MUSIC REVIEW | Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)

Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. Well, at least to someone like me who only has a very mainstream, commercial knowledge of the genre, Kanye West is up there as one of the absolute kings of hip hop. While it took me a long time to get to Jay Z, I never really doubted his greatness within that world. It was just something I was never in a hurry to experience for myself. Once I did, I realised he has legitimately earned his decades of praise. And when I saw that West produced so many of the Hova tracks I especially liked, I thought he had probably earned a bit if my time too. And here it is, The College Dropout.

In my limited experience with hip hop, I have never once heard a skit or sketch that added anything at all to an album. They’re never funny, always terribly executed and nothing more than speed bumps, getting in the way of any momentum an album might be on the verge of building. Why do they exist? Does anyone ever talk about how great these shit bombs are, or how much better they make an album? All that is to say, the opening track, Intro, and three or four other attempted comic asides across The College Dropout, are nothing less than absolute shit.

But once West gets to the music, I immediately started to get it. We Don’t Care is a story of the risks of living the hard life of dealing on street corners and gang banging. Even with that message and a chorus sung by kids, it never becomes as preachy or corny as those ingredients would have you believe.

All Falls Down layers Kanye’s rhymes with a soul, vocal hook from Syleena Johnson, and it’s a great juxtaposition that means even while the two very different sounds almost compete with each other, it comes off us more of a compliment than a fight.

Before this debut, West had already made a name for himself as an A-list hip hop producer. A key contributor to classic’s like Jay Z’s The Blueprint, his bonafides behind the mixing desk were already proven. But here, it’s amazing to hear how confident and fully formed he already was behind the mic. Like I said, my experience with hip hop is limited at best, but I think the fact that I can really get into a song like Spaceship is kind of a testament to Kanye West and The College Dropout. It makes a novice like me realise what can be done with the genre and want to hear more.

A Grammy winner for Best Rap Song, Jesus Walks is a stand out amongst stand outs (if that’s even possible, and not completely contradictory). The vocally chanted beat, the driving passion in his lyrics and delivery, they’re both impossible to resist.

On The New Work Out Plan, we get a techno throwback beat that jaunts along at a happy pace and hints at Daft Punk, years before West would officially collaborate with the frog robots from the future. School Spirit is another little piece of weirdness that could have so easily come off as slight, or jokey, or gimmicky, but it’s one of the easiest songs to listen to on all of The College Dropout.

When writing about hip hop albums, I complain a lot about the constant bragging and self fellatio that fill so much of the lyrics. Considering the tabloid view I have of West, the biggest surprise on The College Dropout is its humility and positivity. Where Jay Z (even on this album, when he drops by verbally wank on Never Let Me Down) wants to constantly over compensate for insecurities by shitting on everyone else, so much of this album is about recognising and facing insecurities.

I never would have expected such an attempt at the profound from Kim Kardashian’s husband. You know, the same guy who stormed the stage at an award ceremony like a bratty toddler because he didn’t agree with who the judges gave the award to? Yeah, that guy.

Kanye West

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