Each year there are only a few hip-hop discs I pick up and really enjoy. They have to be more than something I'll listen to for a month and then quickly tire of (ex. 50 Cent). The disc this year is Kanye West's The College Dropout. I first got the album way back in February, during the initial hype for "Through the Wire." It was pretty much an impulse buy, though, because I didn't like "Through the Wire" all that much at the time. All of those feelings would soon change in the past three months of listening.
Kanye West, as you will learn in the 12 minute untitled track, has produced the beats for numerous tracks involving most notably Jay-Z. At the same time, though, he was a struggling MC, and wanted to rap on albums. He finally got his chance, but at the same time wanted to make something much different than any other mainstream MC. He continuously comments to the listener that he's not using guns or violence to comprise the songs, but instead family life, and what it is to be a self-conscious black man in an urban world.
His songs are backed up by his trademark soulful beats. Using classic soul and R&B samples to back the tracks give them additional depth, a stark contrast to the minimalist and bleacher stomping anthems produced by the Neptunes and their clones. As I'm sure everyone's heard by now, "All Falls Down," and the touching "Family Business." West's productions are easily recognizable, but he's at a point in his career when they haven't slipped into self-parody or him simply copying himself.
West's lyrics and ideas are what truly drive the album, though. As I've said, he attempts to stay away from the drugs and violence angle that most rappers use to take the easy way out. He takes pride on focusing on family issues, the lack of opportunities many youths have, and the issue of religion in hip-hop. West openly discusses how there's no way his track "Jesus Walks" will get play, simply because he candidly espouses his love for Jesus. All of these serious songs are not to say that West misses out on the fun of hip-hop. Many tracks including the amazingly infectious and hopefully amazing summer jam, "The New Workout Plan," or "Get 'Em High," are extremely satisfying moments in hip-hop. Both tracks revel in the fun of hip-hop, and its lurid aspect of women and misogyny. West demonstrates his ability to move from serious to fun with great ease.
Along with Lil John, who is already really falling into becoming more of a joke than he was before by recycling the same beats, Kanye West has proven himself to be the mainstream producer and hip-hop performer to beat this year. The only minor complaint I have for this record is the high number of skits (five), which isn't really a problem for the ipod generation of simply deleting the songs. Despite this, West delivered enough lyrical innovation to overcome everything he fought against record labels and people who saw him only for his productions.
9.0 / 10
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