The College Dropout

Kanye West

Roc-A-Fella Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


My first exposure to Kanye West came via a used CD store in Omaha. After seeing The College Dropout top magazine polls in Rolling Stone, Spin and the Village Voice, I asked the store clerk if he heard it. “It’s like The Chronic of this decade,” he said with a stoned laugh. It’s probably the only debut album by a superstar producer that could double as a convincing argument to your folks to skip college.

“That major that she major in don’t make no money / But she won’t drop out, her parents look at her funny,” opens “All Fall Down.” In about four minutes, West legitimately questions the worthiness of shelling out $80,000 in tuition to eventually work at a job that may pay you $25,000 a year, but then goes on a rant decrying rampant materialism in youth culture. In one of the more amusing skits in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The College Dropout, a character soberly opens the skit stating his father died … and left him a ton of diplomas that are worth about as much as the heat they generate. Mom (who was chair of the English Department at Chicago State University) and Dad (a marriage counselor and former photojournalist) must have been feeling a mix of pride and resentment after hearing The College Dropout front to back.

Sound-wise, The College Dropout is packed with West’s trademark sound: a mixture of high-pitched soul samples and organic percussion. For better or worse, that sound staple helped make Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” THE inescapable song of 2001. It’s not as original as some of the Wu-Tang-Clan’s best work or as far-reaching and ambitious as Outkast’s best moments, but it’s enough to be original …barely. The same goes for West’s rapping ability. If it wasn’t for his production skills and head-spinning lyrics, he would have a hard time establishing a definitive voice.

Like Tupac, Kanye West is awash in contradictions. And on The College Dropout is West’s inner contradictions rattling your headphones and car speakers. While trying to be original and above reproach, West still stoops to some of the worst traits in modern rap: unfunny, unnecessary skits and a flood of guest vocalists. He can rap against materialism in “All Fall Down,” but on “Breathe In Breathe Out,” he confesses “It’s cool to rap about gold.”

West is upfront about these contradictions; half of the album is totally self-deprecating, the other half he’s setting new standards for self-gloss. To West’s credit, give The College Dropout a few spins and it will likely win you over. “School Spirit” and “Spaceship” are about as hard to get out of your head as Geico commercials and “Through The Wire” manages to rise above the “almost died in a car accident” melodrama that served as the inspiration for that song.

West went on to be even more polarizing with the famous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” rant during a Hurricane Katrina benefit to posing with a bloody crown of thorns in Rolling Stone. Overhyped? Maybe. But few artists currently in the top ten are as compelling or can back up their talk on record.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Roc-A-Fella Records, and is used for informational purposes only.