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Kanye Omari West, born in the month of June 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the few contemporary hip-hop artists to reach a point where they are simultaneously critically acclaimed and criticized. But, before the statements of racism within the American government, including statements suggesting that America caused the AIDS epedemic in Afrida via polio vaccines. Even recently, he has appeared clad in a crown of thorns on the cover of Rolling Stone
, something that certainly does not discourage his harshest critics (or perhaps ones with the most common sense).
However, despite the massive amounts of controversy and hype following in Kanye West's "rise", the man is still considered to be one of the most respected artists and producers since his debut album, The College Dropout
. Even before the release, Kanye was a highly regarded producing, working with the likes of Alicia Keys, Jay-Z (West produced 6 tracks on the overrated The Blueprint
), Janet Jackson, John Legend, Ludadcris, and a slew of other artists from within the hip-hop and R&B world, all from within the confines of his own apartment, surrounded by instruments and computer monitors. However, West eventually dropped out of college (he attended Columbia College and Chicago State University, respectively) after only a year, to pursue the dream of being a full-time musician. Often times he would create beats and arrangements, and sold to record labels for a certain amount of money (Roc-A-Fella, for the most part); a common practice within the hip-hop industry.
One of the most recognizeable of Kanye West's music is the common thematic approaches. The College Dropout
's lyrical agenda ranges from faith to common middle to lower-class characters that often appear in a common hip-hop lyricist repetoire (minimum-wage workers, druge dealers, etc.). As the title entails, there is also a fair amount of college references throughout the course of the album. Besides the somewhat wide-ranging lyrical topics here, The College Dropout
also features some of the best modern hip-hop production, contributed by West himself, obviously. Growing up with just about every genre of music, West picked up on the roles the instruments could play, and the results are, more often than not, wonderful.
Songs such as "All Falls Down" feature a grand juxtopation of instruments and styles; in this case, breezy acoustic and electric guitars, funky bass, and soulful guest vocals from Syleena Johnson, which make give the song the uplifting tone it has, contradicting Kanye's depiction of materialism, racism, self-consciousness, the American Dream, etc. entailed in lines such as "And for that paper look how low we a'stoop / Even if you in a Benz you still a nigga in a coop"
. However, with recent events, there is a bit of irony in the lyrics here, especially with "But I ain't even gonna act holier than thou"
. "Jesus Walks" is a socially conscious effort by Kanye, and an amazing one at that. Over thumping, almost military-esque beats and ominous choirs, Kanye viciously spits out rhymes concerning racism, terrorism, the war with ourselves, and the music industries supposed attitude towards rapping about faith ("They said you can you can rap about anything except Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God my record won't get played"
Even "Never Let Me Down" shows Kanye's concern of racism, albeit a little too direct and confrontational, thought the plainness can be charming at times ("But in a land where niggas praise Yukon's and gettin' paid / It's gonna take a lot more than coupons to get saved"
). Along with the blistering guest performance by Jay-Z, there is also the standard hand clap beat and atmospheric piano parts blending seamlessly with the soul vocals. The three closing tracks on The College Dropout
are also things of beauty. "Through the Wire", the most inspirational and hope-filled song on the album, also has one of the more interesting backstories. On October 23, 2002, Kanye was involved in an automobile accident which left his jaw in disrepair, and had to have reconstructive surgery which require his jaw being wired shut for some time for the healing process. He then proceeded to record the song, the title being a clever play on words, sampling the Chaka Khan song "Through the Fire". Kanye again practices the use of raising the pitch of vocal samples, an effect that adds a faint nostalgia, with grooving bass linse and hand clap beats, while West briskly raps ina half-mumble about the events of which he had gone through, including the possibility of his career in music being ruined. The 12 minute closer, "Last Call" also finds Kanye explaining how he came to be in the music industry between some clever verses ("Now everybody love Kanye, I'm almost Raymond"
Despite the fair amount of quality material located here on The College Dropout
, there is also a fair amount of something to be desired elsewhere. Most likely to be the common detractor here is, obviously, the filler. Skits have commonly been a nuasance in the world of rap and hip-hop, and here Kanye doesn't strive to differentiate himself from artists. It's not like they come anywhere close to humurous, especially when you can expect a skit every couple of tracks, or even more frequent than that, depending on the section of the album. Other than the pest-skits, there are only a few instances where Kanye's artistic visioins collapse compared to the rest of the album. "Slow Jamz" features the sappiest, cliched singing on the album, provided by Jamie Foxx. Twista doesn't help out much either. "Two Words", while feauturing nostalgiac piano, fails to capture interest by the time it arrives at the track eighteen. Even Kanye's and the rest of the producers' (Shaun Carter, Damon Dash, and Kareem "Biggs" Burke) skills start to fall flat after awhile; the variety eventualy turns into twenty-one tracks of falsetto singing, horns, funky bass lines, and string section snoozeville. So even if there are several trips to good ol' Sleepyland, The College Dropout
's standouts far outweight the dissapointments, something that seems to be a consistancy within Kanye's work. So yeah, it's good and it has Mr. West in a bear sad lookin' all sad and sulky. HE MUST BE EMO!!!