Music Reviews

Kanye West: College Dropout Review

Are you freakin’ kidding me? My favorite prolific producer just picked up a mic and dropped an album, and he *produced* it also? Hmmm. I hope he ain’t like some of these solid producers who only think they can rap but really should stick to making beats. Kanye has been making major waves in the music pool, he got a big start on Jay-z’s CD “The Dynasty – Roc La Familia” which he produced “Can’t be Life” starring Hova, Scarface and Beanie Sigel, I distinctly remember loving this beat and song and was dang near the only reason I bought the album, (of course, the intro made up for anything that went wrong on the album). Kanye reveals that he actually intended his next beat to go to DMX, but thankfully it went to Jigga and became known as “Heart of the City” on the Blueprint, now after hearing his debut “The College Dropout”, will we think that these beats should have went to someone else?

The Chicago native is one of the few rappers out there to give respect to the art by actually being creative and *not* following other trends and taking the unbeaten path. He proves this in songs such as “All Falls Down”, “Jesus Walks”, “Two Words”, “Family Business”, “Spaceship”, and fortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The former of the group is the 2nd release (which better win video of the year), and uses an interpolation from Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” which Syleena Johnson beautifully articulates. This is a song of many levels, he hits on many different mentalities ranging from the unwitting college girl, to materialistic psychology he quips “I say f*** the police that’s the way I treat ’em / we buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom / we all buy a lot of clothes, but we don’t really need ’em / things we buy, to cover up what’s inside / cuz they made us hate ourself and love they[‘re] wealth”.

The intensity shifts and varies, at times using songs like “The New Workout Plan” to lighten the intellectual load. Said song is a definite club banger which boasts a hot beat and club heavy lyrics such as “Ooh girl your breath is harsh / cover your mouth up like you got SARS”, he also brings in Workout Plan testimonials and manipulates their voice into the beat, very nicely done from start to finish. Immediately following the up-tempo club shot, he brings the established half tempo “Slow Jamz” featuring Twista and comedian Jamie Foxx, but please don’t be surprised at Jamie Foxx crooning on the mic, he established his R&B presence way back in the day on the soundtrack to “Great White Hype”. Who couldn’t appreciate Twista doing what he does best, which is to go Tazmanian devil on a soft beat a la “Get it Wet” or “Emotions”. Jamie Foxx is a brilliant pull out of the hat, as well as a guest appearance by Aisha Tyler.

Kanye often gets personal and sheds light on his own experiences and mental state on such tracks as “Through the Wire” and “Family Business”. The former was his solo debut which had many people scratching their heads and saying “Kanye West? Ain’t he that producer? I ain’t know he was tryin ta rap.” Ever since he released this track, which was recorded only days after a near fatal accident that had his jaw crushed and wired up causing his arrogance to be realized through his head actually being swollen (hehe), I’ve been anticipating Kanye’s every move. The beat is absolute fire, using a soul sample from Chaka Chan and don’t get me started on the video (when BET finally invites me on to do my top 25, expect it to be in the top 5 or 10).

My absolute favorite track on the record is “Family Business”, I’ve listened to it 35 or 40 times back to back and I am still not tired of listening to it. The beat is very nostalgic bearing a slight feel of an old TV family moment, yet, way deeper than that. Lyrically, if you’re even remotely attached to your family then you will relate on many different levels, I could easily quote every verse and feel justified, it’s a beautiful song which he illustrates poetically, “I woke up early this morning wit a new state of mind / a creative way to rhyme / without using nines and guns”, and “All my niggas from the Chi, that’s my family dog / and my niggas ain’t my guys, that’s my family dog / I feel like one day you’ll understand me dog / you can still love your man and be manly dog / you ain’t gotta get heated at every house warmin / sittin here grillin people like George Foreman”, or “As kids we used to laugh / who knew that life would move this fast / who knew I[‘d] have to look at you through a glass / and look, you tell me you ain’t did it, then you ain’t did it / and if you did, then that’s family business”. I’ll try to contain myself, honestly. It doesn’t quit there, he brings in some absolutely beautiful vocals and choir-like singing accompanied by a sample which reminds us “All that glitters is not gold, all gold is not reality, real is what you layed on me”. This will be the soundtrack to all my future family reunions.

“Breathe In Breathe Out” is interlude-ish and once again is a buffer to all the emotional highs and lows, one of my favorite lines on the album comes in the first verse: “always said if I rapped I’d say somethin significant / but now I’m rappin bout money hoes and rims again / and It’s still about the benjamins / big faced hundreds and whatever other synonyms / … / more chips than pentium / “what you gon’ buy next?”, whatever new trend it is”. Ludacris helps out and spits the chorus “Breathe in breathe out / let them hoes fight / pull a weave out / if a nigga act up, pull a desert eagle / when I pull a piece out, niggas like ‘peace out'”.

“Jesus Walks” is by far the beat with the most to offer, containing a chant that sounds like some dwarves off Wizard of Oz, some serious choir work, a marching drum and that barely scratches the surface, AMAZING attention to detail and creative polish. The song is divided into two verses, the first verse concentrates on being socially shackled and bound by cops, society, and the hood. The second verse actually speaks on what it means to stand out and hold ground for Jesus “they said you can rap about anything except for Jesus / that means guns, sex, lies and videotape / but if I talk about God my record won’t get played / huh?? / well, if this take away from my spins / which will probably take away from my ends / then I hope it take away from my sins”, Kanye best be careful, he is raising his own standard extremely high, especially when you talk about needing a God you defy on other tracks such as “The New Workout Plan”.

The follow up track “Never Let Me Down” which features Jay-z and an unknown J-Ivy is blended to perfection almost as if this and the previous track are the same song. Jay-z kills it in two verses, the opening 16 bars and the closing 16 bars, J-Ivy does his spoken word thang and has a terrific style and even bangs out some heartfelt language of emotion. Kanye once again comes correct, “but, I can’t complain what the accident did to my left eye / cuz look what a accident did to Left Eye / first Aaliyah now Romeo must die? / I know I got angels watchin me from the other side”. The music and chorus is all perfected with timely breaks and break-downs, and just when the song sounds like it’s ending, it drops another verse. Magnifique.

I haven’t even touched songs like “Spaceship”, that has arguably the best soul sample on the record, which fantasizes being able to just leave all the pressures and hassles of life, an incredible addition. Nor have I detailed “We Don’t Care” which pays tribute to the catch 22 of drug dealers and hard pressed youth of today. “Get em High” should also deserve attention with rhyme rippers Common and Talib Kweli partaking in a piece of history rapping about hookin up with internet chatroom babes or just plain spittin bout being hard. What about “School Spirit” which pays tribute to frats and school, “told ’em I finished school, and I started my own business / they say “oh you graduated”, no, I decided I was finished / … / this nigga graduated at the top of my class / I went to cheesecake, he was a motherf****** waiter there”.

The problems with this CD are few and far between. The first is rather obvious and blatant: is it really necessary to have 6 skits?? I will admit, the skits themselves weren’t bad, they were funny and enjoyable and they were definitely numerous. The sheer time consumption of them is what really gets you, and like I said, they were enjoyable, but they don’t need to take up 6 individual tracks, if you absolutely have to have them then blend them into the end of the previous track. The other big problem is glorifying dropping out of college, which is only a problem because of how elaborate this statement is and due to the fact that the target audience is indeed black college students. Way to go Kanye, let’s keep the black community ignorant and out of power. (Please read the sarcasm on that last statement.) Now I’m not saying you can’t be successful without attending college, heck, I haven’t been through school either, but I am saying that everyone dropping higher education is an awful idea. I do realize Kanye didn’t specifically say that, but he does communicate it in his sarcastic and slanderous statements.

Aside from those minor nuisances, this is the ideal hip hop CD, and it should not have been titled “The College Dropout”, instead it should be called “The Redemption of Hip Hop”. There is some gorgeous music overlapped with deep lyrics such as “we scream rocks blow weed Park / see now we smart / we ain’t retards / the way teachers thought / hold up hold fast / we make mo Cash / now tell my momma I belong in that slow class” (“We Don’t Care”), dexterity on the trigger of wit, “killin ya’ll niggas on that lyrical [tip] / mayonnaise colored Benz, I push miracle whips” (“Last Call”), or even relatable light hearted flow, “you know that one auntie, you don’t mean to be rude / but every holiday nobody eatin’ her food / … / act like you ain’t took a bath with your cousin, fit 3 in the bed / if it’s 6 of ya’ll, I’m talkin bout 3 by the head / and, 3 by the leg / but you ain’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed”. Fortunately, I hardly scratched the lyrical surface, he never comes wack and consistently gets across what he’s trying to say.

There’s some other notable aspects, such as on track 3 after the skit he fades in a harmonious instrumental with some soft and soulful singing which leads gently into “All Falls Down”. Also noteworthy is the final track where Kanye burns 10 minutes recounting his story of how he broke into the business, excellent story and I’ll continue to listen to it. Undoubtedly, I’ll listen to this CD again and again and things will be immediately brought to memory that I should’ve put in here for praise, it’s truly a great CD that will stand the test of time due to the organic and fluid sounds mixed with lyrical genius and honesty. Don’t just buy this CD to bump in your car, also play it with your headphones on cause that’s the only way you’ll catch all the depth, believe me, I’ve listened to this CD at *least* 20 times and I am STILL catching things I missed. If skits and a ton of extra ad libs don’t bother you then this is a 5 Planet CD, I personally don’t like seeing 21 tracks, and realizing only 14 of them are actual songs, but yes, that is nit-picky, this is the strongest 4.5 star CD you will ever see. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Track Listing:
1. Intro
2. We Don’t Care
3. Graduation Day
4. All Falls Down (ft. Syleena Johnson)
5. I’ll Fly Away
6. Spaceship (ft. GLC Consequence)
7. Jesus Walks
8. Never Let Me Down (ft. Jay-z and J-Ivy)
9. Get Em High (ft. Talib Kweli and Common)
10. Workout Plan (skit)
11. The New Workout Plan
12. Slow Jamz (ft. Jamie Foxx and Twista)
13. Breathe In Breathe Out
14. School Spirit (Skit 1)
15. School Spirit
16. School Spirit (Skit 2)
17. Lil Jimmy (Skit)
18. Two Words (ft. Mos Def, Freeway, The Harlem Boys Choir)
19. Through the Wire
20. Family Business
21. Last Call

4.5 out of 5.