May 28, 2008

Kanye West - The College Dropout (February 10, 2004)


A lot of people are already familiar with the Kanye West story, since he is currently the most famous rapper/producer in the industry today (I would say 'arguably' here, but you both know it's true), so since his debut on Roc-A-Fella Records, The College Dropout, is twenty-one tracks deep, I'll keep this short.

Chicago's own Kanye West was a producer first and a rapper second, primarily because he could produce the hell out of a record, but nobody ever wanted to hear him rap over one. Through a combination of hard work (he produced for a lot of local Chicago rappers and a B-list hip hop celeb here and there) and sheer luck, he secured a production deal with Roc-A-Fella Records, quickly becoming the go-to guy for beats with an R&B/soul infusion that could still get played loudly in your whip without fear of you being shot and/or religiously converted.

But, as most actors would tell you, all Kanye wanted to do was dance! Or, barring that, rap. He would spit rhymes to his own beats, and Jay-Z would just grin like an idiot and quietly delete the vocals from the track. He was told not to give up his day job, which was distressing to young Kanye, especially since his day job consisted of assistant managerial duties at Wet Seal. Finally, after some relentless badgering, Shawn Carter agreed to sign an album deal, although he had no clue how to market such an animal.

(Normally you would insert a reference to Kanye West's near-fatal car accident here, but I'm holding that for the body of the review instead.)

Luckily for Jigga, the Kanye West gamble paid off, which is more than can be said for Pittsburgh Slim. Kanye's debut The College Dropout sold tons of copies and created a star out of Kanye, who would immediately let the success go to his head and become one of the biggest, most egotistical asshole in the ego-driven hip hop game. A talented asshole, yes, but still an asshole. Just like Max!

The liner notes, however, betray Kanye's glam image, with its series of photographs that illustrate the "college dropout" theme in an effectively depressing manner, tapping into everybody's fears of being excluded from something important. Of course, nobody really thinks about those photos whet The College Dropout is mentioned, simply because the liner notes also include yearbook photos of all of the primary contributors to The College Dropout, especially Shawn Carter with his fade and fat gold chain. That pic is the funniest thing I've seen in the past five minutes.

Oh right, the album.

1. INTRO
If you wanted Bernie Mac to appear on your album, why not just get Bernie Mac? Getting DeRay to play the role is kind of like getting Jay Mohr to imitate Christopher Walken.

2. WE DON'T CARE
I never cared for this song. Clearly, neither did Kanye.

3. GRADUATION DAY (FEAT JOHN LEGEND)
This is really just a dressed-up skit.

4. ALL FALLS DOWN (FEAT SYLEENA JOHNSON)
I actually prefer the album version over the original, which sampled Lauryn Hill's vocals instead of having Syleena Johnson re-do them. But whenever I think of the song, my mind tends to drift toward the video, if only because I feel that Stacey Dash needs to get more work. (Did you see the Playboy pictorial? I don't care if she's damn near sixty, she deserves to get noticed.)

5. I'LL FLY AWAY
Skit.

6. SPACESHIP (FEAT GLC & CONSEQUENCE)
This song is fantastic. I especially love GLC on here. "Didn't get signed/Wasn't my time": what an optimistic way to look at things in the rap game. It's damn near refreshing. Now I just need to find GLC's Drive Slow mixtape, which I have in a crate somewhere.

7. JESUS WALKS (FEAT JOHN LEGEND)
This song was teased on multiple mixtapes Kanye released prior to the release of The College Dropout, and it surprisingly lived up to its hype; Kanye, hip hop violinist Miri Bin-Ari, and co-writer Rhymefest shared a Grammy award for this track. The Grammy doesn't make it a good song, though: the song makes it a good song. I'm just surprised that the track didn't divide the audience in spite of it being blatantly religious, a feat unto itself.

8. NEVER LET ME DOWN (FEAT JAY-Z & J. IVY)
Kanye invites his boss to spit some bars and split the cost of drinks. Shawn doesn't sound inspired in the least until his final, tacked-on-to-the-album-version-as-a-bonus verse, on which he is completely overpowered by the beat before handling shit. The part where Shawn is overtaken by the instrumental is a clear indicator of where the original version stopped, for those readers that don't give a fuck about Kanye West but like to read my writing. To which I say, thanks!

9. GET 'EM HIGH (FEAT TALIB KWELI & COMMON)
This song just rocks. Kanye somehow manages to reference both Beck and Pastor Troy in his first verse, and Kweli's introduction onto the track is just funny. Common could actually be considered the weakest link on here, since his verse clearly was recorded later in the process, but it still works with the song pretty well.

10. WORKOUT PLAN
Skit...

11. THE NEW WORKOUT PLAN
This song is lame as fuck. Actually, I take that back, since I just insinuated that fucking is lame. This song is just awful, and the fact that it was actually a single at one point makes it that much worse.

12. SLOW JAMZ (FEAT TWISTA, JAMIE FOXX, & AISHA TYLER)
Twista's big breakthrough single, repurposed here as a Kanye West song with the same basic concept and sound, but a lot longer. Jamie Foxx and the hottie Aisha Tyler are still present in their original roles, too.

13. BREATHE IN BREATHE OUT (FEAT LUDACRIS)
Incredibly weak. Luda only spits the hook, which he didn't even write (mixtape leaks revealed an original version on which Kanye handled everything solo). Surely Luda was only included because of his success with Kanye on his own "Stand Up", and subsequently, his success with Kanye in court after they were sued over "Stand Up".

14. SCHOOL SPIRIT SKIT 1
...

15. SCHOOL SPIRIT
Off-puttingly censored, although it's my understanding that the curses are backmasked as a condition of Aretha Franklin clearing the sample. This song is so jacked that it's damn near incomprehensible. You would do better to search the Interweb for the uncensored director's cut, which at least makes sense, even if it's still not that great a song.

16. SCHOOL SPIRIT SKIT 2
...

17. LIL JIMMY SKIT
Two skits in a row? You're killing me, Smalls!

18. TWO WORDS (FEAT MOS DEF, FREEWAY, & THE HARLEM BOYS CHOIR)
This song is okay, but it's no "Drunk & Hot Girls". (I'm only half joking.) I remember not being very impressed with "Two Words" when I first bought The College Dropout, and now I can pinpoint why: the production is too slick and expansive for a song with such a gritty, low-budget video. The video is pretty damn good, though, even though the credits run a bit long.

19. THROUGH THE WIRE
While I am impressed at the tenacity of Kanye (he recorded this song with a jaw that was wired shut following the aftermath of his near-fatal car crash), I was never actually that impressed with the song itself. It's alright, I suppose, but Kanye has done better things in his career. I suppose in this case, though, it's about the journey, not the destination, and the journey is compelling, but not as much as "Drunk & Hot Girls" would be.

20. FAMILY BUSINESS
Kind of cheesy, and kind of sappy, but I still found myself liking this song. Kanye dials down the pretension to show love for his fam, in an oddly sweet fashion.

21. LAST CALL
When I first saw that this track was over twelve minutes long, I naturally assumed there was a hidden bonus track. Sigh. After spitting a few recycled mixtape verses (which will sound new to you if you had never heard of Kanye before today), he runs through an abridged version of his life and career so far, which, like his commentary on his Behind The Beats mixtape, is fascinating to listen to. I like how he flat-out admits to swiping Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" drums for "This Can't Be Life"; not a lot of producers would ever admit to anything remotely like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I seem to remember The College Dropout sounding better than it actually does. Maybe back in 2004 I was more caught up in the Kanye mania than I thought, but in listening to it today, there are a ton of rookie mistakes on an otherwise decent disc. Some of the songs here have stood the test of time, and some of them are fucking terrible. The College Dropout proved, though, that Kanye West was deserving of more of your attention, so it's not surprising that he's made it as far as he has today.

BUY OR BURN? There are fourteen actual songs here, and only four of them are very good. For that, I would recommend a burn, but it's okay, my two readers: Kanye already has a lot of money. Get the songs off of iTunes if you feel guilty, but I having a feeling that the two of you will feel no such thing.

BEST TRACKS: "Spaceship"; "All Falls Down"; "Get 'Em High"; "Jesus Walks"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
My Gut Reaction: Kanye West - Graduation

14 comments:

  1. Good review. I remember really liking this album when it came out. Not sure how I would feel about it now due to kanye oversaturation.

    I have to agree on your hatred of skits, but that's why God created the skip button.

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  2. AnonymousMay 28, 2008

    What I was afraid of finally happened. My favorite album of all times got a 'burn-recommendation' on this blog. I actually had to buy this disc 3 times (and by doing so indirectly payed for 1/millionth of Kanye's canary-yellow head-of-Jesus-shaped diamondpiece) after leaving my first copy in a greek rentalcar, and the second in my ex-girlfriends' car who probably ritually burned it with the rest of my stuff and it's Still worth the money! So to whoever reads this: this cd is AWESOME, you HAVE to buy this, and you won't regret it!

    Greetings

    George

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    Replies
    1. Yeah. I'm going to ignore your recommendation. Sorry mate, I just can't stand Kanye

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  3. The funny thing is that this is Kanye's best album IMO and it only has a few good songs. His other two are in my "box". I'm sure a lot of younger people think this is a classic but it's very far from a classic. Indeed.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  4. i bought it (well someone offered it to me, interesting no ?) and i'm pretty glad of it. i realy like never let you down and last call, but it's true that many tracks suck. i prefer late registration !

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  5. i'm curious to read what you're going to write about the track with Paul Wall (Drive Slow) when you review "Late Registration". although i disagree that there are only 4 good tracks, nice review as always... dammit, i can't criticize any of your reviews in an extremely negative way since most of them (alright, ALL of them!) are very well written. lol

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  6. I know the Ye' Stsns are in a frenzy, but this review is dead on. Not to say some songs weren't better when they 1st dropped, but they just don't stand the test of time. And for the record, "Late Registration" is Kanye's best work to date.

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  7. "The college dropout" wa a very interssting album when it came out on Roc-A-Fella. It was beyond dopedealing and high-roller-big-ballin' images... However the glamourizing touch remained, because Kanye had to be made big... Back then, he had something to say and he wrapped it up with a nice production.

    "The college dropout" is Kanye's best effort.

    Kay.

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  8. Hmm, never have bought this but think i had all the singles on 12" (that college DJ time again). 'Jesus Walks' is huge, 'through the wire' is nice, good sample ditto for 'all for down'.

    I liked '2words' alot and i can't remember 'get em high'. 'Slow jamz' was hot for the student girlies. But honestly, this album isn't why kanye is great - it's why he's a popstar. The next album is why he's a megastar and the third album is why...i don't know really what it is, it's why he's slick.

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  9. i disagree

    u completeley ignored great songs like

    family business
    two words
    through the wire
    never let me down

    yet you like the shittest song 'put em high'

    this album is far from classic but its a lot better than you make it out to be

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  10. Lol Get Em High is shitty? Shiet son, you need your ears check. Max is right, shit's fire.

    I liked We Don't Care, but I agree with you for the rest of the album. Co-sign Last Call too, no wonder Kanye gets what he wants - he's damn mesmerizing sometimes. He can def tell a story.

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  11. love this record. I think the fact that Kanye West did most of this beautiful music by himself and without any co-producers proves his talent and his abilities. The lyrics are mostly interesting and the story on »Last Call« at the end of the album is the cherry on top.

    I guess I like »The College Dropout« so much because I own the vinyl version which isn't containing those annoying skits in between the actual tracks.

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  12. Never cared for this album. I thought Kanye was a pretentious pop rapper from the get-go and my predictions only proved right as the years went on. I never liked Kanye's voice.

    With that said, I used to play Get Em High a lot (the original version with just Kweli and Ye - it went harder for some reason) and Family Business. Some other decent tunes on here like Slow Jamz and Spaceship (love the beat, hate the rapping).

    Overall, College Dropout just wasn't for me.

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