It's been 10 years since Roc-A-Fella Records unleashed Kanye West's The College Dropout onto the world. That single disc found its way into the players for suburban and urban youth across the country and, soon enough, West was taking over the world. He considers himself a genius, and while these days he's more known for his love life and inability to keep his opinions to himself, there was a time when we agreed. That time was 2004 when we found ourselves taken aback. Ten years later, we can still find 10 things to love about College Dropout.
Do you remember West's beginnings? West had a hard time breaking into the rap world thanks in part to his middle-class upbringing by his single mother who worked as an English professor. There was nothing gangster about West. No amount of demo tapes or auditions seemed to land Kanye out from behind a mixing board and in front of a microphone. That is until a late night drive home found West in a nearly fatal car crash. Two weeks later and with his shattered jaw still wired shut, West hit the studio with a newfound vision and attitude. He recorded "Through the Wire," and the single, along with his story, would bring him to the forefront of the rap industry where he's stayed for the last ten years.
West took sampling to a whole new level on The College Dropout. Not only did he bring attention back to some awesome songs, but he showed a love for a wide array of music. He sampled from Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire" to Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark." Perhaps most impressive and shocking, though, was West's use of Bette Midler's "Mr. Rockafeller." (Yes, that Bette Midler.)
If we broke our finger, we'd act like the whole world was ending. West slurred and spitted his way through three minutes and 41 seconds of personal horror and triumph. From verse one he laid out his struggles to make it big, "No use me tryin' to be lyin'/ I been trying to be signed/ Trying to be a millionaire." His always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride attitude was always present but slowly trying to shift. What's not to love about a classic underdog story? (Or the use of "sizzurp" in a sentence.)
In 2004, this line couldn't have been more relevant, "We at war with terrorism, racism and most of all we at war with ourselves." Three years since 9-11 and our bombardment of Afghanistan and one year since we invaded Iraq, our entire country was clashing over every little thing. Do you remember any other talk of the issue in rap culture? Interestingly enough, the wars are "over" but that line still seems relevant.
Especially the X-ray part!
Two great things happened in this song. First, when West couldn't obtain rights to use parts of Lauryn Hill's "Mystery of Iniquity" for the song, he found a work-around. He pulled in Syleena Johnson to sing the most relevant parts to work as the backing/chorus for the song. West also took a further look at his biggest issues with rap culture. It's a two-way street for West. On the one hand, his polo shirts and middle-class upbringing kept him from seeming like the right image of a rapper. On the other, he's so self-conscious about looking poor. West uses fashion to balance the dichotomy of a preppy, polo shirt-wearing upbringing with his rap culture dreams.
"I'm no longer confused but don't tell anybody.
I'm about to break the rules but don't tell anybody.
I got something better than school but don't tell anybody.
My momma would kill me but don't anybody.
She wants me to get a good a** job just like everybody.
She ain't walked in my shoes I'm just not everybody."
We should all take a moment to recognize that West is a pretty funny guy. Anyone who can rap "astronaut" and "a** a lot" clearly has a good sense of humor. While it was on display multiple times during West's debut, our favorite lines will always be, "Got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson, got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson." Meanwhile, we already know any time you involve Jamie Foxx, a song is about to take on a sexy vibe, which is exactly what West was hoping.
He may have been a preppy kid with a university educated mother, but West understood the truth of the streets in the neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago where he grew up. Knowing West's background, the use of "we" is slightly laughable. Still, the song is filled with the truth of growing up poor and trying to see your future past a stack of your parents' bills.
"The second verse is for my dogs working 9 to 5
That still hustle cause a nigga can't shine off $6.55
And everybody selling make-up, Jacobs
And bootleg tapes just to get they cake up
We put shit on layaway then come back
We claim other people kids on our income tax."
Is West perfect? No. Over the years, he's done or said something to annoy even his most devoted fans. And, yeah, the fact that he calls himself a "genius" is a little hard to swallow sometimes. But, West knew what he was doing a decade ago when he stepped up to the microphone with his mouth wired shut. There's no denying he still knows exactly what he's doing with his career, too. We approve. (Mostly.)
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