Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Check it out... if you seek a hip-hop album that possesses a lively atmosphere that will keep you at the very least entertained throughout the vast majority of its running time

Skip it... if West's early lighter stylistic nuances don't gel as well with you as his latter, darker production qualities


Kanye West's typically audacious propensities first made waves within the rap community as his debut solo album, The College Dropout, was dropped to appropriate acclaim, the future God of modern hip-hop starting his career with a glaring middle-finger directed towards his numerous contemporaries. That said, despite the album's raring enthusiasm and jubilance, exhibited in its most euphoric, operatic and grandeur-filled instances, one can not help but feel underwhelmed by the lack of instrumental prowess, his usually consistently varied palette relatively limited in numerous instances throughout. There's something that doesn't tick for a number of tracks. Some cues feel just all too gimmicky. 'Workout Plan' and its subsequent 'The New Workout Plan' both come off as jarringly forceful; unnecessary inclusions which utilize simplistic metaphors all throughout. It is during these moments where we can see West's former lack of identity, as his image feels obsolete and transparent. That said, this was the first album of his solo career, and as such, these concerns are bound to appear. There's also something about the instrumentation, which in general feels less heavy, bountiful or powerful in execution than his successive albums to come. You won't find anything, part 'Jesus Walks', of the same calibre as virtually anything from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus or 808s and Heartbreak. It is, to an extent, a disappointing foray.

But that is when one makes comparisons between his subsequent efforts and this initial, somewhat trepid venture into the world of front-man hip-hop. Taking it out of that context and analysing it as a work of its own, there is much to appreciate. The sheer audacity of West's lyricism at its most cutting and genuine resonates heartily, and the preliminary seeds that would later define his stylistic persona and lyrical inclinations are planted here effectively. The nonchalant nature of 'We Don't Care', a song which addresses class disparity, necessity and working-class attitude, is the kind of track which West would continually come back to when making statements about discrimination and criminal activities in the future. West goes on to reiterate these same thematic motifs within 'All Falls Down', a surprisingly upbeat track, centred around insecurity and social discrepancy. West focuses on desperation and overcoming the norm throughout much of the album, hearkening back to the title of the work, which reflects his desire to chase something original and different. When he says, "But she won't drop out, her parents will look at her funny" in that aforementioned track, he wants you to assess the paradigm in our society which dictates our path in life. It's nothing overtly original; the topics he provokes, the messages he conveys. But he executes them all with a fair amount of gusto and unbound despair, and that's enough to warrant approval.

That last point deserves some elaboration, "despair" being the key point. West seems to feel legitimate anguish at the pressure some feel to conform, unlike many of his more recent albums, which elicit feelings of pure adrenaline and infuriation at the concepts instead. Here, he is not so much angry but disappointed in those around him, and oft-times himself. "I want to talk to God, but we ain't spoke in so long", makes the man sound despondent towards his own being. In 'Breathe In Breathe Out', the most poignant lyric, "Always said if I rapped I'd say something significant/But now I'm rappin' 'bout money, hoes and rims again", speaks to both a potential personal discontent within Kanye as well as his observations on the current and perpetual state of mainstream hip-hop. 

There's certainly fun to be had, but much as is the case with the instrumentation, everything feels slightly downcast, despite the initial presentation seeming fun and boisterous. 'School Spirit' is dominated by a subtle bass preference that feels darkly comedic in tone, and it works perfectly with the lyrical content. That said, there are some pure stand-up moments, filled with jubilant, uplifting composition. The meditative, self-conscious yet strangely appreciative 'Through The Wire' is filled with a lively attitude and an instantaneously addictive beat and vocal sample that captures your attention from the get-go and onwards. The aforementioned 'All Falls Down' possesses an almost jovial mood, the acoustic guitar, light snare and bass drum presence feeling calm and collected. The College Dropout best defines itself as West's most placated release, for better or worse, and works as a serene and flowing piece.

The primary highlights of the work are undoubtedly the stirring 'Jesus Walks', the remarkably well-realised, string-led 'Two Words', the smooth and homely 'Family Business', and the culminating track, 'Last Call'. All four tracks serve as some of the most impressive material of the first half-decade of West's solo career, 'Jesus Walks' in particular the standout. 'Jesus Walks' is the kind of rambunctious, all-encompassing, chorally-triumphed work of art your hip-hop detracting friends claim doesn't exist within this genre of music. West's production skills kick into God mode with the single, the percussion and the various vocal tracks working together to create a sense of massive depth that proves unparalleled by the vast majority of Yeezy tracks composed subsequently. It's one of the pinnacles of his career, and a track that will last for years. 

It's cool. It's entertaining. The College Dropout lacks a great deal of the grunt that West's following albums possessed, but it still remains a remarkably enjoyable release that will, at the very least, maintain your interest throughout the majority of its running time. It's not the game-changer that Late Registration was, but it's an admirable opening chapter in the career of one of the world's most talented and esteemed musicians. Approved. You can purchase The College Dropout on Amazon or iTunes, here and here. 


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