In his two-decade career in the music industry, Kanye West has become one of the most successful producers and artists of the 21st Century. What was Kanye’s first song?
Kanye West’s first song varies depending on what you consider a debut. His debut solo single, Through the Wire, was released in 2003 and saw Kanye quickly establishing himself as a household name. His earliest appearance on a recording was as a guest on Grav’s Line for Line in 1996 and his first credit as a producer was on the album Down to Earth, also by Grav.
For more on Kanye West’s early years in music and his solo breakthrough in 2003, read on.
Through the Wire
Anybody wondering about Kanye West’s first song is probably referring to his first solo single. In this case, Kanye’s first single was “Through the Wire”, released in 2003. The writing and recording of the song took place under extreme circumstances.
In October 2002, Kanye left a late-night production session at about 3 am. After being cut off by another car, Kanye’s rented Lexus was forced into head-on traffic and he suffered serious injuries. As part of his reconstructive surgery, Kanye had his jaw wired shut and the incident inspired him to write the song during the recovery process.
The incident had a significant effect on Kanye, highlighting the fragility of life. For Kanye, it wasn’t just a question of life or death but the severe damage to his jaw might have robbed him of his voice and facial appearance, potentially ending his chance of finding success as a rap artist before his first solo release.
Kanye channeled these emotions into his writing of the song and recorded it just two weeks after the accident, with this version being added to his mixtape “Get Well Soon…” Kanye’s wired jaw is very apparent in the original recording but he later re-recorded it for inclusion on his debut album “The College Dropout” in 2003.
The track and its accompanying video, which captured some of Kanye’s journey back to health, found extra traction after being aired on MTV.
Although “Through the Wire” debuted at number 94 and peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, it displayed great longevity by staying on the chart for 21 weeks. Kanye’s solo single was eventually certified Platinum in the United States in November 2018, a decade and a half after its initial release.
Guest Vocals and Production
Although “Through the Wire” was Kanye’s debut as a solo recording artist, he had provided guest vocals on songs for several years beforehand.
His work as a producer saw him collaborating with many rappers and the earliest example was in 1996, when he made a guest appearance on Grav’s track “Line for Line” from his album “Down to Earth”. The album marked Kanye’s debut as both a producer and performer, though production work would dominate the early years of his music career.
One of Kanye’s big breaks came in 1998, while he was a student at Chicago State University. Selling beats to other artists saw him making money from music for the first time, firstly to fellow Chicago rapper Gravity for $8000 and then to Jermaine Dupri for $5000.
This first taste of financial success in music encouraged Kanye to drop out of college and pursue his dreams.
In 2000, he started working for Roc-A-Fella Records, producing for Jay-Z among others. He produced five tracks on Jay-Z’s hugely successful “The Blueprint”, released in 2001.
Kanye had to fight to convince the record label to give him an opportunity to release a solo album. There had long been a perception that great producers don’t make great rappers but Kanye has continued to work as a producer even as his solo career has gone from strength to strength.