Updated: Feb 13
Welcome to the start of Kanye season. For every Friday a review is posted (once a fortnight), it will focus on an album by Kanye West as we travel through the discography of this controversial yet creative genius. Wednesday's throwback reviews (also once a fortnight) will still take place on an album from the past - but Kanye season is specifically Friday's.
Kanye's long and artistic discography all began in 2004 after Jay Z reluctantly allowed him to release a hip-hop album on his label titled 'The College Dropout'. The album was one of the first mainstream releases without a rapper to have a gangster appeal or to talk about sex, violence and drugs. What helped Kanye blossom the most was his production - which he was already well respected for in the hip-hop community for before this album. His soulful samples created beautiful sounds that his smooth flow would easily ride over - and this album was no exception - the production is immaculate. The key theme in this album is that education doesn't equal success which is evident as Kanye is in fact himself, a successful man who dropped out of college. Other themes prevalent and showcased well throughout the project include consumerism whether it be others or Kanye's own, Kanye not being taken serious at first racial injustice. These themes are noticeable all throughout the album even more so by the skits that are scattered about (they are also quite funny these skits).
Kanye isn't the most complex lyricist but he does have some clever lines such as the famous "She got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson//Got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson", as well as an ability to really spit and flow. He isn't alone on this album either as most of the features such as Twista, Jay Z and other rappers generally do a good job; as well as the vocalist features such as Syleena Johnson on 'All Falls Down'. Speaking of vocalists, Kanye isn't the best in this album when he tries to hit the melodies - but in future albums we end up seeing this aspect to his music improve. However, for this album specifically there are verses that due to his singing voice, well I don’t want to say it ruins the verse but it makes them far less enjoyable.
After the skit 'Intro' we are introduced to the song 'We Don't Care' which is a response to the previous skit where Kanye's principal asks him to perform an original song for the kids at his graduation. Kanye decides to sing about drug dealing out of desperation with an off putting first hook. The first hook is of putting because of Kanye's singing, but in the following hooks he's joined by a choir of children which blends in well with Kanye's vocals and saves the chorus. The verses are all solid, filled with clever lines, "The drug game bulimic, it's hard to get weight//A n****’* money is homo, it's hard to get straight", add that on top of some great kicks and snares with hints of jazz and the signature sped up soul music and you have a great first song. Following another skit , 'Graduation Day' where Kanye's principle kicks him out of college, we reach arguably the best song on the album - 'All Falls Down' - a track all about consumerism and racial injustices. The acoustic guitar in the background partnered with the kicks brings the production altogether and when you layer Syleena Johnson's vocals over it with Kanye's gliding, smooth flow - you get a hit. It also does a good job at getting the point across with some more clever lines, “Couldn't afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexis”. Next up is the first lackluster song of the album 'Spaceship' leading on from the skit 'I'll Fly Away'. Obviously as it's Ye the beat is great and while I don't dislike it, it has its issues. I haven't made my mind up on the hook yet and despite Kanye's flow being so compatible with the beat - his melodic delivery doesn't sound nice. There are positives however, GLC & Consequence have solid verses and the content of the song is enjoyable.
One of Kanye West's most iconic songs, 'Jesus Walks', is the next song. The whole 'bom bom' thing going on in the beat and soldier like drums eventually grew on me and I love the instrumental now. It was really one of the first mainstream rap songs to focus on religion and injustices rather than drugs and women, and arguably changed rap from this point on, allowing more rappers to come forward and talk/rap about religion. Smooth flow once again, meaningful delivery, soulful hook with Kanye preaching and lines such as "We ain't going nowhere but got suits and cases" make this one a classic. 'Never Let Me Down' is another solid song mostly about religion/injustices, but Jay Z raps about his status in rap in a threatening way which seems a bit out of place but is still a good verse or two. Kanye and J. Ivy do good jobs, hook and beat is nice - my only problem with the song is Jay Z's verses are mixed weird. 'Get Em High' is a party song where Kanye's relentless flow focuses on this girl named Candice, who is a fan of Talib Kweli, so Kanye throws Talib in the track to prove he knows him and while Talib at first ins't impressed with this - he does it for some of Kanye's beats. It's a pretty funny concept. Then Common comes in with a nice verse that just doesn't fit into the song because he's talking about his status in the rap game. However I still like the song and the repetitive percussion instrument in the beat (almost a xylophone sound) helps move the track along nicely.
6,000 characters already? Sorry let me speed it up. After the skit 'Workout Plan' we get the song 'The New Workout Plan'. Best concept where the workout plan is to get a rich man, beat is in your face and jumpy, flows fantastic, lyrics funny and witty and the ending of "Eat your salad, no dessert//Get that man you deserve" with the claps and Daft Punk type vocals is so catchy. 'Slow Jamz' is a song with a nice groove that is created by the help of the claps - a 'slow jam' groove is created in fact. A nice hook and Twista feature but Kanye's melodic delivery once again just isn't doing it for me. Ludacris partners Kanye on the next track 'Breathe In Breathe Out', and the raspy voice of Ludacris helps to make this hook the most memorable on the album. Kanye's verse is nice and so is the light stringed yet party vibed instrumental. Surrounded by two school spirit skits (really help reinforce the theme of education doesn't equal success), we get 'School Spirit' giving us a catchy hook over his classic chipmunk sampled instrumental - another solid song. The 'Lil' Jimmy' skit is probably the funniest on the album, and then we get 'Two Words' where everybody does their job include the choir in the background who help make the hook so vivid. Following that we have Kanye's most iconic song - 'Through the Wire'. This really demonstrates his commitment to wanting to become a rapper that he'd rap about his near fatal car crash - while his jaw was still wired shut (hence the title, 'Through the Wire'). It's a really good song and another example of Kanye's great sped up soul samples creating a nice beat. The penultimate track is a very strong one in ‘Family Business’. The heartwarming beat creates a heartwarming atmosphere, as Kanye spits about the importance of family - content we never got from rappers at that time. Finally we end on 'Last Call' which is a nice ending but not one of my favourites.
Wow, finally done - might have spent too long on the opening tracks...but Kanye's debut is a classic in rap and really announced the birth of a star. With his unique production, witty lines and conscious content it was clear to see why Kanye made such a fuss with this album. While it has its faults, the album is still amazing with no terrible songs and will stay in rap history forever.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: We Don't Care, All Falls Down, Jesus Walks, Get Em High, The New Workout Plan, Slow Jamz, Breathe In Breathe Out, School Spirit, Two Words, Through The Wire, Family Business
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: I'll Fly Away
OVERALL RATING: Light 9.5/10