“Um, I don’t think it’s a matter, I think there will be one point, some glimmering moment in time where I will be the no. 1 rap artist in the rap game, period.” –Kanye West, 2003
Meet the New ‘Ye, Same As the Old ‘Ye: Looking at The College Dropout 10 Years Later
By: Reid Foster
It’s difficult to imagine now, but when The College Dropout was released, it was arguably just as different from anything else in the mainstream, if not more so, than 2013’s Yeezus. For the roughly 30 years hip-hop existed prior, it was a genre firmly rooted in America’s lower socioeconomic class. With The College Dropout, however, Kanye introduced the first rap music that middle-class Americans could relate to.
Even if hip-hop was an incredibly popular genre amongst suburban white teenagers by that point, much of the pleasure was derived from the feeling that they weren’t supposed to be listening to it. As much as middle class people enjoyed Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, for example, none of them could really connect to the concept of gangbanging. But an album about social insecurity and dissatisfaction with the status quo? That’s something they could get behind.
Kanye took hip-hop and approached it with a rock ethos. In a 2003 interview with The Source, he said, “My music is rock. I listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers and I listen to one of my songs, and if I don’t give you the same emotion that Anthony Kiedis is, then I go back and re-spit.”
Perhaps the best way to gauge the impact of The College Dropout is to take a look at the 2014 Grammy Nominees for Best Rap Album. With the exception of Jay Z (whose popularity took a massive spike in the early 2000s thanks to Kanye production on songs such as “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”) and West himself, each of the nominees can directly trace their roots to The College Dropout. Kanye paved a lane for middle-class white rapper Macklemore, the emotionally vulnerable Drake, and the kid with a message, Kendrick Lamar.
Simply put, mainstream hip-hop as we currently know it doesn’t exist without The College Dropout.
The knock against Kanye nowadays is that he’s so arrogant. I’ve heard many people lament that they “want the old, likeable Kanye back.” Yeezy has always been this way. The only thing that’s changed is the spotlight upon him.
As much as what he said on Yeezus may have turned some people off, none of it was nearly as presumptuous as “Last Call,” the closer for The College Dropout. After the rapping portion ends, West spends 10 or so minutes talking about his story and his rise to fame. Remember, he recorded this before the release of his debut album. A decade later, his self-awareness comes across more surreal than arrogant, but that’s because we’ve become comfortable with it. At the time, nobody knew he would subsequently blow up to this level. Well, nobody except Kanye.
And that’s exactly why he has.
Reid is working on his bachelors in journalism. Originally from South Carolina, he enjoys all types of music, watching sports, and long walks on the beach.