The fact that Kanye West was the teddy bear sporting a pink polo when he started his career is hilarious. After all the egotism that has surrounded his career, it really makes Kanye look like more of a mortal compared to the megalomaniac deity he is in 2015. On The College Dropout he is the underdog. He is the one who survived a near-fatal crash and used that traumatic event to fuel his rise to stardom. He is the rapper-producer who kept the best beats for himself and churned out a timeless classic that asserted his presence in rap for years to come. He is Kanye West and above everything, he makes awesome fucking music.
If you aren’t immediately drawn in by the choir of kids singing the line: “Drug dealing just to get by, stack your money till it reach sky hiiigh” then your taste in humorous irony is poor. Irony is always present in this album whether it’s intentional or not. You can hear the perfectionist nature of this album throughout, yet the forced “they-say-you-can-rap-about-anything except for Jesus” line somehow made the final cut on his breakthrough single “Jesus Walks.” How about the fact that “School Spirit” (a song mocking school) can actually be played in schools because it doesn’t contain any swears? (This was due to a pact he made to Aretha Franklin, she would let him use the sample if he promised to not swear in the song). How about the time that Kanye says, “I live by two words: ‘fuck you, pay me.”
Like most rappers, it’d be wrong to generalize Kanye as a bad rapper if you hear one bad bar from him. The reputation Kanye received as a bad rapper is so utterly absurd, I find it hard to fathom. Sure, he has occasional shortcomings, and the way he handles himself in public usually has him wilding out, but his charisma and swagger he possesses is so damn addicting. There are a lot to choose from but the five lines listed below are great and show his versatility as they each present Kanye as a different character:
“And for that paper look how low we astoop, even if you in a Benz you still a nigga, in a coup”
“And it’s scary to me, Henny makes girls look like Halle Berry to me”
“If you knew how my face felt, you would know how Mase felt”
“Killin’ y’all niggas on that lyrical shit, mayonnaise-colored benz I push Miracle Whips”
His ability to totally change personas makes this album so special. In “All Falls Down” he’s conscious; in “New Workout Plan” he’s humorous; in “Breathe In Breathe Out” he’s ignorant; in “Last Call” he’s arrogant (and the Mase line is just too great to leave out). That’s what I love about this album, it has so much to offer. Even his flows are totally different on a song-to-song basis. Notice how his slurry, 50 Cent-type flow is completely different from his typical Kanye flow on “Get ‘Em High,” or his sensual R&B flow compared to his aggressive flow on “Two Words” (may have more to do with the instrumental, but noticeable nonetheless). For those who diminish Kanye for his massive ego, his debut album has him come across as extremely unselfish. There are multiple lines where he recognizes his own flaws/shortcomings: “I’m so self-conscious” on “All Falls Down”; “I wanna talk to God but i’m afraid ‘cause we ain’t spoke in so long” on “Jesus Walks”; or “You don’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed” on “Family Business.“
Even through his guest appearances he manages to be unselfish. Hova closes out in “Never Let Me Down” (Jay: 2 verses, Ye: 1 verse); Talib Kweli gets to be the star rapper while ‘Ye gets to be “the nigga who uses his name for pickin’ up dimes” on “Get Em High”; and Twista totally gets the spotlight by “doing it faster” on “Slow Jamz.” The only notion of arrogance is on “Last Call” when he justifies it by saying “I could let these dream-killers kill my self-esteem, or use my arrogance as a steam to power my dreams.” The only notion of his pretentious attitude is his constant criticism of the education system (it took until 2008 for him to stop shit-talking schools). He dedicates three songs and three skits to it, which may be a little excessive, but as soon as your ears are graced with the beautiful barbershop quartet humming on “School Spirit,” you’ll forgive him. It sounds fucking awesome.
Sounding awesome is something this album is good at. As much as I love to defend his lyrics, it’s the beats that make this album essential. The best example of this is not shown through Kanye, but through his guests. He’s one of the best at seamlessly integrating his guests into his tracks and making them sound great. Take Consequence for example, the guy hasn’t put out shit worth listening to his entire career. On “Spaceship” and then in 2005 on “Gone” he sounds better than ever before. Also, the cohesiveness between Kweli & Kanye sounds like they’ve been rapping together for years. Hell, even Freeway sounds like a poor man’s Biggie on the grandiose production of “Two Words.” Kanye said it best himself: “I’m the gap like Banana Republic and Old Navy and ooohh, it comes out sweeter than Old Sadie.”
If that’s not enough proof, here are some sounds that you may find cool. There’s the acoustic guitar riff layered with a mellow bass loop on “All Falls Down”; the squeaky shower of Marvin Gaye’s “ooh’s” throughout “Spaceship”; the entire two minute gospel sample on “Jesus Walks” (especially the second hook where the whole “I waaaant Jeeesuuusss’ thing goes on”); the bongos that are somehow easily overlooked on “Slow Jamz” and “Through The Wire”; the beautiful quartet humming on “School Spirit” (although the chipmunk soul sample is also beautiful); The Harlem Boys Choir’s epic overlapping of the chorus on “Two Words”; and finally the majestic vocals at the end of “Family Business,” which is ingeniously sung over the subtle “Let’s get Stevie out of jail” line; and finally the constant ‘ooing’ and ‘awwing’ in the background throughout “Last Call.” It’s all sounds just so fucking good!
Extremely hard to say that this is my favorite Kanye album. It’s definitely in the top three with Late Registration, and MBDTF. Everytime I take time to listen to one of those three I think it’s the best. Regardless, this is still a hip-hop gem and all you “lyricist elitists” can have fun avoiding Kanye’s discography and listening to Hopsin’s biblical scriptures for the rest of your life.
Song Quality: 8.5/10
Overall: 46/50 (92%)