The College Dropout album cover
The College Dropout

Kanye West

Roc-A-Fella Records

It’s 2004, and Kanye has been producing songs for about five years. People know the name because of his beats on Talib Kweli’s “Get By” and Jay-Z’s “Izzo.” Kanye’s first lift as a solo artist comes from “Through the Wire,” his mumbled story about a car crash riding a sample of Chaka’s “Through The Fire.” Sped-up R&B samples were his first trick, the second was punchlines (some his, some written by friends Consequence and Rhymefest), and the third was vulnerability. He only kept one of those. And then there was “Jesus Walks,” which put overt Christianity and Black American gospel into the charts, which happens less often than you’d think. Over the course of Dropout, Kanye cracks jokes every few bars and calls himself an asshole, and not for the last time. And at this point, he can still talk credibly about working a job with a manager. This album is a mess and wildly various, part of various comic and music traditions. It’s backpack rap in the literal sense of being a collection of things unified only by the person who collected them. Where Kanye the fan went is anyone’s guess, but that is who guides this album: the kid who loved everything and joked when he got nervous.

Sasha Frere-Jones

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