Back in 2003, the Hip-Hop scene, and shortly thereafter the world, was introduced to rapper/producer Kanye West when he released his debut single “Through The Wire” via Roc-a-fella/Def Jam Records. The opus gained much attention due to the storytelling coupled with the rapper’s approach and performance, and the sampling of the classic 1985 Chaka Khan single “Through The Fire”.
The song’s background is riddled with literal pain and anguish that takes a triumphant turn. West would meet in a near-fatal car accident after leaving a California recording studio after being cut off by another car, causing him to go head-on into oncoming traffic and to collide with another car. After intense reconstructive surgery, the “Jesus Walks” rapper had his jaw wired to his face.
Two weeks after the surgery, West went to Record Plant, a recording studio in Los Angeles, and recorded “Through the Wire,” the song’s title referring to the wires used to hold his broken jaws together. During an interview he recalled the incident and how it affected him, stating “Well, the only thing this accident is saying is, ‘I am about to hand you the world, just know at any given time I can take it away from you.’ To nearly lose your life, to nearly lose your mouth, your voice, your whole face, as a rapper…and I had to be on TV! My face looks crazy to me now… But I have to just thank God for the situation that I am in…”
He added, “‘Through The Wire’ is the worst thing that could’ve possibly happen to me, and now it’s obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded,” West exclaimed. The song originally appeared on his Get Well Soon mixtape in its original recording through the wired jaws, before re-recording it to appear on his debut album.
Noticeably present on the song is the Chaka Khan sample, sped up in production for the desired effect. West and the legendary signer even joined together to perform the song on the MTV Video Music Award in 2004. It wouldn’t be until many years later that the public would find out Khan’s real feelings about the song.
According to the song’s music video director Coodie, Khan would not clear the sample until being convinced by her son. “Kanye is from Chicago, and he was in a car accident and almost died.” She was like, “No, I’m not creating no sample for that,” he tells ESPN in 2019. The director explains that weeks later, West brought Khan’s son to one of their weekly Sunday barbecues and this exchange would bring progress.
Coodie continued, “‘We’ve got to shoot this video,’ so we showed him the “Through The Wire” video. He was like, ‘Aw man, I’ve got to show my mom this and tell her we’re trying to get this done.’ And I would say about two weeks later, she cleared the sample.”
The “Tell Me Something Good” singer had been silent on her views of the song until she interviewed with Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen where she revealed although initially moved to do it, she changed her mind after hearing her voice “pitch-shifted” on the finished product.
“I was pissed,” she said to Cohen. “It was a little insulting. No, it wasn’t insulting – I thought it was stupid. If I’d known he was going to do that, I’d have said, ‘Hell, no!’”
In a recent interview with comedian Luenell for VladTV, Khan sat to further explain and reiterate her feelings of the song. “He said he wanted to redo the song,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Well, are you a singer?’ He said, ‘No, no. I just wanted to use your chorus.’”
“I thought about it and said, ‘Well, he can’t mess it up because I will be singing it after all.,” Khan continued. “It’s my voice.’ But he found a way. By golly, he found a way to frick that up. I was through.”
Khan seems to be ready to let bygones be bygones now, as she claims to be done with the situation. “I’m through with it,” she admits. “I’m done with it now. I’m even done with ‘Through The Fire’ really [laughs].”