Ten years ago, on February 10th, 2004, an album, later be dubbed a “classic” by many hip-hop fans and music publications, arrived to the hip-hop world. This album didn’t come from a New York or a Los Angeles rapper, but from Chicago but from a producer-turned-rapper. Kanye West’s debut album The College Dropout would be used as a stepping-stone in conquering, both, the production and rap world.
Back then, I wasn’t that into ‘Ye like I am today. My brother was too. I mean we knew about him but we really didn’t know much. We knew about his production work on “Lucifer,” “Get By,” “I.Z.Z.O.,” “Stand Up,” etc. but not much on his rapping. I think we were both curious about what to expect.
Once he dropped the “Through the Wire” video, it spiked my interest. He put his life on display by featuring photos and videos from his personal life. Plus, he gave us a glimpse of that near-fatal car accident. As a result of the crash, his mouth was wired shut, which the video showed. You could feel/see the angst and pain Kanye went through.
I thought it was dope how they revealed that this song was recorded shortly after getting his mouth wired. The recording process must’ve been painful. The video was memorable because it showed all the behind-the-scenes stuff, which is something I love to see, life before the (huge) popularity. Plus, I loved how he thanked Chaka Khan for the sample.
With every listen, a new record would standout, that’s how many dope tracks there was. In one listen, you might love “Two Words,” then maybe “All Falls Down;” in another “Spaceship.” Maybe on your fifth listen, you started fucking with “Never Let Me Down,” etc. Each listen gave you something different. Whether it was a slick line or a clever metaphor, you needed multiple listens to fully grasp what you were hearing.
Lyrics sites weren’t as detailed as today. Back then, you had to rely on: a listener to jot the lyrics and post them, and secondly, your ear to analysis each. There wasn’t a Rap Genius to spoon-feed the meaning behind certain lines, metaphors and analogies, etc.
Let’s go back to late ’03.
Like I previously said, I was a sophomore in high school, I was still finding myself as a person and as a hip-hop fan. I was discovering what music I was into. I wasn’t as into ‘pac as others, and I felt they looked down on me for it but I didn’t care. I knew I had to find out what I liked, and the only way for that was to listen to new music. I had The Black Album in my bag, along with Get Rich or Die Tryin’, The Eminem Show, The Marshall Mathers LP, and this mixtape I came across one day. This mixtape was my introduction to Kanye, I believe.
This bootleg mixtape, I say bootleg because I am not 100% sure if Kanye officially released it. The debate goes on whether it’s a bootleg or not, his core fans aren’t even sure. That’s the beauty hip-hop. An unofficial release can create as much buzz as an official release.
Anyways, I came across it and I remember enjoying it. It had Kanye rapping over hit songs like Ludacris’ “Stand Up” and Kelis’ “Milkshake.” Plus, he had early members of G.O.O.D. Music featured on it. Malik Yusef was on the smooth and soothing “Wouldn’t You Like to Ride,” with Common and Kanye. GLC and Consequence were on it as well.
The songs that caught my eye and put me on Kanye’s music were: his “Through the Wire” freestyle-slash-remix, I don’t know what you would call that, and “Better Than Yours,” which is Common and his take on “Milkshake.”
I remember “Better Than Yours” stars off with: “my raps is better than yours, my plaques is better than yours, my tracks is better than yours…” Kanye was as confident and cocky back then as he is today. Those lines still hold weigh today, most of his songs are dope.
I heard the album and was impressed. It’s cliché to say but it was different. It was soulful. As a rapper, he was a breath of fresh air.
It’s a timeless album. You can play it today and still enjoy it. You will find yourself bobbing your head and rapping along, at least I still do. I bet many still do too.
Every track was different, but remained the same—dope.
The creativity in “Two Words” is insane. All three rappers, ‘Ye, Mos Def and Freeway, used a two word flow throughout each one’s verse. They gave us memorable bars by using two words combinations, such as the famous “fuck you, pay me.”
The pain in the realism found in “All Falls Down,” is mesmerizing. Kanye finds himself speaking the truth, from admitting his and the world’s love for materialistic objects to the shocking “even if you in a Benz, you still a n—-, in a coupe.” He tells it how it is in our culture.
The controversial “Jesus Walks” that had everyone talking. He spoke on a subject too many rappers are afraid to touch on, religion. It seems you can talk about killing someone but talk about a higher power and it’s a no-no. It spark controversy but it also sparked interest by many, who made this one of his most popular songs ever. Plus, it gave us a dance.
From the I-hate-my-job-anthem that is “Spaceship,” to the college-focused “School Spirit,” which in my opinion is slept on. From the weed triumph by “backpack rappers” that is “Get ‘em High” to the ode to the hard working dude, whether legal or illegal, “We Don’t Care,” to my personal favorite “Never Let Me Down,” Kanye killed his debut. Each song had something special about them and contained something you loved about it.
He exceeded expectations. Therefore, every time a new album is about to be released, it’s held to unspeakable standards and is highly anticipated. It’s criticized heavily because it is held in the same limelight as his debut. But that’s shouldn’t be a bad thing, it should motivate a rapper to always try to top that “one” album. Once you hit it out the park, they’re going to expect the same every at bat.
After hearing early stories of him, Kanye was confident, cocky perhaps, that he was the next big thing. He wanted to prove people wrong. He wanted to show his versatility, that he could rap. And he was right.
Take a look at the present. He is arguably one of the most recognizable hip-hop artists in the world. He makes the news for his music as much as his antics. Whatever your opinion is, you cannot deny his talent, you might hate what comes out his mouth but you’ve enjoyed his songs.
All the quality, dope music we’ve received over the years is in relation to the ’04 masterpiece. Because of that album, we’ve received many acclaimed albums after it. He put hard work and soul in it, and received praises from every one.
I just wish the bear was still here.