The College Dropout
Roc-A-Fella Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Ben Ehrenreich
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/05/2006
The list of artists who are both extremely good lyricists and extremely good producers is very short. Even the talented Dr. Dre takes about seven years off between albums. It is very hard to do both well because of the time writing lyrics and making beats entails. It is extremely easy and common for an artist who is talented at one to slack off at the other.
Cue Kanye West. His resume as a producer to this point is impeccable. Kanye anchored two hip-hop classics, The Blueprint and The Fix, with his unique style of production, which means The College Dropout was likely going to be fun. Lyrically, I figured an artist releasing something on Roc-A-Fella Records would feature simplistic stereotypical gangsta rap lyrics, so I was expecting a mix between Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I would have never guessed a Roc-A-Fella Records MC, besides Jay-Z, could produce an entire album full of conscious hip-hop. Not only is this one of the most charismatic albums I’ve ever heard, but it’s by far the most honest. On “All Falls Down,” West tackles the subject of self-consciousness with insight and charisma, which happens to be this album’s bread and butter. West is like a combination between Jay-Z and Mos Def; possessing an unlimited amount of flows in his arsenal like Jay-Z while keeping the witty and honest appeal of the mighty Mos Def.
His genius does not stop there but travels to the next song, “Spaceship,” which is the start of a killer four-track combo (“Spaceship,” “Jesus Walks,” “Never Let Me Down,” “Get Em’ High”) only to be beaten by the last four tracks (“Two Words,” “Through The Wire,” “Family Business” and “Last Call.”) “Spaceship” contains a humorous anecdote about Kanye’s work experience in a mall which he delivers with such magnetism that we actually enjoy hearing about him steal from his department store.
“Jesus Walks” is a terrific song about the content of songs on the radio. Kanye raps, over a beat laced with hard percussion and Miri Ben-Ari’s beautiful violin, “That means guns, sex, lies, videotapes / But if I talk about God my record won't get played / Huh?”
Jay-Z and J. Ivey come to join Kanye in the inspiring “Never Let Me Down.” J. Ivey steals the show here, delivering a very moving spoken word verse that blends in with Kanye’s beautiful melody, only to be ended with a choir reciting the chorus in dramatic fashion.
“Get Em’ High” features a great beat from Kanye that is not his usual sped-up soul sample, but a ridiculously addictive melody met with an even more addictive opening two lines. Kanye’s delivery of the first two lines of this song demonstrates his ability as an MC to truly form to any song, and here he is joined by Talib Kweli and fellow Chicagoan Common, who consequently steals the show. Even with an unbelievable first verse from Kanye, Common’s last verse is the highlight of the album including a nominee for best line on the album, “They say Hip-Hop is dead / I'm here to resurrect me.”
“The New Workout Plan” and “School Spirit” are both low points lyrically, but “The New Workout Plan” is really a very enjoyable mix of sped-up soul samples, hand claps, and voice boxes. The beat Kanye provides with “The New Workout Plan” is so detailed its beautiful, and certainly the attention to detail Kanye puts in this album is quite impressive, adding bridges and different images to destroy the monotony of a song.
“Two Words” is a stop-n-go masterpiece, helped by Miri Ben-Ari's violin, while “Through The Wire” is the best song on this album. Kanye’s detailed and unique description of his experience with his car crash is memorable and is accompanied by the best beat on the album. The way Kanye talks and what he chooses to talk about is so different from anything I have ever heard and is truly enjoyable. The album ends with “Last Call,” a great song about how Kanye got into the business, helped by a saxophone-assisted beat.
Kanye sparked a resurgence for the production style that Pete Rock helped start and added his own unique style, providing a classic album that was easily accepted and socially conscious. Hip-hop today is not what it used to be and seems to pick record sales over quality music, but Kanye West gives me hope.