Artist: Kanye WestTitle: The College DropoutRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Robert De Gracia
What does it take to legitimize an acclaimed producer in the release of his own rap album? To gain that respect, he must be more than just a notoriously good-bad singer, have an affiliation with the Roc-a-fella Family, and the reputation of having produced hits all over todays charts. Thus the story begins for Kanye Wests debut project, The College Dropout, an album that leaps marginally beyond distinction in its endeavors at innovation; new pathways are now possible for both the conscious and street corner heads that previously didnt know where this rap game was headed.
Lyrically, West is simply more adept at MC warfare than other mic grabbing producers such as Mannie Fresh and Pete Rock. West introspectively waves at thematically diverse topics, tendered by a poetic flow that pays homage to his own innate hip-hop infatuation. Wests approach is simply cerebral; his verse remains in tempo, yet stays varied preventing monotony. His witty punchlines are slapstick, yet unabrasive. In addition, West appeals to a broad based listener group through The College Dropouts guest artists, from Syleena Johnsons soul gripping All Falls Down, to Talib Kweli and Common on the bass heavy banger Get Em High.
To its advantage, the album is conceptually uncalculated, and simply impossible to trace along a straight line. From chick-chasing on BlackPlanet to religious identity conflict, The College Dropout runs threadfulls in obscurity; it grabs various elements frayed from far and wide, and composes them seamlessly into, yes, musical brilliance. Spaceship, featuring GLC and Consequence (Tribe Called Quest fame) is one example of that. West wishes to buy a spaceship and fly, a Kool Keith-esque UFO ode, accentuated by sci-fi photon and phaser kick patterns.
Slow Jamz, is another strange collaboration on the album. Not to be confused, the track is intelligently disguised as a lovey dovey classic ballad, astutely integrating three completely separate ingredients: a catchy Jamie Foxx R&B hook, fellow Chi-Town native Twistas midwest 45 rpm flow, and finally a generic Nokia RingTone piano chord driven by kooky congo beats. Got a light skinned friend look like Michael Jackson, got a dark skinned friend look like Michael Jackson. This track is pure genius.
Through The Wire, revisits Wests physical and emotional struggle in the aftermath of surviving a near fatal car accident, a story told in a deep lisp as a consequence of a surgically implanted plate in his chin. Another notable track features Mos Def and Freeway alongside the Harlem Boys Choir assisting on the guitar heavy, Two Words, as West manages to lyrically hold his own, reppin til he fukkin dies, continually making references to his roots in Chicago.
The College Dropout is a refreshing reminder of reaching success in hip-hop through humility and personality, proving that West is not just simply a producer anymore. And that is what todays sound needs; a subtle aggression that concisely drives creativity in the right direction. If this album remains as a mere sampling of Wests inventiveness, then The College Dropout stands as a preface to the complexities of his musical saga and Roc-A-Fella can now flaunt its new summa cum laude recipient.