College Reunion: A look at Kanye West’s debut album The College Dropout 10 years later
By Evan L. Jackson
Kanye West is well known for his antics and his braggadocio, but ironically he was at his most humble, ten years ago, when he made his debut album with The College Dropout. It is only ironic because the same reason why some hate him now is the same reason why they loved him back then. In 2004, just a few years removed from helping craft Jay Z's greatest hits and providing sped up soul sampled beats to all of Hip Hop he decided to forge his own path. Through the skits in College Dropout Kanye takes a satirical look at college and questions the importance of higher education. Kanye also encapsulated the university student’s angst that was sorely missing in Hip Hop. A demographic that was not given the proper attention to as Hip Hop seemed to be stuck in the Mafioso/drug talk & shiny suit era of the late 1990s. The soulfulness he had exhibited in his instrumentals on Jay Z’s masterpiece The Blueprint was taken up another notch on The College Dropout. Ten year later some of the messages on The College Dropout still resonate and for now we’ll put them in perspective.
After Jay Z “retired” (go read my review, Back To Black: The Black Album 10 years later) there was a vacuum on who would take up the mantle as the best rapper alive. Most Hip Hop artists mistakenly had tunnel vision and had only shined a light on one side of the prism that was the black experience. The College Dropout illuminated the black middle class 20 something who seldom had a voice in Hip Hop up until that point. Kanye was the Hip Hop artist that walked that line of the conscious and the comical. You can admit it, when you first heard “All Falls Down" you laughed a bit. The references to the girl who choose a major that didn’t make any money or the irony that the girl was named Alexis because in fact her mom couldn't afford a car. The more you listened to it though, you heard the underlining message. And most of all Kanye was admittedly flawed, which made him more relatable. He hated his job just like you, as exemplified in “Spaceship” with the sorrowful sample of Marvin Gaye. He struggled with his relationship with Jesus just like you as he exclaims on “Jesus Walks”. He celebrated his trials, tribulations, and triumphs on “Through The Wire” and “Last Call”.
Kanye ushered in a new era, where rappers would truly wear their hearts on their sleeves. No longer too cool for school, Kanye had mainstreamed being in tune with your feelings and expressing them to the full extent. With each personal account he gained credibility with his audience and reached even more people. Kanye had also taken on the welcome challenge of producing every record on the album. The album foreshadowed Kanye’s career where he would dabble even more so with the strings, auto tune, & untouched subject matter. And it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the trilogy that is The College Dropout- Late Registration- Graduation is arguably the greatest first three albums of any Hip Hop artist.
So has this College Dropout graduated to a Rap God? The answer undoubtedly is yes. But we will always remember Kanye as the overly confident artist who would use his arrogance as the steam to power his dreams and in turn empowering us to reach our dreams.