Kanye West’s 2003 single “Through the Wire” was a major turning point for his career as a rapper.
Before “Through the Wire,” Kanye was known as a producer (mostly due to his work on Jay Z’s The Blueprint). There was little-to-no faith in Kanye’s rapping abilities at the time, having been rejected by multiple record labels. However, one fateful night in Los Angeles would change all of that.
On October 22, 2002, Kanye was driving home from a late night recording session when he fell asleep at the wheel of his Lexus. The results were disastrous. He crashed his car and completely fractured his jaw in a life-threatening accident.
West was rushed to a nearby hospital where his jaw was wired shut for six weeks. Most people would not want to talk, let alone rap, after such a severe accident, but this only encouraged Kanye to release the song that would define him as an artist for years to come.
Sampling Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” Kanye raps about his accident:
Yo, Gee, they can’t stop me from rapping, can they?
Can they, Hop?
When the song starts, Kanye immediately asks the rhetorical question of whether or not the doctors can stop him from rapping because of his accident.
Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall (I spit it through the wire, man)
For a chance to be with you
I’d gladly risk it all (There’s too much stuff on my heart right now, man)
Through the fire (I’d gladly risk it all right now)
Through whatever, come what may (It’s a life-or-death situation, man)
Again, Kanye references the fact that he was in a life-threatening collision. The title of “Through the Wire” not only references Chaka Khan’s aforementioned single, but it is also a pun on Kanye’s surgically reconstructed jaw.
What if somebody from the Chi’ that was ill got a deal
On the hottest rap label around?
But he wasn’t talking about coke and birds
It was more like spoken word
Kanye also elaborates on why many records were not willing to pick him up. At that time, he was an anomaly. He wasn’t a gangster rapper that bragged about guns, money, and women. As a result, record labels felt as if Kanye would not be relatable or marketable to the audience they were seeking.
Overall, “Through the Wire” is a track that has earned its reputation as a classic. The defining characteristic of this track is its realness. The lyrics are great and the beat is catchy and memorable, but what sets “Through the Wire” apart is that at no points does it feel phony. It’s Kanye West at his most vulnerable state, making a track that will propel his career to new heights.