Fourteen years ago today (February 10) Kanye debuted his first studio album, The College Dropout.
To say it was a masterpiece is an understatement.
The 21-track project debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, sold nearly a half a million copies its first week, was nominated for an unprecedented 10 Grammys (winning best rap album) and, to this date, is still Ye’s best-selling effort ever.
In an era of T.I.’s Urban Legend, Ludacris’s The Red Light District, and Eminem’s Encore, Kanye went left. The College Dropout has skits, spoken word, a church choir, radio singles, lyrical exercises, and even his own personal testimonial to how he arrived as a recording artist.
He gave Jamie Foxx his R&B debut, he somehow mashed up Freeway with Mos Def, and even brought Jesus to the club. That doesn’t even speak to how he bridged the gap between generations of music through sampling.
The College Dropout was the first time the world was able to digest Ye’s signature sped-up soul sample style on a grandiose scale: 14 of the 21-tracks — all produced by West, by the way — were samples. Kids who may have never been exposed to the classics before them all of a sudden were jamming out to remixes of legends.
Luther Vandross’ “House Is Not A Home” on “Slow Jamz”, Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire” on “Through The Wire” and Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” on “Spaceship”, are just a couple. That doesn’t include Aretha Franklin, Tupac, Bette Midler, and a host of other more obscure cuts.
The College Dropout felt like it was different, and it was. Kanye shattered the mold of what a hip-hop album was supposed to sound like. The record oozed with innovation and originality; it literally doesn’t age.
And that’s exactly why I don’t miss the old Kanye.
It’s easy to become a prisoner of a moment; to be trapped in a memory, in a feeling, in a high. God forbid someone impresses or moves us, because then they’re subject to that impression and that impression only. That’s where a lot of us are with The College Dropout.
Kanye addressed this limiting state fans tend to cage artist in on his last album, The Life of Pablo, in a song called “I Love Kanye”.
“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the Go Kanye, chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye,” he raps.
I understand the demand — College Dropout was groundbreaking — but, we have to let it go. We have to allow artists the freedom to grow. Old Kanye, the same Kanye that took the risks we found ourselves loving, IS the Kanye we have today. Old Kanye gave us 808’s & Heartbreaks and MBDTF. Old Kanye gave us “Stronger,” “Amazing”, and “Blame Game”. Missing the “old” Kanye is dismissing the one right in front of us.
The College Dropout was a moment in time. Many say it’s his best work; that, this is the Kanye we signed up for. But truth be told, it’s just one chapter in an unfinished book.
The College Dropout is 14 years old today. And it deserves all the praise, recognition, and replays that comes its way. What this classic album doesn’t deserve however, is a glorification that strangles its creator.
Let’s appreciate it for what it was, enjoy it and look forward to seeing what else will come forth from its inception.