The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com.
Recently, Kanye West’s interviews have been more entertaining than his music. And that’s saying a lot considering that respected Hip-Hop reporter and radio personality Sway Calloway not long ago described Mr. West as, “one of the most impactful voices to ever grab a microphone.”
I don’t disagree with Sway either. I think Kanye is a musical genius whose love for his craft shook up a complacent music industry. However, even with over 20 Grammy wins and six consecutive platinum solo albums to his name, Kanye’s strongest career achievement to date is still his classic debut, The College Dropout.
Today, February 10, 2014, marks the album’s tenth anniversary and so to celebrate its landmark birthday, I’m going to break down why it is the most significant entry in the Louis Vuitton Don’s catalogue.
Thinking back to the climate of Hip-Hop in late ’03 when I was 16- 50 Cent mania was still in effect, Jigga was “retiring,” and OutKast was riding high on the success of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. As a rap fan, I was caught up in all that. So when I heard about Kanye’s upcoming album around that time, I was skeptical. There was no way this producer was going to hold his own as a rapper with all this other stuff going on. Plus, with The Black Album in constant rotation too, I thought , “ This is incredible! How is Roc-A-Fella ever gonna be able to follow this up?” I found myself eating my own words after catching the video for “Through the Wire” though. After seeing that, The College Dropout couldn’t come soon enough.
When I did get the album the day it was released, it lived up to the hype. It was a no-brainer that the production was going to be crazy, but one thing that specifically caught my ear that I wasn’t necessarily expecting was the sequencing of the LP. It’s actually one of my favorite things about it, especially considering all the guest features. From how the satirical take of “We Don’t Care” is soon followed by the thought-provoking content of “All Falls Down,” it pieces together nicely. Then to have a song that brings up humble beginnings, “Spaceship,” precede something as powerful as “Jesus Walks” is mind-blowing. The last three records also connect smoothly to end the album on a very high note.
Writing-wise, The College Dropout is great. An often referenced line from it is the one where Kanye refers to himself as the “first n***a with a Benz and a backpack.” And while that certainly applies to West’s masterful ability of blending mainstream and underground Hip-Hop, I’ve always interpreted it to mean , on a larger scale, that he’s just acknowledging his many facets as an artist and human being. He isn’t just one thing. He is far from the “first” person to contradict himself, but he is the first to point those contradictions out so succinctly and creatively.
Kanye does have some short-comings as an emcee, yet one of his strengths as a performer is his lyrics. And while I respectfully disagree with some of his candid commentary as of late, I believe it is that same fearlessness that has given Kanye the strength to write on such a wide variety subjects, even some very revealing stuff. “Act like you ain’t took a bath with your cousins / Fit 3 in the bed while 6 of y’all / I’m talkin’ ‘bout three by the head and three by the leg / But you ain’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed.”
As far as the actual music, the album sincerely exceeded my expectations. Considering how in-demand Kanye West was at the time for his production, the fact that he made 16 great instrumentals (and five skits) that didn’t sound repetitive of anything else he’d done is fantastic. I remember talking about that with a friend once, and us agreeing that was when we knew Kanye was an emcee in his own right in addition to being a producer. He really kept some of his absolute best beats for himself and that was setting himself up to catch Hell if he rapped on them poorly. Fortunately, he didn’t. And for my money, the track for the aforementioned “Jesus Walks” is one of the greatest ever.
While My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably Kanye’s best album overall, The College Dropout is his most humanizing and that is why it’s my favorite. The music on it wasn’t the reaction of a star who President Obama called a ‘jackass,’ it was the culmination of a kid from Chicago locking himself in a room doing five beats a days for three summers. And it’s that passion of his which took the form of a 70+ minute compact disc that I played to the point of scratching it.
After overcoming adversity of all sorts, Kanye proved that he was a legit emcee, covered a lot of topics in his rhymes, put together some great records, and, most importantly, made listeners care about him and what he was saying. It is a feat attempted by many, but achieved by few. And The College Dropout did that and then some by also inspiring an entire generation to buck the system in a way that Hip-Hop never had before. Therefore, it has earned a spot in Hip-Hop history where it can never be replaced.
Respect due and Happy 10th Birthday.
What do you think of The College Dropout? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!