Kanye West The College Dropout Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

An audacious stunt that only one with his towering ego would dare attempt.

Louis Pattison 2010

Hard to believe, but there was a time before Kanye West – an age where we had to make do without this unshakably confident MC/producer, with his grand media pronouncements, goofy Twitter philosophy, and reliably excellent hip hop records. That Kanye today is perhaps hip hop’s most high-profile face is a lot to do with 2004’s The College Dropout.

At the time of its release, Kanye was probably best known as a producer, his pitched-up soul samples and gleaming synths gracing numerous records from Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella label (most notably, Hova’s own career high water mark, The Blueprint). Here, though, Kanye pulled off an audacious stunt that only one with his towering ego would dare attempt: to transform himself not just into a rapper, but a mainstream hit-maker, with a career plan – from dropout to graduate, and beyond – sketched out in front of him.

That he pulls it off is a lot to do with his peculiar proximity to mainstream hip hop culture. Sure, the opening We Don’t Care boasts a chorus that nods to the hard-knock ghetto narrative – “Drug-dealing just to get by / Stacking money ‘til it gets sky high” – but it does it with bright horns and a sunny, sing-song hook. As a couple of School Spirit skits make crystal-clear, Kanye is no thug: he’s preppy, God-fearing, a lover not a fighter, and his ingenious rhymes and easy charm come like a breath of fresh air.

So, Jesus Walks and Through the Wire balance laid-back beats with frightening confidence; the latter finds Kanye relating the aftermath of a near-fatal car crash over a helium-treated Chaka Khan hook, as if convinced of his own invincibility. Slow Jamz, with Twista and Jamie Foxx, pays tribute to the boudoir-friendly tunes of Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross. And while West himself shows little sign of flagging, guest spots from the likes of Jay-Z, Ludacris, Common and Mos Def ensure it’s a treat from start to close.

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