10 years ago today, Kanye West’s debut album The College Dropout was officially released and it’s really safe to say there hasn’t been an album like it since – the honesty, the sound, the braggadocio coming from a guy who’s previous claim to fame was soul sample beats for Jay-Z and other artists.
More than an audacious, brassy debut album, The College Dropout represented different things to many different people. For this 22 year-old floundering college student, I can safely say now at 32 that Kanye West kept me in college. And I’ll tell you why.
On February 10, 2004, I really wasn’t going to classes at Delaware State University like I should have been. I was in my second year as sports editor of the Hornet newspaper, but I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I was only living for the next Hornet men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader and after that, sitting in math, science, whatever…it just didn’t appeal to me.
I knew I needed a degree to start a career as a sports writer, but college just wasn’t for me and by default sports journalism wasn’t for me. I figured that would be my last semester and I’d try to find something basic to do with my life that would pay bills and get me fully self-sufficient.
I walked over to FYE in Dover Mall and bought two albums – The College Dropout and Drag-On’s Hell and Back (don’t judge me – I was a huge Ruff Ryders stan then) and after being grossly disappointed by Hell and Back, I put College Dropout in my Dell desktop. It didn’t come out the rest of 2004.
From the very beginning, when Kanye’s graduation was revoked on “We don’t care” to the 12 minute “I made it” outro known as “Last Call,” Kanye West held my attention in a way that few ARTISTS have done before or since. The struggling feeling of doing what you have to do on “Spaceship?” That was me at that time. Feeling a sense of something bigger looming on “Never let me down?” That was there as well. “School Spirit” even appealed to me because I was living my dream of attending an HBCU even though I wasn’t sure school was for me.
The overall theme I took away from The College Dropout was “School isn’t for everybody, but you better be on your hustle if you want to survive out here.” It forced me to re-evaluate what I was going to do in the event I left school with no real backup plan. I knew I’d have hell to pay (or respond to) from family and friends if I left. I had come to enjoy Del State and leaving would’ve meant leaving some great people behind with no real way to keep in contact.
Long story short, I was not ready for the real world, so I stayed. By the middle of 2005, I was covering the biggest events in DSU sports history, secured my first internship at a newspaper and was driving my first car. To think, I would’ve missed out on some great things if I did indeed leave school.
Life-altering story aside, The College Dropout was unlike anything that had come down the pike in rap in recent memory to that point and every other rapper (or artist for that matter) that has entered the mainstream since has been chasing the feelings that Kanye’s first album inspired and inspires in fans to this day.
The ability to step inside yourself and out on a record was something Kanye did so effortlessly on The College Dropout, you would think he actually earned a masters in psychology. That’s not to say his ego wasn’t pronounced. On songs like “Get em high,” “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” and the aforementioned “Last Call,” he exhibits a bravado unfitting of a rookie.
Of course, there are moments like “Jesus Walks,” “Two Words” and “Family Business” where he steps outside of himself to talk life and family matters with enough passion to convince you of his concern for it all.
Kanye’s sound and style has obviously evolved since the College Dropout days, but when that album was fresh and new, it represented a departure from the crunk, floss, hardcore styles that were so prevalent then. It was a soulful, honest look at life from the perspective of a guy who didn’t fit neatly into one box or another. It was Kanye all over the place but in his own lane, unfocused but disciplined, flying by the seat of his pants but still structured.
The College Dropout pretty much was the album I needed then and still need now. And I’m quite sure plenty of Kanye West fans feel much the same way.