Is it worth a listen? The College Dropout

This week we are talking about Kanye West’s debut album The College Dropout

The bear displayed on Kanye Wests debut album has become the mascot for West, known as the Dropout bear. He would be featured on the covers of Wests next 2 albums, Late Registration (2005) and Graduation (2007)

Roc-A-Fella Records

The bear displayed on Kanye West’s debut album has become the mascot for West, known as the Dropout bear. He would be featured on the covers of West’s next 2 albums, Late Registration (2005) and Graduation (2007)

This week I am joined by senior Evan Steece, as well, Sebastain Chavez, celebrated Walmart employee. We will be discussing the debut album for rapper Ye, better known as Kanye West. He is one of the most controversial figures in the music industry.

As Steece pointed out to me during our discussion, “You’d really have to separate the art from the artist. He’s pretty controversial in not only today’s day and age, but even shortly after he released The College Dropout in [February 10] 2004.” There is a reason why West has had a successful music career but it didn’t come without lots of hard work

West originally started as a producer, and was known as being a beatmaker.  His early work was with rappers Jay-Z (The Blueprint) , Ludacris (“Stand Up”), Talib Kweli (“Get By”), and singer Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”). But West wanted to be more than just a beatmaker for someone else, he wanted to rap over his own beats.

Pictured to the left is Jay-Z, an American rapper, who was influential in Kanye West’s (Pictured right) early career. Jay-Z also had features on the songs “Never Let Me Down”, as well as, “Last Call”.”   (Getty Images )

When you look at this album you get tracks that clearly show that. For example, “Through The Wire”, is a song that he wrote and performed most of it originally after he was in a car accident that led to his jaw being wired shut. Despite all that, he did this song, as Steece discussed with, “He’s gonna push no matter what … that would be unbearable to me to try to talk alone, and the fact that he made the whole track about it is really interesting.” 

On this track, Chavez provided his thoughts on the story of this song. “He could have died right there. I think it motivated the album. You never know what’s gonna happen in the future.

The cover art for West’s debut single, “Through The Wire.” (Roc-A-Fella Records)

So you’re just gonna live in the present.” That’s one of the big things Chavez likes about West’s music is the message behind them and how he can relate with them at times. Chavez shared his feelings with him and how West reassures him, “It tells people you don’t have to follow what society tells … I’m not sure what I’m going to do after high school and I like him telling me that it’s okay.  

“Ain’t nobody expect Kanye to end up on top / They expected that College Dropout to drop and then flop (“Last Call,” the story of the creation of this album). Everyone was betting that West would fail with this album, and just focus on beat making but West proved to everyone he could make it as a rapper. 

He may not be one of the most technical rappers, but he makes up for it with his clever lines and solid rhyming but with that he has a message behind it all.  

Steece added, “He doesn’t let a track be just throwing a beat down. For the sake of it that it sounds good … there’s an underlying reason for why he he does what he does.” You find that with songs such as “All Falls Down” where he speaks of a addiction, consumerism and it’s influence in his culture. “She’s so precious with the peer pressure / Couldn’t afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexis.” 

He addresses a serious problem of people buying stuff simply for the image it projects of you, it’s something that really affects everyone. In a way people are enslaved to these objects. 

“It’s his way of making light of the situation … you can look at his album as a serious stab at college, or you can look at it or as a comical statement on maybe how he views that.” Steece reasoned with me.

Not everyone wants to exactly hear the problems that are present in the society we live in, so when West incorporates his humor it makes it easier to accept it. 

Kanye West is in the suit of the Dropout Bear, after all the Dropout Bear is him. (Netflix )

 “‘Oh my God is that a black card?’ /  I turned around and replied ‘Why yes / but I prefer the term African American Express’” (“Last Call”). West would poke fun at the culture he grew up in and surrounded the music industry, in songs like “Slow Jamz” (featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx) “She got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson / Got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson” or the satirical “The New Workout Plan” with great lines like “All the mocha lattes, you gotta do Pilates.” 

West could get you cracking up with his verses but he could also be emotional as well as politically frustrated, like on the uplifting and politically charged “Never Let Me Down,” “Now ***** can’t make it to ballots to choose leadership / But we can make it to Jacob’s or to the dealership / Swear, I hear new music and I just don’t be feelin’ it / Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it / But I know they don’t want me in the d**n class / They even made me show ID to get inside of Sam’s Club.” 

He wears all of his beliefs on his sleeves with this album, he doesn’t care, he raps it all out like in the spiritual “Jesus Walks”, “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh? / Well if this take away from my spins / Which’ll probably take away from my ends / Then I hope this take away from my sins.” 

West is a rapper that’s extremely expressive, for better or for worse, especially with his music. The topics he feels strongly about he talks about in his music, for crying out loud he had an entire album about his religious feelings (Jesus Is King). As I pointed out in my Van Halen review, a good debut album should operate as a manifesto for the artist and that’s exactly what College Dropout does. 

Kanye West worked tirelessly in the studio with the creation of his debut album. (Netflix )

He sets the model for what the rest of his career will look like, while he has evolved with his production, his lyrical content has remained the same for the most part. Chavez added, “I feel like Kanye just has always had his sound … It’s got to be some of the best stuff that he’s produced, which is crazy because it’s his first album.” West hasn’t betrayed who he is, he has stayed true to himself, that’s what appeals the most to me about West. 

Steece during our discussion said something that really sums up West, “his work is him and he is his work.” He is extremely passionate about his music, and who are we to cramp on that? Music has always been one of the most personal forms of self-expression, you are putting it all out there. 

“He makes it for himself, not for a certain record label” Steece added during our discussion. His music is him and at times you may just roll your eyes at how overly indulgent some of his music is but in the end this is the man. Quite honestly, West himself said it best, “As a man, I am flawed, but my music is perfect.” 

The College Dropout is no doubt a great album, and hands down one of West’s, if not, his best album. Despite how much I enjoy it and Steece man, as well, we still have our problems with it. 

The biggest problem with the album is the skits in between some of the songs. While Steece appreciates the story told through these little interludes, I’m not a huge fan of it. It gets in the way of some of the tracks and sometimes it contributes nothing.

I do have to admit the opening skit that leads into “We Don’t Care” works and then even the skit right after the song works well too and is funny. But the skits present on the second-half of the album are just missing, they are missing the punchy in your face humor and they don’t even set up the songs coming next.

Despite that all, the album is still great and it allowed for a new generation of rappers to find their footing  The College Dropout was the first of many West albums that would innovate the genre.

The Dropout Trilogy albums (dubbed by fans), depicting the Dropout Bear were Kanye West’s first 3 albums. (Roc-A-Fella Records)

The success of this album would lead to the jazz influenced Late Registration,  to the electronic Graduation, to the influential 808s & Heartbreak, and to his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Despite,  all of that The College Dropout has remained a classic for the genre and one of West’s greatest albums. It is certainly worth a listen. I would have to rate it a “I’m like a ghetto pope”/10 (Ye). 

Cue my spew. If you enjoy rap and you haven’t listened to this album yet then check it out and if you don’t agree with me or you do then tell me or talk about your feelings with others. As always I am looking for new stuff to listen to so if you have any recommendations then tell me. I’ll check it out.