[Music] College Dropout – Kanye West [2004]


Album: College Dropout

Artist: Kanye West

Released: February 10, 2004

Rating: 8.78/10

If hip-hop had a bible, College Dropout would be the first chapter of the book of Yeezus. It’s a chapter that talks about its creator, his attraction to fame and fortune and about society as a whole. It’s not the most socially aware album, it’s not particularly political, it’s nowhere near his musical best but despite all that it’s one this fictional hip-hop bible’s most important chapters. After all, this was the album that made the mainstream aware of Kanye’s existence. Sure, the hardcore hip-hop fans knew about the beats he made for Roc-a-fella Records and even for his guest verse in The Blueprint2. But this album was Kanye’s first solo outing, and it was his chance to show the world that he could support himself artistically as a rapper. And support himself he does, if just barely; while the production in College Dropout is generally well above par, Kanye himself is not the most natural of rappers and almost every guest star (on an album full of A-list guest stars, it should be said) outshines him. In fact, apart from a few conspicuous exceptions (Common and Ludacris, I’m looking at you), Kanye is the star of the show solely by virtue of having the most verses. You may wonder then, why have I given the album such a high rating. Well, Kanye brings a raw energy and excitement to this project that makes it hard not to appreciate the album for what it is – an honest attempt at a debut from an ambitious, undoubtedly talented (if unrefined), musician. The album definitely has its highs and lows, but it’s very clear that Kanye is pouring his heart and soul into the music he is making, and surprisingly that’s enough, most of the time, to cover his deficiencies as a rapper.

From an executive point of view, it’s clear that the numerous guest appearances on this album are meant to ‘insure’ the album against Kanye’s possible (and expected) terrible rapping, like Kanye himself mentions in the marathon track ‘Last Call’. It’s ironic then that the guests contribute the most to the album’s quality inconsistencies. You have the excellent (Mos Def) and the embarrassing (Ludacris) but that’s not to say that Kanye himself is especially consistent. The album opens with a set of five or six really strong tracks including ‘Spaceship’, ‘Never Let Me Down’ and the super-hit ‘Jesus Walks’. After that though, the quality becomes a little shaky with weak tracks the ‘The New Workout Plan’ and a whole slew of skits that reinforce an overly anti-education theme. I get that Kanye didn’t like college, but really, I doubt he needs four skits to make that misplaced point. Sandwiched in between is another altogether avoidable track of ‘School Spirit’, which together with the aforementioned tracks makes the entire middle section of College Dropout almost tedious to listen to. Luckily, the last few tracks save the album from overall mediocrity; the emotionally charged ‘Through The Wire’ and the altogether impeccable ‘Two Words’ are the best tracks in the album and I can make a strong case for the latter being one of Kanye’s best tracks of all time. The very last track, ‘Last Call’, however, drags on seemingly forever (in true Kanye extravagant style) as Kanye retells the tale of how he ended up at Roc-a-fella records. It’s only interesting on the first listen after which it gets really tedious.

The album’s missing ingredient is its creator’s flow – lyrically, Kanye is fine, with some pretty humorous wordplay and plenty of well-written lyrics and from a production point of view, the album’s sound is plenty interesting, but it would seem like Kanye lacks the intrinsic ability to put the words to the beat. Some of his rhymes feel a little clumsy, but as mentioned in the beginning of this review, it’s not enough to really derail the album. On the other hand, his selection of samples and beats is exquisite – the Marvin Gaye sample in ‘Spaceship’ and the Lauryn Hill sample in ‘All Falls Down’ are probably my favorite. I have to wonder what the point was of taking the entire first verse of the ‘Hovi Baby’ remix from Jay-Z was when Jay was coming in on the fourth verse in any case. Kanye claims that his initial work for Roc-a-fella was the beginning of the ‘resurgence of the soul sound’ – if that’s true, then the comeback is complete here; this album is choke full of the signature West sound from gospel hymns, soul samples and strong, simple baselines. One of the things that I personally love about this album is just how uplifting it is compared to the generally darker and more somber hip-hop albums that tend to occupy the top 10 lists.

Ultimately, College Dropout isn’t perfect but it is refreshing and it is an honest attempt from an enthusiastic newcomer. Kanye stays true to the sound that made him producer of choice for New York’s biggest label and while he does have a long way to go here as a rapper, his efforts are still enjoyable. This will not be his best album but ironically, for an album that’s so strong anti-education, it will be the album he learns the most from.

Standout Tracks:

We Don’t Care

All Falls Down

Spaceship

Never Let Me Down

Two Words

Track Title Producer My Rating
We Don’t Care Kanye West 4.46
Graduation Day Kanye West 4.38
All falls down Kanye West 4.75
I’ll Fly Away Kanye West 4.63
Spaceship Kanye West 4.96
Jesus Walks Kanye West 4.50
Never Let Me Down Kanye West 4.97
Get Em High Kanye West 4.25
The New Workout Kanye West 4.00
Slow Jamz Kanye West 4.25
Breathe In, Breathe Out Kanye West, All Day 3.25
School Spirit Kanye West 3.75
Two Words Kanye West 4.92
Through the wire Kanye West 4.00
Family Business Kanye West 4.67
Last Call Kanye West, Evidence, Porse 4.44

Other Reviews:

Pitchfork

Rolling Stone

Hip Hop DX

All Music

Wikipedia

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2 thoughts on “[Music] College Dropout – Kanye West [2004]

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