Go West, young man: “College Dropout” a decade on
Relistening to a vintage Kanye West album 10 years on
When you think of Kanye West, what comes to mind? That video with Kim Kardashian on the motorbike? The man with the Messiah complex? The occasional fits of pique at some slight or injustice? That’s West to most of us in 2014, another member of the celebrity class who occasionally releases an album.
It was a much different affair a decade ago. That’s when West first appeared on a release schedule under his own name with the “College Dropout” debut album.
Back then, West was best known as a producer who’d worked with Foxy Brown, Talib Kweli, Ludacris, Goodie Mob and, most famously, Jay-Z on “The Blueprint” album.
But West wanted to be a rapper as much as a producer, though few labels were prepared to entertain him. In all fairness, Roc-A-Fella probably signed him as much to keep him on-side as a producer as anything else.
West turned out to have the last laugh. “College Dropout” was an album of a much different stripe to everything else around it. Aside from the sound (showcasing his love for accelerated vocal samples from dusty soul grooves), West’s lyrics were full of ideas and insights about everything from faith to materialism to failure. It was a work to be reckoned with.
Of course, even then, West knew he was good and had delivered a remarkable debut. When interviewed for The Ticket that year, he wasn’t backwards in coming forward about how good he was. Comparing himself to Muhammad Ali was just a part of it.
“The only thing you can do with this album is praise it”, he said. “I’m really annoyed that some people have the audacity to knock it…People can knock me for saying I’m arrogant or if I mess up or if I sleep with some girls before I get married or whatever. But “College Dropout”? You can’t touch that.”
(Here’s a link to an excellent oral history on West and “College Dropout”)