Our recently-launched "Classic Rotation" series revisits classic albums on the anniversary of their release.Today we take a look at Kanye West's debut album, "College Dropout", which dropped ten years ago on February 10th, 2004.
There are albums that are important to their specific genre of music and there are albums that change said genre all together. They have the ability to implement a seismic shift both musically and culturally-- what is accepted, what is cool, style, production, method and so on. It is fair to say that Kanye West's 2004 release, and debut effort, The College Dropout is such an album. It is also fair to say that hip-hop began a transformation (or evolution, if you will) after it dropped. Both yhe mainstream and the underground were jolted by the success of the record. So allow us to celebrate the first major label release of the larger than life, producer-turned-rapper, turned fashionister, Kanye West.
Believe it or not, there was a time when hip-hop wasn’t chalk full of sped up, sultry soul samples. Kanye Omari West was just a kid who wanted to make it big, toiling in the Chicago underground with GLC and the rest of his Go-Getters crew. Then Kanye met up with Jay-Z. Then The Blueprint was dropped. Then everything changed. Kanye produced five tracks on the now legendary album, and went from being an obscure producer from Chi-town, to an in-house producer for the one of the most powerful labels in the game. Despite his newfound success, the Pink Polo kid wanted more. He wanted to be an MC. On October 23rd, 2002 Kanye was involved in a late night car accident on his way home from the studio. Reconstructive surgery, in which the doctors wired his jaw shut, was required. Two weeks later, inspired by his near fatal accident, Kanye recorded “Through the Wire”, with his jaw wired shut, which has now become a classic when referring to Ye. It was released on both his mixtape’s Get Well Soon and I’m Good and would eventually find its way onto College Dropout. Kanye was a very interesting thing to the hip-hop community. A peculiar anomaly; different from the rest of his brethren, and regarded with the sort of curiosity usually reserved for side show freaks and game-changing innovators. He was the latter.
Upon it’s release, College Dropout would garner both critical acclaim and strong numbers, selling 3.1 million domestically and over 4 million worldwide. Rightfully so. The year before, ganster rap dominated the charts as 50 Cent’s “In the Club” was the biggest hit of the year. Kanye, however, offered a different look. Not equipped with the best flow, Kanye focused on tight production and strong word play to get his point across. He was able to inject emotion directly into his tracks by producing the album entirely by himself. His singles“Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks” were tight – great production coupled with the lyrical simplicity that Yeezus would later become known for. Loads of bravado accentuated with little specs of insecurity splattered throughout. “All Falls Down” and “Slow Jamz” featuring Jamie Fox and Twista, work as a perfect example of how to accomplish a premier “accessible” hit. It was syrupy and RnB-laden, without coming off as a forced effort to garner female listeners and cheap radio play. Despite these good and totally respectable tracks, the true heart of the album is found in the nooks and crannies, squeezed in between the accessible, the interludes, and the skits.
“Spaceships” alongside GLC and Consequence, with it’s sample of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover”, is a soulful blue collar track that finds the now über-confident rapper examining his not so distant past. Annoyed with his shitty job, producing tracks in his basement, dreaming of a spaceship that could carry him away to his new life. The nod to the hard comes in the form of the classic “Two Words”. Mos Def, Freeway, and The Harlem Boys Choir help Kanye weave this raw intricate tale of what it means to live in some of the toughest hoods in America. An angry Bush (feel free to cringe) era banger over a sample of Mandrill’s track “Peace and Love”. Intelligent irony crafted by the tracks' creator. “Get ‘em High” featuring Common and Talib Kweli gets you up without making you feel stupid. Featuring two of the premiere “conscience” MCs of all time, the track never lets the listener stop to take a breath. Even Luda gets in on the action flowing through probably the most underrated track on the album “Breathe In, Breathe Out”; A hilarious ode to women and weed over a ridiculous sample of Jackie Moore’s “Precious, Precious”.
A lot has changed in the world of Kanye since this album dropped. His rants, overconfident proclamations, famous relationships, and family tragedies, have transformed Mr. West, the kid in the bear suit, into the Louis Vitton Don, into Yeezus. Yet putting all that aside and looking at the man’s work, we can’t help but see an innovator. A musician that brought something new to each album he crafted. A game changer with the kind of attitude we reserve for the greats.
The College Dropout was the beginning of it all.