“She couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexis”
rings out the birth of the greatest rap voice of our time. Post-Tupac, we all looked for the next artist that would uptake the crown. Who knew a scruffy guy from Chicago’s south side would become the master of the art. Why do I include this particular line you ask? We had surpassed the police brutality and inequality dominated news stories of the OJ Simpson and Rodney King eras of the 90s and the country was ready for a prophet who could answer the questions of the everyday person. Questions such as, why am I stuck working a mundane 9-5? Why did my baby daddy leave me? When am I going to be able to achieve the American dream? Kanye might not have had the answers, but he certainly helped us cope with our problems.
Track after track of The College Dropout reflects on the predicaments facing Americans and Mr. West’s attempts to grapple with both, the internal and external struggles that we all face at times. The common themes of public assistance, inequality and life in the inner city are prevalent throughout the record and they serve as reminders that our major problems in America aren’t the dire circumstances that affect the third world. Most of us, I’d wager, have shelter, running water, and food. Instead, our problems revolve around depression, anxiety, and the seemingly constant American materialistic need to one-up each other. We all seem to have missed the emotional and mental battles that Kanye has been coping with for most of his adult life. Only later in his career do we realize that Kanye’s genius comes at the exhaustingly devastating price of deteriorating mental health.
With lyrics such as “drug dealin’ just to get by, stack ya money till it gets sky high” and “Workin’ this grave shift and I ain’t made shit, I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky” zeroes in on the entrepreneurial spirit that has always resided within Kanye. It’s no secret that West always knew how to leverage his production and rapping skills in order to advance his musical career, but many might have missed his support of entrepreneurs that had to work hard and struggle like he did in order to acquire capital. With popular clothing products and his very own record label, Kanye has most definitely been stacking his money. In fact, Kanye has stacked his money so high that he has even had the honor to discuss a variety of sociopolitical topics with a sitting American president in the Oval Office.
One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the lyrical and production mastery behind “Jesus Walks”. Kanye’s smash hit focusing on religion and political correctness in the music industry sheds light on the man’s beliefs and his willingness to march to his own drum beat. The most powerful rhymes of the song come in the form of “They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus, That means guns, sex, lies, video tape, But if I talk about God my record won’t get played”. This is another indicator of Kanye’s refusal to be censored by the media and Hollywood elites that would block his storytelling.
Finally, the album’s first single “Through the Wire” allowed Kanye to prove that he was more than just a producer. The man can rap. And, the raw emotional lyricism and messaging warmed Kanye to listeners. The rapper’s survival in the streets of a violent Chicago and a near fatal car crash give credence to the man’s proclamation “And he explained the story about how blacks came from glory, And what we need to do in the game, Good dude, bad night, right place, wrong time, In the blink of a eye, his whole life changed.” The College Dropout really did change Kanye’s life, and it also changed music for the better by showing us that the only limitations that exist are the ones we place on ourselves. Whether it’s lyricism, production, or marketing, Kanye proved that he can do it all.