the start of Outkast’s breakout single, but Kanye has the type of ear that would pick up on that right away.

“Family Business”

Sample: The Dells – “Fonky Thang” (1972)

This may shock you, but the piano in “Family Business” is not a sample – or at least not a sample anyone has found yet. The above sample is the “All that glitters is not gold” line from ‘Ye’s song. Besides that, the keys on this College Dropout cut remain a mystery.

“Last Call”

Sample: Bette Midler – “Mr. Rockefeller” (1976)

The story of how “Last Call” was made is fascinating. Evidence (of Dilated Peoples) got a chance to work with Kanye after they made “Get By” together. Ev made the original “Last Call” beat and asked ‘Ye to show it to Jay. Instead, ‘Ye took the beat for himself and had musicians come in and replay the sample. He even told Evidence what to say in interviews about producing the song:

“He told me to say that I did the music and he did the drums. Which is true. My drums are low. The kick pattern is my pattern. But then we were playing it and I was like, ‘That’s my shaker.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘That’s my chime, too. It’s still in there.” And, he’s like, ‘Yep.’ But, then the ‘Get By’ drums are in there. And, the loop I inspired, I would have given up at the point where the sample couldn’t clear. ‘Alright, let’s just put a whole new track to it.’ But, he didn’t give up. He deserves it. If it says Kanye West and Evidence, it should because what I brought to the table and what you hear is substantially different.”

But nowhere in Midler’s song does she say, “Here’s to the Roc.” She says “Mr. Rockefeller” so Kanye might have manipulated her voice to sound like she’s saying, “It’s the Roc-A-Fella.” Either that, or he got someone to sing something similar.  So where did ‘Ye get, “Here’s to the Roc”?

As the legend goes, it was Jay Z himself who sung those vocal snippets, which Kanye then sped up. That’s allegedly why Jay is laughing at the beginning of “Last Call” – “Fuck you Kanye, first and foremost, for making me do this shit.”

Sample: Love – “Doggone” (1969)

Right smack dab in the middle (4:56) of a 12-minute song, Kanye found the drums for his own long ass track.

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