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Intro

Before Kanye West became KANYE WEST – the one and only larger-than-life, awards-show-destroying, collar-popping, slatted-sunglass-wearing, sick-rhyme-dropping male diva of the hip-hop universe – he was just an average middle-class kid who liked to make beats. Building his own unique distinct sound atop dusty samples of vintage soul, West produced a slew of rap hits for other artists in the early 2000s. But he had a hard time getting anyone to give him a chance to rock the mic himself; he didn't have the kind of hardcore "street" image that record execs thought a rapper needed to succeed.

So what did it take for Kanye West to get his chance? It took a brush with death, a smashed face, and a legendary single recorded – with his jaw still wired shut and his voice still badly slurred – just weeks after major reconstructive surgery. That single was "Through the Wire." Kanye West's rise to the stop started right here.

About the Song

ArtistKanye West Musician(s)Kanye West (production), Chaka Khan (vocal sample)
AlbumThe College Dropout
Year2003
LabelRoc-A-Fella Records, Island Def Jam
Writer(s)Kanye West, David Foster, Tom Keane, Cynthia Well
Producer(s)Kanye West
Learn to play: Tablature
Buy this song: Amazon iTunes
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Kanye West's rhyming style is famous for its rich (and often hilarious) use of allusion. Here he name-checks everything from classic TV commercials of the Reagan Era to M. Night Shyamalan movie plots to harrowing incidents of the Civil Rights Movement, weaving it all into a narrative of personal triumph over tragedy. Not bad, Kanye, not bad.

On the Charts

"Through The Wire" peaked at #15 on the US Billboard Top 100 in early 2004. It spent 21 weeks on the chart. It did even better on the R&B and Rap charts, peaking at #8 and #4, respectively.

"Through The Wire" also reached #9 in the UK, and appeared on pop charts in New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Ireland.

The College Dropout, the 2004 album for which "Through The Wire" was the lead single, debuted at #2 on the Billboard albums chart and ultimately sold more than 3 million copies in the United States and another million more worldwide.

The College Dropout was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2005 Grammy Awards, but lost out to Ray Charles's last album, Genius Loves Company. Kanye West did win the Grammy for Best Rap Album, however. "Through The Wire" was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance, but Jay-Z took that award for "99 Problems."

Rolling Stone magazine named The College Dropout the best album of 2004. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best albums of all time.
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