By John Holscher
In the early 2000’s Kanye West was known simply for being a beat maker and record producer. His style of speeding up soul samples gave him his own unique sound that was the trademark to the hits that Roc-A-Fella records were putting out at the time. However, Kanye was not content with being stuck behind the scenes as a beat maker; he could rap. He saw beat making simply as his entry into the industry, but the industry’s reaction to his rapping was always met with an underwhelming response. You see, this was the height of the gangster rap era, the radio was completely flooded with hit songs about drug dealing and gun violence. Nobody had the time to listen to a middle -class art school dropout rap about his feelings, it just wasn’t profitable.
CEO of Roc-A-Fella Dame Dash had signed Kanye as a producer so that he could produce hits for the other artists on the label. Little did they know, Kanye had been producing his own album the whole time, an album that would forever change the progression of hip hop. This album may have never seen its completion if it wasn’t for a near fatal car accident Kanye got into after falling asleep behind the wheel on his way home from a studio in LA. Kanye had to have reconstructive surgery on his face, and he was laid up in a hospital bed for weeks. This devastating accident inspired him to make his hit single “Through the wire”, a song written and recorded while he was still recovering in the hospital with his jaw wired shut. He released the song in the fall of 2003 and used his own money to promote the single. The song got the attention of fans and music critics alike, and it ended up peaking at No. 15 on the hot 100. It was Kanye’s second single, “Slow Jamz”, featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx that propelled him straight to number one on the charts. Now, Kanye was no longer looked at as the producer who was behind the scenes of everything. He was at the forefront of a conscious hip hop renaissance.
His debut album “The College Dropout” landed on store shelves on February 10th 2004 and was met with . The third and fourth singles leading to the album “All Falls Down” With Syleena Johnson and “Jesus walks” gave Kanye constant radio play throughout the year, and the album would go on to sell 3.3 million copies to date. At the 2005 Grammy awards the album was nominated for 10 awards and Kanye ended up winning 3; Best Rap album, Best rap song for “Jesus Walks”, and best Rap/Sung collaboration for “Slow Jamz”. All of the record sales and awards aside, the album was able to bring a new bright mind into the limelight. It gave hip-hop a new voice, and it gave pop culture a new figure. The College Dropout was groundbreaking. During a time when the rap industry was ruled by rappers who only spoke of drug dealing and violence, Kanye came through with a soulful album packed with songs about struggles that normal people can understand. It was a voice for the people who felt like they weren’t taken serious, It was a voice for the dreamers.
One of the best things about “The College Dropout” is the colorful skits Kanye spreads throughout the album to help carry out the story and add a more personal touch to it. The album kicks off with a skit from comedian DeRay Davis where he tells Kanye he has to do something for the kids for their graduation day. So Kanye goes up there and delivers a speech to the whole student body from his perspective of being someone who dropped out of college and still being able to be successful and follow his dreams without a college degree. This really sets the tone and lays out the concept that the album. The following track “We Don’t Care” is a celebratory song where Kanye is telling this class to just simply not care about what people have to say about them or whatever short sided views they may have. A notable line from this song is “We forced to sell crack, rap and get a job. You gotta do something man your ass is grown”. The highlight of this song is definitely the children’s choir in the back singing the lyrics “We wasn’t supposed to make it past twenty-five, jokes on you, we’re still alive.” Kanye is trying to deliver a message about how people are just trying to get by every day. And with their circumstances being the way they are and already having the odds stacked against them, they never really put much thought into doing anything with their lives. Especially gaining a higher education, They just want to survive.
One of the more notable tracks on the LP follows shortly after: “All falls down” catches Kanye in one of his more confessional and personal states. The whole song is about consumerism and how people will buy expensive things just to fill some void they have in their life. Kanye continues this theme in the following line by saying “It seems we living the American Dream, but the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem, the prettiest people do the ugliest things, for the road to riches and diamond rings.” In the next track “Spaceship” featuring GLC and Consequence, Kanye details his past life of being the only black person working at a gap and having a manager who would constantly berate him: “If my manager insults me again, I will be assaulting him, after I f— the manager up, then I’m gonna shorten the register up.” As well as accusing Kanye of stealing from the store “They take me to the back and pat me, asking me about some khakis, but let some black people walk in, I bet they show off their token blackie.” Overall a good song where Kanye details having to work a lame job in order to finance his dream of being a rap star.
The following track “Jesus Walks” is probably my favorite song off of the album. In this song, Kanye discusses organized religion and his on and off relationship with Jesus Christ. Kanye acknowledges that he could probably use a little bit of Jesus in his life, but he doesn’t know how helpful he will actually be. In the intro to the song we hear a drill sergeant giving orders to his soldiers and the sound of the soldiers marching, as well a skittering drum rhythm that gives the foundation to this song. This intro is really indicative of war and Kanye opens up by saying “We at war, we at war with terrorism, but most of all we at war with ourselves.” People are constantly fighting a war with their environment as well as fighting against others, but Kanye believes that all of the struggles lies internally. On the second verse of the song Kanye says “To the hustlers, killers, murderers drug dealers, even the strippers, (Jesus walks for them) to the victims of welfare living in hell here, hell yeah (Jesus walks for them)”. Now one of my favorite parts about this song is when Kanye uses some crazy reverse psychology by saying “So here go my single dog radio needs this, they say you can rap about anything except for Jesus, that means guns, sex, lies, videotape, but I if I talk about god my record won’t get played?”. Kanye completely calls out radio stations for never playing songs about Jesus, and then he gets this song not only massive radio play but a grammy award as well. At the end of the song, Kanye says “Well if this takes away from my spins, which’ll probably take away from my ends, then I hope this take away from my sins and bring the day that I’m dreaming about.” Kanye is not portraying himself as the holiest or god fearing man throughout this song, he is just hoping that in the end he can absolve himself of his sins and end up at the pearly gates after he dies.
Jesus Walks then bleeds right into the following song “Never Let Me Down” With Jay-Z and J. Ivy. This song is pretty interesting because you have J. Ivy dropping a poem on a song with Jay-Z and Kanye, and the results end up being pretty mixed. Jay-Z just comes in and brags about his hit songs and chart placements followed by Kanye and Ivy talking about overcoming seemingly undefeatable odds and institutionalized racism. This really shows how Kanye who was just a newcomer at the time was still able to out rap someone who was at the top of their game. For the next track, Kanye recruits his old friend Talib Kweli and fellow Chicago native Common to complete the trifecta for the song “Get Em High”. This is one of the funnier and more playful cuts on the album, and this is more or less due to the fact that this song has no real message to it. It’s just Kanye dropping ridiculous lines like “My flow is in the pocket like wallets, I got the bounce like hydraulics, I can’t call it, I got the swerve like alcoholics.” Then on his second verse, Kanye starts telling a story about chatting some girl up on the internet in order to hook up with her, a pretty honest depiction of an activity that most young adults partake in. If you can take away one thing from this song it’s that Kanye is not getting too caught up in the life of a rap superstar, he is still one of us.
The next song on the album is “New workout plan”. This song is vastly different than the rest of the tracks on the album. It features some manic violin playing while Kanye is pretty much coming from the perspective of a man teaching an exercise class on an old school VHS tape, like the one your mom may have used to use back in the day. The track opens up with him saying “You just popped in the Kanye West get right for the summer workout tape and ladies, if you follow these instructions exactly, you might be able to pull you a rapper, an NBA player, man at least a dude with a car.” The song is pretty ridiculous, and Kanye spends the whole time delivering ridiculous bars about things that frankly I’m too scared to get into detail about because this is a school newspaper and I don’t want to get burned at the stake. The song is basically two songs in one, as the second half of the song is pretty much dance hall music, complete with a “clap” segment. This song is comical, it’s funny. Something that was not very common in rap at the time. With that said it is just as important as any of the serious songs on this album.
Next on the album is the song that got Kanye his first placement at number one on the hot 100. “Slow Jamz” featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx is the song that got The College Dropout the attention it deserved. Jamie Foxx’s nimble vocals at the start of the song set the whole mood, which is then complemented by Kanye’s verse where is talking about cool whip and stripping as well as the iconic line “She got a light- skinned friend look like Michael Jackson, Got a dark skinned friend look like Michael Jackson”. Thanks to Kanye’s witty bars, Jamie Foxx’s vocals and Twista’s lightning fast rhyme delivery “Slow Jamz” was one of the biggest hits of 2004. “Breath in breath out” featuring Ludacris comes right afterward and in comparison to the songs that came before it is a bit of an anti-climax. Ludacris was one of the hottest rappers around at the time but he is just glued to the hook on this song. “Always said if I rap I’d say something significant, but now I’m rappin’ ‘bout money, hoes, and rhymes again” is the best line to sum the whole song up. It’s just Kanye taking a break from the album’s main theme to drop some more hilariously braggadocious bars over a beat featuring some bluesy trumpets. It’s not a bad song necessarily, it just feels like filler. Afterward, comes part of another funny skit by DeRay Davis. This time he is poking fun at the people get their degree and graduate from college, just to end up working a boring and menial job.
Following the skit is the song “School spirit” where Kanye basically just proclaims that he is done with the college life. The song does a good job supporting the theme of the album, another notable line is “Told em I finished school, started my own business, they say ‘Oh you graduated?’ No, I decided I was finished.” Kanye also takes shots at the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. What a guy. Afterward is the second half of DeRay’s skit. “Because when I die, buddy, you know what’s gonna keep me warm, that’s right, those degrees.” Just more jabs at the idea of higher education, funny stuff. Just when you thought the skit were all over, there is one more. This time it is coming from a more morbid point of view. The “Little Jimmy Skit” details a little boy talking his family choosing their degrees over their finances and when they died they left him with nothing. Even going as far as saying that his dad was so greedy with degrees that he took Little Jimmy’s degree before he was even in college. Lot’s of dark humor shining through on this one.
The next song “Two Words” is in my opinion, the best-produced song on the album. With this one, we can see Kanye adding a live string arrangement, electric guitar, piano, as well as featuring the Harlem Boys Choir. He recruits Mos Def and Freeway for this one, which adds this crazy mix of conscious hip hop and gangster rap that comes together perfectly. This song is Kanye trying to bridge the gap between conscious rap and gangster rap, and in a way trying to prove a point by saying “Hey, even though the lyrical content of our music is different we are still in this whole thing together.” Next comes the track that started it all. “Through the wire” Didn’t just kick off Kanye’s career and show his rapping potential to the industry, the song itself is an important tale of true strength and overcoming impossible odds. Kanye spends the entire song rapping about his car crash and all of the difficulties he has had to deal with, all while his jaw is wired shut from the reconstructive surgery. During the song, Kanye even apologizes for how unclear his vocals are, what a guy.
The second to last song on the record is “Family Business” which is one of the most soulful songs on the whole album. Kanye spends the whole song rapping about the loving relationships he has with all of his family members and talks about missing family members who are either in jail or have passed away. “This is family business, and this is for the family that can’t be with us, and this is for my cousin locked down, know the answer’s in us”. This song catches Kanye in a more nostalgic or melancholy state, as he reminisces and tells stories about growing up and going to family get-togethers and seeing all the member of his big family. For the grand finale, Kanye closes up with “Last Call’. Kanye drops two verses at the start of this 12-minute cut, then spends the rest of the song in a ‘closing credit’ type sequence where he talks about his rags-to-riches story and details how he got signed to Roc-A-Fella records. It’s really in this final leg of the album where Kanye is just talking over this beat that you really see the guy for what he is. A Genius. The story is great and Kanye details every bit of his rise to stardom over a wonderful jazzy instrumental that plays throughout the whole track. Kanye is full of life during the whole thing, and he honestly just sounds excited to be living his dreams.