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.