It is undeniable that in the past few years, hip-hop had reached a plateau. With no consistency in quality mainstream albums being released, old-schoolers dusted off their classic 90s records, nerd rap fans continued jocking pseudo-intellectual rap about asteroids and metaphysics, and Dipset dominated the airwaves. Everyone pointed their finger at someone else, and ultimately, nothing was done about it.
Enter Kanye West. In his autobiographical debut CD, The College Dropout, West covers a broad spectrum of subject matter and musical styles, giving even the most elitist of hip-hoppers something to call their own.
West reveals his level-headed mentality in soulful, thought-provoking tracks such as, “All Falls Down,” “Spaceship,” and “Never Let Me Down,” which also features the unlikely but effective combination of Jay-Z and spoken word artist J-Ivy. In the song, West spits a heartfelt verse reflective of his upbringing, including the lines, “I get down for my grandfather who took my momma/Made her sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat/At the tender age of six she was arrested for the sit-ins/And with that in my blood I was born to be different….”
In songs such as “Through the Wire” and “Slow Jamz” (which could be labeled the obligatory “chick song,”), West emits a more lighthearted and upbeat feel, giving him the ability to be accepted by commercial rap fans as well. As a result, both of these songs currently receive frequent play on Vancouver radio stations, as well as on Much Music.
Through harder beats, subject matter and guest appearances, West illustrates the edgier facet of his persona in tracks such as, “Get Em High,” and “2 Words.” Collectively featuring notable artists Talib Kweli, Common and Mos Def (and less notable artist Freeway), these two grimy, bass-heavy tracks would please even the hardest of image-obsessed rap fans, while winning over substance-oriented hip-hoppers with their impressive lineups.
As indicated by the title, the underlying theme throughout the 21-track album is dropping out of college, both a literal and metaphorical interpretation of how having degree upon degree ultimately does not better one as a person in the real world. This is reinforced by humourous skits peppered throughout the album, such as, “No, I’ve never had sex, but you know what? My degree keeps me satisfied. When a lady walks up to me and says, ‘Hey, you know what’s sexy?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t know what it is, but I bet I can count up all the change in your purse very fast.’”
Undoubtedly, the one characteristic that ties this album together is West’s remarkable skill as a producer. While fans who have followed his career are well aware of his impressive production abilities, many people are unaware of just how many songs they have bobbed their heads to that were actually produced by West. A few include Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name,” Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” and Ludacris’ “Stand Up.”
As a whole, The College Dropout is a solid album, appealing to a mass amount of hip-hoppers, which is a rarity nowadays. Conceptually, it is well thought out, interweaving commercial appeal, intelligent messages, an underlying theme, humour and exceptional production. Already generating buzz for the best album of the year, The College Dropout is one of the best received albums from the majority of hip-hop critics. As stated on the back of the official College Dropout t-shirts, “Hip-hop is back.”