On February 10th, Kanye West’s debut album ‘The College Dropout’ would celebrate its tenth birthday. Here are seven Reasons why it is the Greatest Rap Debut of All Time
The Perfect Marriage of the Conscious and the Commercial: On The Clipse’s ‘Kind of a Big Deal’, Mr West declared “I guess, I’m like the black Marshall meets Jay”. On his Yeezus press run, he’s modified himself as the meeting point of Mos Def and Jay Z. He’s right. He blends the social consciousness of the more introspective back pack movement to the hyper capitalist, high fashion devouring elements. He was able to make us feel not so guilty for liking Versace(“Versace! Versace! Medusa head on me like I’m Illuminati”) whilst summing up his imperfections on ‘All Falls Down’. On Jesus Walks, he says “Next time I’m in the club/ Everybody in the club screaming out/ JESUS WALKS”. I mean, he wants a song about the greatness of Jesus blaring in the centre of debauchery. Nothing merges the conscious and commercial like that.
The Underdog Won: The most significant breakthrough in Rap until The College Dropout was by 50 Cent: a rapper built in the archetypal Gangstar build. It also helped that he had a great tragedy to triumph tale in that he had survived being shot 9 times. Hip Hop had been dominated by: The New York scene, Atlanta and the West Coast. This had been the norm for a while with the usual outlier from the Mid West like Eminem and Nelly proved at different stages of the Noughties. Kanye was the underdog in many ways: He was the guy who had been signed more for his ability as a Producer with the caveat that “We’ll just put Camron on most of the songs to save face” were his rapping skills not any good. He was the guy wearing a Polo shirt, well fitting jeans and Gucci loafers as opposed to a Baseball cap, a jersey, some baggy jeans and Air Force Ones. Like the sane man in the house of the mad, his approach was antithetical to what Hip Hop was based on. He stuck to his guns and made one of the great thematic albums of our time.
It was Hispter ish without trying too hard– People are always more likely to be wary of Mainstream acts. Kanye was offered a blank slate in this sense to shape public perception of him and he was wise in building his album around a core of unheralded talents. Yes, he had Jay Z, Jamie Foxx and Ludacris on it. But he also had GLC, Consequence, Common, Syleena Johnson and Talib Kweli. Rhymefest played a role in co writing Jesus Walks whilst John Legend provided background vocals on some of the more soul inspired parts of the album. Just like M.I’s ‘Talk About It’ would later do for Nigerian hip hop, it was great to see an album that earned so much success being brought to life by so many unknown talents. The sad thing being that this would be the peak of some of their careers.
It provided the soundtrack to the greatest Grammy performance of all time: Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Jesus Walks was brought to life to great drama. His Mum, Donda West jumping out of the church audience he was preaching to at the bit that goes ” My Momma used to say only Jesus can save us” was such a poignant moment. John Legend and Alabama Blind Boys Choir providing the soulful interlude whilst Mr West went on a wardrobe break. Mavis Staples also made an appearance. These are elements that inform the Yeezus tour set. The Drama heavy set? The appearance of Jesus? The silhouette that would be replicated for his performance of ‘Blood on the Leaves’ at last year’s VMA’s? It’s interesting how his career came full circle in the decade.
It stuck to the foundations of hip hop whilst taking it to a new frontier. The lyrical value of the album is unquestionable while the structure of the album conforms to traditional hip hop values. The skits are a hallmark on latter day hip hop productions and these ones are actually funny whilst proving to be one of the crudest takes on education in Pop Culture. Whatever you do, don’t listen to it whilst pretending to read/study for an exam.
It was humorous and serious.. AT THE SAME DAMN TIME: When Kanye West first came out, one writer described him as being there to make us laugh to stop us from crying. This particular characteristic earned a comparison to Dave Chappelle (Interesting that there was a proposal that Chappelle act as the Preacher in one of the ‘Jesus Walks’ videos) whose progression to Premier Comedian dovetailed with Mr West’s emergence. The College Dropout was an antidote to the idea that being serious is no fun. He was the voice of our inner conscience on ‘All Falls Down’. His talk with Jesus on ‘Jesus Walks’ was like the one we’ve all had with him when despite our not coming to him in a while, he gives us a significant blessing and we want to thank him and promise that we’ll always do what’s right . Despite all these, one of my high points on the album is line “Ooh Girl, your breath is harsh. Cover your mouth up like you got SARS”. It reminds me so much of the smelly mouth jokes that formed the more juvenile part of my high school experience.
The formal introduction of the Sample based Soul sound: Mr West rose to prominence for crafting soul sample based productions for acts like Jay Z, Talib Kwali, Cam’Ron and Alicia Keys. ‘The College Dropout’ was like his coming of age session where the Master displayed his best tricks for the teeming audience. Despite his moving away from that sound, records like ‘Otis’ and ‘Bound 2’ prove he still has IT!
It inspired a new generation: A wise man suggests that Rap’s evolution could be categorized into “Pre College Dropout” and “Post College Dropout”. That is apt in emphasizing the impact Mr West’s debut made. J Cole is like Kanye West in many ways. He’s a rapper and producer. He was given his big break by Lord Shawn Carter of Brooklyn and he has taken a leaf out of Mr West’s book on more than one occasion. He has a version of ‘Last Call’. When he was stuck for a single for his debut album, inspiration came from ‘The Workout Plan’ that would spawn into the topic of ‘Let Nas Down’. Drake is presently hip hop’s golden boy. His greatest source of inspiration? Yeezus. He’s on record as saying ” When I was a kid trying to figure out what I liked, it was Kanye who I related to the most”. More recently, he has said that Kanye is his only competition. Kanye broke down one door in Hip Hop and inspired a generation. For that, The College Dropout is the greatest rap debut of all time.