It seems we living the American dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem
It’s October 2011. I remember this day surprisingly well. Not the date unfortunately. It’s a school day and class is dismissed. I was a young, pimpled 13 year old kid in the 9th grade with love handles that hit the shoreline of my waist like a high tide and braces so heavy they could trigger alarms going through airport security. As I walk out of the classroom, my hands reach for my earbuds with dexterity that imitates muscle memory. Hip hop was never a big deal to me. I listened to it for the sake of having music to listen to and have a half assed excuse to be alone being a huge introvert back then. Somehow, and to this day I don’t know how (I suspect God), my iPod got synced to someone else’s library so I’d been riding on completely different music.
Out of nowhere comes on “We Don’t Care” by Kanye Omari West. A choir of kids come on singing about their assumed death at 25 is supposed to be tragic but the way they sang along with so much joy made dealing dope seem like a triumph. But when Mr West came on, topping himself bar for bar, I was convinced I was about to experience music levels beyond anything I’d ever known. At a nearly worrying speed, I found and downloaded the album and (dramatically) pressed play.
An hour and 16 mins later, I was cleansed.
The College Dropout is currently my favorite album across all genres and artists. Notice that I do not consider it the greatest album, which is a title I only bestow upon “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, Kanye’s Magnum Opus (whose review will come some other time). Why favorite? Because it’s so colorful. The College Dropout is a collection of satirical skits, spirituals, slow jams and southern hip hop all in a neat bundle.
Through tracks like “Jesus Walks” addresses the trials and tribulations his faith has been through, addressing the hip hop community’s failure endorse Christianity. Not trying to bring politics into this, just trying to bring praise to the most high. Coming out of a rapper with no career yet, dropping a controversial song on your first album in ’04 is risky but Kanye didn’t care. He powered through with a beat that mimics a war drum and howls, which got the track certified Gold and won a Grammy for best rap song.
“I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just tryna say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need Jesus”
But while he struggles internally about his faith in God, another side reveals itself to be equally tested. Kanye doesn’t miss an opportunity to bring up consumerism in America through “All falls Down” and “The New Workout Plan”. “All Falls Down” is kicked off with an energetic and fiery chorus by Syleena Johnson that is most definitely in my top 10 favorite song hooks. Kanye goes off bar for bar on how addicted we are to shiny things, especially the African American community, for the sake of image and status.
“She’s so precious with the peer pressure
Couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexis (a Lexus)”
“I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that ver-say-see!”
Are just examples of his sense of humor about the issue but you can tell that deep down this annoys him when he ends the verse with:
Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack
And a white man get paid off of all of that
But I ain’t even gonna act holier than thou
Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou
Before I had a house and I’d do it again
Cause I want to be on 106 & Park pushin’ a Benz
I want to act ballerific like it’s all terrific
I got a couple past-due bills, I won’t get specific
I got a problem with spendin’ before I get it
We all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it”
His honesty is disheartening. A song that kicked off with passionate tone and jokes flying had us feeling righteous. But a bitter tone kicked in and had him mad at the world and then at himself because he’s no better than the people he mocks. The truth is we all want validation but none of us admit to it, let alone a rapper and that was the beauty of this song.
“The Workout Plan” shares the same idea as “All Falls Down” but in this, Kanye turns the satire dial all the fucking way up. The track imitates a workout mixtape sold mostly to self-conscious women at ridiculous prices. In a smooth, “car-dealership-salesman” voice, Kanye promises that if you follow his instructions through the tape, you might be able to date a rapper, an NBA player or at the very least, “A dude with a car”. An upbeat track with a pump up rhythm, Kanye kills it in 16 bars but the remarkable part of it is the interlude where you hear “testimonies” from women all around the world about the success with the workout plan they’ve been able to have with his Plan.
Kanye is a comic with a beat. His sense of humor is one developed as a coping mechanism from all the pain he went through growing up and the imperfections in the world we all come to notice eventually. Other tracks like ‘Two Words’ and ‘Family Business’ are less subtle and just has him blatantly pointing out the wrongs in life in either a raw verse or a melody that wrings your heart like a wet towel.
Yet what made this masterpiece exceptional to me wasn’t the brilliant satire, the original skits, the soulful samples or the spoken word verses spit in between gospel choirs. What made me recognize Kanye Omari West as an MC to be on the lookout for was the final track on the album named “Last Call” that lasted 12:41 seconds. A track that wasn’t even a track in reality. It was him just giving a toast about how he got where he is over low electric bass and a catchy snare drum. The consistent failures, the constant moving, the close calls, and the first impressions that weren’t so impressive until he signed to Roc-A-Fella… he lists them all. While this sort of move isn’t unprecedented, it’s a personal touch that gives you the rapper’s background without the mess of having online interviews and tabloids. . As a debut album this is by far the most well-formed I’ve come across and the most creative. If you haven’t got the chance, go take a listen.