"Good dude, bad night, right place, wrong time/In the blink of a eye, his whole life changed." —Kanye West
Gee Roberson: “I’m a firm believer that there are certain tipping points in life. He had been working on the album his whole life, but the tipping point was when he had the accident. That’s when I recognized that he had a different level of genius, of commitment, and of perseverance.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. He had the accident and I get the call. I’m in NYC, I take the next flight out to L.A. I get to the hospital, the guy’s face is the size of a building. I can’t even recognize him. He’s talking all crazy because his jaw is dislocated. My thoughts are going everywhere. I’m trying to make sure he’s going to be able to stay alive.
The accident wound up being a blessing for him: Whatever diction issues he had, he came back with a super clear voice. The same way [50 Cent’s voice changed after he got shot], Kanye’s voice changed. But instead of getting shot, he went through a windshield.
“I say, 'You alright? Hang in there.' Do you know the first thing this guy told me? Is this exactly who Kanye West is? He goes, 'Yo Gee, we out of here.' I’m like, ‘We out of here? What you talking about?’ I’m thinking, is he on some drugs? Painkillers? What’s going on? He’s like, 'Wait till I tell the world the story about my accident and what happened. I almost died. We out of here—you understand what I’m about to create?' I’m looking at him like, ‘Wow. OK, I got one of the ones, no doubt about it.’”
Consequence: “The Lord doesn’t give you any burdens that you can’t bear. The accident wound up being a blessing for him: Whatever diction issues he had, he came back with a super clear voice. That was one of the like pressure busts pipes things. The same way [50 Cent’s voice changed after he got shot], Kanye’s voice changed. But instead of him getting shot, he went through a windshield.”
Gee Roberson: “That was the tipping point because that turned into him camping out in L.A. at the W Hotel [and working at Record Plant studios] because he couldn’t get on a flight. That way he was able to get [medical] care in L.A., and we turned the hotel into a studio. So the only thing he had to do was get up out of bed, go into his living room, and create songs. That’s when the whole album went to overdrive. From that point, it was just recording every day.”
Hip Hop: “The W Hotel, that’s where Tupac did a lot of recording too, I found that out from Daz. Daz said there used to be apartments there and Death Row artists used to live there. Every morning Tupac would come to his room and they’d do a couple songs, like 'Ambitionz Az A Ridah' was recorded in that hotel. That was always real spooky to me. [Laughs.]
Kanye used to have songs about fat girls liking him [called] ‘Do I Look Like Your Type?’ [Laughs.] On the song Kanye was like, 'B**ch, do I look like your type?' [Laughs.]
“Even back then he had good records like ‘Hey Mama’ and ‘Jesus Walks’ but I don’t think he had really lived as much to have as many experiences. Like he used to have songs about fat girls liking him [called] ‘Do I Look Like Your Type?’ [Laughs.] On the song Kanye was like, 'Bitch, do I look like your type?' [Laughs.] There wasn’t that comfort zone yet that everybody came to know.
“A couple of things happened that changed that. I remember we went to see Tupac: Resurrection together and a lightbulb went off for him; he realized he could be himself. I always saw a lot of similarities with him and Tupac because of their upbringing and also because a lot of people don’t consider them lyrical—especially at that point.”
Plain Pat: “I was working at Def Jam doing the A&R administration, so you’d book a studio and I’d get the bill paid. I didn’t meet Kanye until he was signed. Nobody was fucking with him but Gee brought him into the office. Roc-A-Fella had an A&R staff but Def Jam controlled all the budgets and did the admin work. I just happened to work a lot of Roc-A-Fella stuff and Kanye was on there, so I got assigned to it.
“Nobody knew what the album was. Everybody thought it was like a compilation with all these rappers. He came in and he was like, ‘Nah, I’m like rapping the whole album.’ I was like, ‘Oh... cool.’ Nobody knew that he was gonna do a whole rap album. We were close in age so we got cool. He started hitting me up because there wasn’t anybody that was, like, fucking with him.
I sent him all these listings for cribs in L.A. and he was like 'They’re too small.' Even back then, he wasn’t popping but he wanted this big, giant crib. He’s like, ‘You should see where I live in New York, I have floor-to-ceiling windows.’ Typical Kanye s**t. —Plain Pat
“He was in L.A. there was a big issue with the rental car, he wanted a big car because didn’t like the little Lexus. But that was all we could get because he wasn’t popping. There were all these rules at Def Jam about what an artist could get, like you gotta be a platinum artist to fly first class. That’s why he got into the accident. That’s why he hates those small cars.
“While Kanye was stuck in L.A., we were trying to get him a crib out there too. I sent him all these listing for cribs and he was like 'They’re too small.' Even back then, he wasn’t popping but he wanted this big, giant crib. He’s like, ‘You should see where I live in New York, I have floor-to-ceiling windows.’ Typical Kanye shit. It’s not that he is being an asshole, but it’s like he has standards. It’s just how it was.
Coodie: “We had a big suite at the W Hotel that Dame got us. We were living up in there maybe a year working on the album. I remember it was my birthday on January 18th and we were in the rooms riding on moped scooters. The hotel smelled like gas for a week. We had a ball man.”
John Legend: “Kanye created his own buzz but a lot of that happened after he got in that accident. After the accident, I said, ‘Wow this guy is doing something really special with this album.’ When I was out in L.A., I remember telling him that this is going to be like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”