On Thursdays we review albums that are considered “classic”. This week it’s the classic album that introduced us to Kanye West, The College Dropout. This album is still today considered one of the best, if not the best, freshman albums of all time (up there with Nas’ Illmatic and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’). This album, released by Roc-A-Fella Records, was the album that people told the young producer that he could never make. Instead however, not only was it pressed, but it was received with wide critical acclaim and gave us classic hip-hop tracks like ‘Jesus Walks’ ‘All Falls Down’ ‘Through the Wire’ and ‘Slow Jamz’.
We Don’t Care – “Drug dealin’ just to get by, stack ya money till it gets sky high”. Now you won’t too often hear Kanye rapping about drugs, none the less celebrating them, but his first track of his first album does just that, and in a beautiful way. In this song, Kanye talks about growing up in Chicago, witnessing people sell drugs out of the sheer desperation. He also sprinkles in some Kanye humor “and some of them dyslexic, they favorite 50 Cent song ’12 Questions.” This song, as is the entire album (no surprise), is produced by West himself of course.
All Falls Down – A favorite of many, ‘All Falls Down’ is one of The College Dropouts singles and lasting hits that you will still hear in the club today. It may not be a ‘club banger’, but it is rare to find someone who does not love this track, and DJs know that. From Syleena Johnson’s vocals to the themes of class and wealth, ‘All Falls Down’ is 1o out of 10.
Spaceship – One of the first times we ever found out that not only can Kanye rap and produce, but he can sing too. He certainly is no Usher, but he also doesn’t need autotune either. Here Ye discusses the ghettos of Chicago while recruiting the help of his friends GLC and Consequence. The production and way the song is put together is brilliant, and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Distant Lover’ sample doesn’t hurt either.
Jesus Walks – Over an unforgettable drumline, Kanye shows us his relationship with God. Who knows where Kanye would be without this track? Arguably his greatest song of all time, and one of the songs to really change how rap music is made. With this track and this album generally, Kanye showed everyone that you don’t have to rap about guns, drugs, and b*tches to make good hip-hop music. No song in rap or even music, touches on religion, and does it as well as ‘Jesus Walks’.
Never Let Me Down – With help from J. Ivy and Jay-Z, this is one of The College Dropout’s most beautiful tracks with a great chorus and production to match it. Also it has one of Kanye’s most personal verses, where he raps about how he said goodbye to his girlfriend’s late father before he passed away, promising to one day marry her. Sure, we know that Kanye ended up marrying someone else, but you cannot substitute how much Kanye shares on this track.
Get Em High – “Trying to catch the beat”, this song features three legends, two of which were already legends at the time, the other which is now one of the greatest rappers of all time. ‘Get Em High’ has help from New York’s Talib Kweli and Chicago’s Common, and contains one of the albums most classic and memorable lines by Kanye.
“N-n-n-now… my flow… is in the pocket like wallets, I got the bounce like hydraulics, I can’t call it, I got the swerve like alcohoooooolics!”
The New Workout Plan – Perhaps ‘The New Workout Plan’ may seem out of place, or maybe Kanye had pressure to make a radio friendly hit, and this may all be evidenced by Kanye not performing this track anymore, but either way ‘The New Workout Plan’ is a good demonstrator of Kanye’s fun side. The video is hilarious, the song is catchy, and it inspired J. Cole to have one of his biggest hits, so it can’t be that bad, right?
Slow Jamz – This was Ye’s first number one record, and the first time I was introduced to the music of Mr. West. “Got a light skinned friend looked like Michael Jackson. Got a dark skinned friend looked like Michael Jackson”, who can forget that line? Accompanied by Jamie Foxx and Twista, this was easily one of the biggest songs in 04′.
Breathe In Breath Out – This may not be one of the albums legendary tracks, but at the time it had a feature from one of the hottest rappers (Ludacris) and the horns in the beat are amazing. This is by no means a bad track and it definitely isn’t worth skipping when you get nostalgic and pop in The College Dropout.
School Spirit – In my opinion this may be the album’s weakest track, but it surely isn’t weak. All-in-all it was a necessary song to make the theme of the entire album stay so consistent.
Two Words – This may be the best beat on the album, along with ‘Jesus Walks’. Kanye pieced together guitars, piano, a string arrangement and the Harlem Boys Choir, all while making a beat that gives you chills. The song has a unique flow and theme throughout, and features the legendary Mos Def.
Through the Wire – Imperfection is perfection sometimes, and this song is an example of that. Soon after his car accident, which almost took his life, Kanye raps while his jaw is still wired (as if the song was already not personal enough…). Putting a twist on Chaka Khan’s ‘Through the Fire’, this will always go down as a classic track from the 2000s.
Family Business – Family Matters in Chicago, pun intended, and any song that raps about monkey bread is a winner in my book. In ‘Family Business’ Kanye raps about his family and his “Aunt Ruth that can’t remember ya name.”
Last Call – This may be the most lyrically clever song in Kanye’s extensive catalog, up there with a bunch of other legendary tracks. “Mayonnaise colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips” is a classic line and to end the song (and the album) Kanye tells us a great story in the outro about how he was discovered at Roc-A-Fella.
“Oh my god, is that a Black Card? I turned around and replied “Why yes, but I prefer the term African American Express.”
Overall this is as perfect as an album as you can get. I highly doubt anyone reading this has not listened to at least most of The College Dropout, but whether you have or have not, it is certainly worth an additional listen every few months.