I have so much to say about this album, and I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just get something important out of the way: I try to not let my own personal biases play into my MTP recommendations too much. I try to have a big variety, include different things for people to discover and enjoy without making this all just “I like this album and here is why”, but Kanye’s 2004 debut The College Dropout is on my personal Mount Rushmore. I adore this record, it’s a total comfort pick for me, every time I’ve listened to it (outside of the very first time I gave it a listen) I’ve totally loved it. With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
Back in the long past age of 2004, nobody knew who Kanye West was. If you did, you probably knew him as a guy who made a couple beats that Jay-Z had rapped over, but that hardly makes you a household name. And then, in a world where hip-hop was dominated by loud, angry, gangster rap that promoted violence, crime, and objectifying women which was steadily on the decline in terms of popularity, the self-proclaimed savior of Chicago emerged. A kid named Kanye released an album that would change the course of music forever. Soaked with personality, incredible confidence and fiery braggadocio, Kanye’s debut effort isn’t angry or violent; it’s honest, funny, heartwarming at times, and start to finish a total blast. Kanye stormed onto the scene with a record full of soulful beats, clever rhymes, songs about family, faith, believing in yourself, some packed with humor, others instilled with a level of seriousness, and it all works together organically. The most popular album of 2004, winner of the best rap album category at the Grammys, now considered a classic of hip hop, Kanye took his first shot at what he loved and oh boy did he hit one out of he park. Responsible for launching the career of one of the most culturally significant figures of the last 20 years, a career that would change music as we know it, it is safe to say that The College Dropout is a special album.
Some would say that The College Dropout singlehandedly saved hip hop. I’d at the very least have to say that it gave the genre a much needed shot in the arm. Kanye’s ability to take samples that shouldn’t work well together at all and create inspired beats out of them is remarkable. One of my favorite examples from this album is the beat on “Jesus Walks”. Kanye samples a simple military march, the old basic “Left, left, left right left”. He combines it with a sample of a children’s choir singing “Walk With Me”, a Gospel song. Cut up the audio, pitch up or down accordingly, add in a drum track, and some awesome verses, and you’ve got yourself an iconic song. The clever, well articulated, thematic lyricism to accompany all of the beats certainly have some impact on the overall quality of the record as well.
Unlike some of the albums I’ve recommended in the past, The College Dropout is not consistently the same kind of energy. While certain albums maintain an overall feel of seriousness, or stay loose and fun, or fall anywhere else on the spectrum, The College Dropout dances around with grace and ease. Some songs even contain splashes of more than one vibe (i.e. “Slow Jamz” being romantic, serious, and having that line about Michael Jackson). Some albums, like Is This It and Taylor Swift which we heard this week will also have a similar kind of musical style that is present in every song, but Kanye manages to keep the entire album deliciously fresh with his variety of beats and styles. Again, I’m very biased because of my love for this album, but I really hope that other people have similar experiences with this record. As I near the end of everything I wanted to say in this blog, I find myself needing to choose one particular thing that won the album. The problem is, there is so much to like for me. I’m on record saying that this album is Kanye’s Reservoir Dogs and just as I would say that Tarantino won that movie, I just have to say that Kanye won the album.
It’s a cop out I know, but hear me out.
This whole thing works so well because every second of the album is soaked with Kanye’s boisterous personality. It is what drives the record and makes it tick. I love so many lyrics that Kanye raps across over hour long runtime of this record, but I also love the beats on pretty much every track. Ultimately though no piece of this record would work well under any other conditions. It all has to be put together and compliment everything else in such a way that creates something beautiful, not unlike the samples Kanye mixes together to create his tracks. The thread that holds it all together is Yeezy himself, and for that reason, I don’t even feel a little bit bad saying that the aspect of this album that elevates it to greatness is the one and only Kanye.
Well there you have it. The end of the 2nd monthly Musical Training Plan. I really feel like this one was markedly better than the last and I already have big plans for next month. For the time being though, enjoy Kanye’s freshman effort, send me your favorite albums and music recommendations, and tweet at me if you hate my choices.
This is the last call for DJ Boogie. See you all in December.