The Music Thread For 2/12/14: The Full Review of Why 'The College Dropout' Is A Timeless Classic & Kanye's Best Album
The Whole Album:
Some strongly feel that "The College Dropout" is not only undeserving of a classic and think that it is not Kanye West's best album as well as consider him a mediocre lyricist (at least back in 2004). I just disagree with these sentiments and will give you the myriad of reasons why it is a timeless treasure, even with "Breathe In and Breathe Out" taking away from a perfect album.
The reason why I said that last sentence is because normally a classic in my mind is a perfect album all the way through. Barely any flaws with little or no mistakes, with "Illmatic" (which will have its 20 year anniversary soon this spring) being one of a hand fill of examples, is the criteria required to truly be an all-time class album in music and especially in the intricate game of rap.
However, with the other 20 of 21 tracks (compared to just 10 on an album like "Illmatic" or 14 on "Reasonable Doubt") being superb and "Breathe In and Breathe Out" even containing some quality lines itself, that one out of place track could not stop how just on pure words and spirit how this album was uniquely different than any other debut album ever.
Unlike other "non-street, non-gangsta, non-thug" type rappers, Kanye overcame the thought of him "just having no skills as a rapper" and having to hear the "stick to just producing" schtick. No one told Talib or Mos or eventually Lupe that they couldn't rap. But they told him that, and he has been hell bent on proving them all wrong.
Track by track, let's break it down to why this was one of the best music albums ever. Even the skits added to the album instead of acting as filter that usually brings most albums down, making it as strong a CD as anyone else in my mind.
1) Intro- A perfect, funny intro and start of the album career for Kanye. "And you know what, youse a nigga, and I don't mean that, in no nice way."
2) We Don't Care- "Drug dealing just to get by, stack your money to get it get sky high/"
From the kids to the further solid explanation of young black children endurance through the pain and the struggle with his smile on the face. "We weren't suppose to make it past 25, Jokes on you we still alive."
3) Graduation Day - The second skit on the album, and like the first, it's effective because it represents the album. It's the thoughts and fears in a funny way of understanding what comes after graduation, and the trepidation of whether college will actually pay off for you or it trapped you in the system of not fulfilling goals and "personal mediocrity."
4) All Goes Down- From Syeena Johnson's proper singing, it's Kanye taking deep thoughts with an audience about life's contradictions on a black man.
Rollies and Pasha's done drove me crazy/ I can't even pronounce nothing, pass that versace!/Just the subtle brilliance of that line and Kanye's still underrated ability to be a lyricist that's funny is highlighted the best here, mispronouncing Versace purposely and having it make sense with the rhyme for "crazy" when it isn't properly pronounced with a rhyme of 'hobby' instead of 'crazy.'
And for that paper, look how low we a'stoop/ Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coop/coupeSo true that rhyme, where it's just the racial competent we will have forever through some.
I say fuck the police, thats how I treat em/ We buy our way out of jail, but we can't buy freedom/ We'll buy a lot of clothes when we don't really need em/ Things we buy to cover up what's inside/ Cause they make us hate ourself and love they wealth/ That's why shortys hollering "where the ballas' at?"/ Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack/ And a white man get paid off of all of that/ But I ain't even gon act holier than thou/ Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou/ Before I had a house and I'd do it again/ Cause I wanna be on 106 and Park pushing a Benz/ I wanna act ballerific like it's all terrific/ I got a couple past due bills, I won't get specific/ I got a problem with spending before I get it/ We all self conscious I'm just the first to admit it/5) I'll Fly Away- John Legend before he became John Legend was superb, with this smooth, short transition here on a negro spiritual song, again, served as a great set up preview to the next track.
6) Spaceship - And with 'Fly Away' set up, it's message works perfectly for Spaceship. It's the message of just wanting to leave all your hardship away for relief that hits here, as well as GLC and Consequence doing well to stay on topic. Most importantly however is recognizing again how Kanye is underrated at being able to convey fully his life and how he feels.
They take me to the back and pat me/ Askin' me about some khakis/ But let some black people walk in/ I bet they show off their token blackie/7) Jesus Walks - Outside of gospel rap, you didn't have any rapper title their song and have it fully stand for showing love for Jesus. Heck, you didn't have any artist in all of secular music not give Jesus a full song praise. It's just the whole perspective about this song that made it a timeless classic. Lyrics are there and full of heart throughout all three verses. I could pick any stanza, but these two are the real standouts of many.
Saying "we eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast"/ Huh? Yall eat pieces of shit? What's the basis?/ We ain't going nowhere but got suits and cases/ A truck full of crap rental car from Avis/One of my Top 5 songs on the album and among my favorite in life.
8) Never Let Me Down-
Just the overall magic of this song, keeping with the deep soul from Track 7. Every line in this one mattered, from the chorus on, to the at the time post-retirement Jay-Z's still showing rhyming was still in his blood. But it was all about Kanye talking about how he almost died in his car crash, were you wouldn't be shocked if he cried while he wrote this, and J.Ivy's amazing slam poetry feature that made this one for the ages. If you heard this album after the first eight songs, you cannot argue that Kanye is a mediocre lyricist.
"It will take a lot more than du-rags to get you waves"True to his spirit and the black community he is apart of, since it's not like every guy on Earth can get their hair to be wavy. (And that's with me included because I get my haircuts too low).
This is one of three songs on this album where its instrumental was so beautiful, it makes the author of this piece shed a tear sometimes. The latter two songs will be revealed later.
9) Get Em High- Although it didn't follow the same emotional quality of the two songs right before it, great stuff was still in this track with Talib and Common having strong guest appearances, including Sir "I Use To Love Her" sublimely calling out Lil Jon. But Ye' again, shows his wit. He knows how to not be too obvious with obvious references, calling Notorious B.I.G by his "Frank White" name without saying it in full in this story description of a girl.
At NYU but she hail from Kansas/ right now she just lampin, chilling on campus/ Sent me a picture with her feeling on Candice/ Who said her favorite rapper was the late great Francis/ W-H-I-T, it's getting late mami, your screen saver say tweet/ So you got to call me, and bring a friend for my friend Kwe-li10) Workout Plan- A perfect set up to the next track, where another skit that is actually effective. The appreciation for this is definitely felt when you hear this album fully all the way through for the first time.
11) The New Workout Plan - Hilarious, astute, and ahead of its time. It just was creative, comedic brilliance.
1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and get them sit ups right and Tuck your tummy tight/ and do your crunches like this Give head, stop breathe/ get up, check your weave/12) Slow Jamz- A soul jam with a 60, 70's feel that is brought to life in 2003, with Jamie Foxx being smooth, Alisha Tyler adding to the humor, and Twista giving that perfect fast tempo soul rap of his. And even if my good homie Mike thinks Kanye is ultra corny on this song with the Michael Jackson lines, even he knows he would bump this coming on the minute Foxx says, "She wants some Marvin Gaye.."
"Man, I swear she fine homes/ Why she always lying though/ Telling me them diamonds, when she know they rhinestones/"It was meant to be a light-heart fun song that did its job as a great, black single.
13) Breathe In and Breathe Out- The only weak song on the album, but only because it just didn't fit the vibe and could have been more on Late Registration instead. Ludacris provided a decent chorus, and Kanye still came up with some funny, personality lines.
"K I need a free hand mammogram/ I got weed, drink, and a Handicam/ All of which is legal in Amsterdam/ So say my name like Candyman/ And I'ma come and fix you up like the handyman/ But if you don't need a fix, girl you gotta leave/ You can't take that all at one time ya gotta breathe/14) School Spirit (Part 1) - The 6th great skit on the album. Not many albums even had one good skit back in the day. Just great quality and set up for what was to come. It featured again, the challenge of applying your college education into something meaningful if you are in limbo.
When a lady walks to me says “hey u know whats sexy?” I say “no, I don’t know what it is, but I bet I can add up all the change in your purse very fast”.15) School Spirit (Song)- "Omega, step Kappa, step. Sigma, step.."another perfect instrumental to set up the vibe that stayed consistent all the way through from the skits buildup. And it perfectly reflects someone dreaming big but still being boggled down by college's mundane ways.
Back to school and I hate it there/ I hate it there/ Everything I want I gotta wait a year, I wait a year/ This nigga graduated at the top of my class.. I went to Cheesecake, he was a motherf--king waiter there/Though that last line can also be funny, it represents a real thing that can happen, when you see someone do so well in school, only to start out having a job at a local restaurant because of many circumstances (lack of connections, and definitely a lack of family status).
16) School Spirit (Part 2)- A perfect close to the School Spirit trilogy, where it shows how one could be so enamored with school/education accolades and have it be the only way he or she is validated in life. No one would disrespect an educated person? Or call them a failure, regardless of what their job or salary is after school, right? Right?
It's a thought that permeates forever for those who did "the right thing" yet have nothing else to show for being the good kid "following the book" to be successful, especially if you are poor or barely middle class (and if you are black or Hispanic in America too). Although it takes a funny approach, the message of how irrelevant "your great education can be" is haunting for many who put all their hopes into a degree leading to a stable life.
And these guys are out here making Money all these ways, and i'm spending mine to be smart. You know why? Because when i die, buddy, you know What going to keep me warm, that right, those degrees17) Lil Jimmy Skit - And the after effect of getting all of those degrees and getting nothing out of it is realized on the next skit, with the son seeing all the educating his father had, only to not have a meaningful father. It still had a funny tone, but still hits a chilling point.
All the other kids parents were working and saving up money for school, And I was actually in school all when my dad was in school. He was so gready with degrees, he took my degree. And now I'm just glad he left me these.The Greatest Album Close Ever
The next four songs are, for me, the greatest closing four songs of an album ever. All of these songs are treasures in their own special way, and elevated the album from a good, nice debut into an all time classic.
18) Two Words- The magic of this track, even made more so with the video, is still so underrated today. As I highlighted on Friday, how Mos Def, Kanye, and even (almost) Freeway (of all rappers) stayed disciplined with the concept of the song, along with the Harlem Boys Choir closing out the song with Mos in exceptional fashion, is the perfect beginning to the final four songs of this album.
19) Through The Wire- One of the greatest debut singles in music history, with the perfect video coming out right when it did to consolidate how much of a treasure it was, this is a story that only Kanye can tell, since it's about his own life.
Recording this while his jaw was wired shut, this song wasn't preplanned when he had hopes of rapping. It was planned the minute he recovered from almost dying in that awful car crash. That's how real this song was and how real it will always be.
Just the whole song is a lyrical masterpiece, where from the day I heard this song in August 2003, I have been forever like, "How the hell can anyone not say Kanye isn't lyrical?"
From reminding how he is Mr. "H to the Izzo" to talking about his mom being there with him after his car crash, to looking like Emmett Till to mentioning his girlfriend Alexis' trepidation at the time, to the same hospital where Christopher Wallace passed away, to the blood clot Jamaican reference, and being on MTV without 'Making the Band, and that's all in the first verse. It's a perfect set up in front of the tearjerking Chaka Khan chipmunked sample.
Plus, how many people put their lead single in the back of their albums, let alone their debut? It shows how deep the thought was for this album to circulate and flow track to track instead of songs being in the wrong spots (outside of 'Breathe In, Breathe Out" of course).
It's the second beat on the album that gave me tears, because it was just so incredible.
20) Family Business - One of my favorite songs of all time and my favorite Kanye song forever, over "Through The Wire," "Never Let You Down", "Two Words", "Jesus Walks" and, if it counts, "Last Call."
It's the family approach that is always a winning formula whenever a rapper is willing to share, as Ghostface's "All That I Got Is You" and Beanie Siegel/Eve's "Remember These Days" encapsulates magnificently as well.
It's so heartfelt, so warm, so positive, and so black.
Chills are felt for me when that piano beat and "All The Glitter is Not Gold" is said by that old voice in the background. It just hits and resonates.
1st verse: From addressing all the family members that are dead and gone, to his cousin incarcerated (I sure know about that too), to the family food, and the pure nostalgia that is looking back on memorable family times.
2nd verse: More nostalgia with the family, including dancing altogether to The Electric Slide. More perfect black family nostalgia summed up to close the verse.
"You know that one auntie, you don't mean t rude/3rd verse: And the final verse, starts off so great with the powerful bridge with the kids singing, "Rain, rain go away, let the sun come out, and all the children say."
But every holiday, nobody eating her food/
And you don't wanna stay there cuz them your worst cousins/
Got roaches at their crib like them your first cousins/
Act like you ain't took a bath with your cousins/
Fit three in the bed while six of y'all/
I'm talkin' 'bout three by the head and three by the leg/
But you ain't have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed"
It's the ethos of Kanye explained there, the same ethos from the Public Enemys, The Furious Five, Hodini, De La Souls, Eric B & Rakim, KRS One, The Roots, Slum Villages, BlackStars, Outkasts, GoodieMob, The Black Eyed Peas (before the Fergie, pop days) and more wanted to do.
"I woke up early this mornin' with a new state of mind/A creative way to rhyme without usin' knives and guns/It was so true at the time that the game needed someone to be a crossover big star without the traditional club hits that gravitated to being hard as a person and the hard streetline. There was nothing fake or too preachy about this song and especially this verse, when it could have easily went that way.
Instead of forced clicheness that you could hear any "conscious rapper" of not high ability talk about, Kanye kept it personal to him and made it the magical track that it will always be. Powerful ("You can still love your man and be mainly dog") and personal ("And act like everything fine and if it isn't/ We ain't lettin' everybody in our family business").
It was the third beat on the album to make me become lachrymose and may always serve as my favorite Kanye song forever until otherwise.
"All These Things, All These Things" repeated with the little kid at the end asking his parents, "Mommy and daddy, would you please stop fighting?" and saying "Let's bring Stevie out of jail" hits the soul for a perfect close.
I couldn't believe after this song how the album could possibly end more perfectly than this. And then he went and did "Last Call..."
21) Last Call - Even if he didn't detail his long history of being signed, this song/track still would have been an awesome close.
Starting off with how Jay-Z began the song with that funny candidness of Kanye somehow getting his laid back but tough self to express a soft side ("I had to throw everybody out the room"), you know you are ready to hear something you never heard before.
You felt like you were there when Shawn Carter said those words, it was that deep, since he wouldn't waste any energy on doing that for anyone else unless that person was really special to him. And Kanye certainly was that.
He addressed his rise, all the doubters, his usual candid humor, his always underrated lyrical deepness, and once again talking about the real personal anecdote of his life being on the line after crashing combined to put together one of the greatest "outros" of an album ever.
The Bun B girlfriend "ass horse awards" line to the "Sean Paul goatee hair/ Now Jean Paul Gaultier cologne fill the air" rhyme and many others were yet more closing evidence to show that West was a class lyricist back then even.
The determination, strength, and overall skill level of the second verse to overcome the intense skepticism he heard for years is top class:
Last year shoppin my demo, I was tryin' to shine/And that was before he literally told his whole story, with voiceovers from so many people, from No I.D. to HipHop to Hov' and Dame Dash at the end, with Jessica Rivera, Joe "3h", and Mel talking about how "Capital pulled out of the deal."
Every motherfucker told me that I couldn't rhyme/
Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem/
Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams/
Nobody else in music did what Kanye did, which was describe his whole story of getting signed the way he did.
It's an original and extraordinary element that no one else did, and put the cherry on the top on one of the greatest records ever made.