April 13, 2004

Kanye West "The College Dropout"

With no less than three hit singles embedded in the Billboard Top 20, Chicago-based rapper/producer/jack-of-all-trades Kanye West appears to have his finger lodged firmly in every pie. While The College Dropout is West’s debut release, make no mistake, this cat’s been around the block- with producing credits cropping up on a literal “who’s who” list of contemporary hip-hop (Jay-Z, Ludacris, Foxy Brown, Fabolous, Alicia Keys, DMX, Beanie Sigel, and Lil’ Kim, just to name a few) West seems to have carved a considerable niche for himself out of what one media source christened ‘chipmunk soul’ (referring to West’s ample use of pitch-shifted R&B samples). The College Dropout, however, marks West’s debut as an MC and from the LP’s 21 track, it sounds like he’s got something to prove. Despite the fact the results are admittedly mixed- West’s lackadaisical, everyman delivery occasionally falls short- West often gets by on sheer enthusiasm alone.

The College Dropout is a largely successful affair, showcasing West’s rock-solid producing skills and uncanny ear for hooks (there are, at the very least, six guaranteed hit singles on this record). Throughout its 62 minute running time, West’s rhymes veer from self-deprecating and hilarious (“she got a light skinned friend look like Michael Jackson/Got a dark skinned friend look like Michael Jackson”) to sharp and poignant (“how do you console my mom or give her light support/When you telling her your sons' on life support/And just imagine how my girl feel/On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emitt Till”) all the while anchoring an album filled to the brim with positive, uplifting messages about education, materialism, and life in general. The most interesting facet of The College Dropout is how it revels in the dichotomy of commercial success versus artistic integrity. Take West’s verse in “All Falls Down“, for instance:


Things we buy to cover up what's inside/Cause they make us hate ourselves and love they wealth/That's why shorties hollering "where the ballas' at?/Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack/And a white man get paid off of all of that/But I ain't even gon act holier than thou/Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou/Before I had a house and I'd do it again/Cause I wanna be on 106th and Park pushing a Benz/I got a problem with spending before I get it/We all self conscious I'm just the first to admit it

The only qualm I have with The College Dropout is one that I’ve been hearing consistently ever since its release: there are simply too many skits. They interrupt the flow of the record and majority of said skits are just not amusing. Fortunately, the skits don’t detract from what is an otherwise first-rate release brimming with charm, wit, and massive hooks to boot.

--Jonathan Pfeffer

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