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The College Dropout: a Review and Retrospective Look

Written by Alex Kehn


In 2004, a young and enthusiastic Kanye West launched his rap career with the release of The College Dropout, an iconic album and arguably the greatest debut LP of all time. The life of Kanye West leading up to the release of The College Dropout was far from perfect, however. This report will take an in-depth look at the major events that led up to The College Dropout's release, as well as a thorough review of the album.


During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kanye West was beginning to make a name for himself as a producer through the use of soul samples, notably working on Jay-Z's The Blueprint and DMX's Grand Champ. Kanye wanted to be more than just a producer, he wanted to be the main event. Rappers that were buying beats from Kanye saw him as a producer and nothing more, so when Kanye would play his songs or freestyle for them, he would be completely disregarded. West would not be detoured though, continuing to both produce beats for top-level artists and write his own lyrics on the side. Every time Kanye presented beats, he would also play some of his own tracks as well, including an early version of the hit song Jesus Walks. Kanye kept attempting to promote his music, but to no avail. He was never signed. Eventually, Kanye was evicted from his Chicago residence, and moved to an apartment in Newark, New Jersey, still pursuing his dreams.

After working on Jay-Z's upcoming album, The Blueprint, Kanye West was finally given an opportunity from Roc-A-Fella Records. Roc-A-Fella was a relatively new record label founded by Jay-Z, Biggs, and Dame, who collectively saw potential in Kanye West and offered to sign him. In October 2002, only a few weeks after receiving his offer from Roc-A-Fella Kanye experienced an event that would truly kickstart his rapping career. While driving home from the studio late at night, Kanye West was cut off by a driver, which caused him to swerve his rented Lexus into oncoming traffic. Upon impact with an oncoming vehicle, Kanye completely shattered his jaw and was promptly rushed to the hospital (coincidently, the hospital that

Kanye was housed in after his accident was the same hospital that Biggie Smalls died in). Kanye West survived his accident and received surgery to repair his facial structure, although he had no health insurance, meaning that he had to pay out of his own pocket for his medical bill. Feeling as though there were no other options financially, Kanye went to the studio only a

few weeks after his life-threatening accident and recorded his first hit song, Through the Wire, with his jaw still wired shut.


With the help of Roc-A-Fella, Kanye was able to release his debut EP, Get Well Soon, which featured classic tracks like Through the Wire and Jesus Walks. Through the release of Get Well Soon, Kanye was able to secure some financial security, which helped to propel him further towards the release of his freshman album, The College Dropout. After nearly two years of constant work, Kanye finally released his absolutely outstanding debut LP on February 10th, 2004, garnering immediate critical acclaim, and earning Kanye West two Grammys. The rest, as we all know, is history. The story of The College Dropout coming to fruition is a phenomenal success story that shows what happens to someone when they are truly dedicated to their passion and following their dreams.


REVIEW:


Kanye clearly put everything he had into the production and release of The College Dropout. From the beats to the tracks, and even the skits, this album does not disappoint even once. Every track has aged nearly perfectly and nothing sounds dated, creating a feeling that the album could have been released as recently as yesterday. I will be dividing the review into three sections: skits, lyrics, and production.


Skits:


The College Dropout uses skits to play a major role in telling the album's narrative. Kanye decided to start his freshman album with a skit called Intro, which features the school administrator, voiced by DeRay Davis, asking Kanye to perform a track at the graduation ceremony. West then performs We Don't Care, and is promptly kicked out of school in the next skit, Graduation Day. The opening three tracks, which includes two skits, tell a fictional story of how Kanye became the college dropout that the album is named after.

Later in the album, humor becomes readily present in the skits, specifically the two School Spirit skits as well as the Lil' Jimmy skit. I will be specifically focusing on School Spirit (Skit 1). School Spirit (Skit 1) takes the terrifying reality of a useless post-secondary degree and adds a comedic flair. The line that makes me laugh nearly every time I hear it is "no, I've never had sex but you know what? My degree keeps me satisfied. When a lady walks up to me and says 'hey, you know what's sexy?' No, I don't know what it is, but I bet I can add up all the change in your purse very fast". Overall, the skits play a pivotal role in explaining the story of The College Dropout.


Lyrics:


Lyrically, The College Dropout provides some of the best bars ever delivered. Tracks that specifically stand out in terms of lyrics are Jesus Walks, All Falls Down, Spaceship, Through the Wire, and Last Call, although every track has a very unique lyrical style and flow.


Jesus Walks provides a look at the oppression that African Americans suffer from in the American Midwest. The track starts with a brief exposition that completely sets the tone for the rest of the song. Kanye states that "we at war. We at war with terrorism, racism, but most of all, we at war with ourselves", meaning that people are always waging war with something, although the main source of conflict lies internally. Later in the song, Kanye refers to police brutality by saying "Top floor the view alone will leave you breathless (gasps) try to catch it (gasps) it's kinda hard getting choked by detectives, yeah, yeah, now check the method

They be askin' us questions, harass and arrest us..." expressing the oppression that he and many other African Americans have unfortunately fallen victim to.


Through the Wire tells the story of Kanye's car accident and how he was able to recover from such a tremendous injury. West starts the track with the lyrics "I drink a Boost for breakfast, an Ensure for dessert. Somebody order pancakes, I just sip the sizzurp", which tells about how Kanye is unable to eat and must be fed through a tube while his jaw is wired shut. Kanye goes on to explain how his mom felt after hearing the news of his car crash by saying "how do you console my mom or give her light support, tellin' her her son's on life support", meaning that Kanye's mom was inconsolable when she heard the news about her son. Kanye ends his verse with a lyric that proves he won't stop pursuing his dreams, stating that "I swear, this right here, history in the makin', man". Kanye knew he was destined for greatness, and by writing this track and recording it while his jaw was still wired shut, Kanye proves that he was undoubtedly correct.


Finally, I would like to touch on the lyricism present in Last Call. Last Call is Kanye's rags-to-riches story, and it can almost be seen as calling out the record labels that passed on his music before the fame. Kanye specifically states that "it's funny how wasn't nobody interested 'till the night I almost killed myself in Lexus", showing how nobody bothered to give him any attention until he nearly died and released Through the Wire. Kanye also later explains why some people would view him as arrogant, even though it is completely justified through the lyric "some say he arrogant, can y'all blame him? It was straight embarrassing how y'all played him", which is a straight shot at the record labels that passed on him before the fame. Not every lyric on this track is serious, in fact, some of the best lyrics are intended to be funny. An example of a funny lyric on Last Call is "'oh my god is that a black card?' I turned around and replied 'why yes, but I prefer the term African American Express'". Kanye ends this track with a personal telling of his story that lasts for nearly seven minutes, although it flies by simple because Kanye's storytelling is impeccable.


Production:


The production on The College Dropout ties the album together through the use of Kanye's signature sampling of soul songs and is absolutely gorgeous. Some signature samples on The College Dropout include Chaka Khan's Through the Fire, which is the main sample on Through the Wire, Luther Vandross' a House is Not a Home, which is samples on Slow Jamz, and most notably, Lauryn Hill's Mystery of Iniquity, Which was used on the chorus of All Falls Down. Kanye uses his ability to produce top-level beats to his advantage on this album, and the uniqueness of remixed soul beats was truly a major influence in the success of The College Dropout. There was not a single producer at the time that could match Kanye's ability to create beats, which provided an avenue for The College Dropout to stand on its own and garner nearly immediate success.


Conclusion:

In conclusion, The College Dropout succeeds in every aspect ranging from lyrics to production, and the backstory to the inception of The College Dropout supplements its success perfectly. I firmly believe that The College Dropout is one of the greatest rap albums of all time and that is why I am giving it a 10/10. Anybody who has yet to hear this masterpiece is sincerely missing out on a truly fantastic album.

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5 Comments


Mr ReviewCritique
Mr ReviewCritique
Mar 03, 2021

Yo this is pretty good! A tad bit wordy without saying to much. I love the project Tho. Keep up the work

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OUT THE BOX
OUT THE BOX
Feb 11, 2021

My favorite project is 808s and heartbreak with this project not very far behind on my favorite projects. Very in-depth review of one of the greatest debut project. Really enjoyed your break down of his personal life and career that went into crafting this album! Can’t wait to read what you do next!

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Mr ReviewCritique
Mr ReviewCritique
Mar 03, 2021
Replying to

Yo let me review I’m way better than this dude lol

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This was a very insightful and expressive review. I learned a lot about his life & early music career that I didn’t know and I actually have a lot more respect and love for his work after learning where he started and where he is now. You mentioned a lot of details that a lot of music reviews fail to mention. I especially loved the part where you broke down his lyrics and compared them to his life experiences. This was clearly depicted and very well written, I look forward to reading more reviews from you! Proud of you Alex :)

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This is a great read! Classic project one of my favorite Kanye projects obviously. Whats your favorite projects people???

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