From the first single, there was no denying that he was refreshingly different, alternately prone to earnest admissions of uncertainty and insecurity, and the kind of boastful over-compensations that he's since become notorious for. Compare "Through the Wire" to other debut rap singles of equivalent cultural significance—Eminem's "My Name Is," Biggie's "Juicy," Ice Cube's "Who's the Mack," Eric B. & Rakim's "Eric B. Is President"—and it stands out as possibly the most complex, confessional and heartfelt introduction to the world any rapper has created. West talks over a tweaked Chaka Khan sample through the choruses, then sets the stage for his lyrics with sudden flurries of drums. On the first verse he addresses his new audience like we already know him, talking obliquely about an accident, his mother, his hospital diet and Biggie.
[Listen to "Through the Wire": ]
As if suddenly coming to, he regroups and opens the second verse with what basically amounts to his thesis for the ensuing trio of college-themed records: "What if somebody from the Chi that was ill got a deal/on the hottest rap label around/but he wasn't talking bout coke and birds it was more like spoken word/except he's really puttin' it down." Beginning urgently and evolving into a teasing drawl where "down" gets stretched out into "dowwww...", it's the kind of thoughtful and carefully executed song that became more scarce on West's subsequent records, probably because he hasn't had time to sit still since getting out of that hospital. Of course, using the car accident that left him rapping "through the wire" as his origin myth was just more proof that West was something else. Biggie talked about dealing crack, Tupac concealed his ballet school and poetry-writing days under swaths of gangsta rhetoric, 50 Cent got shot, Eminem got really high, and Kanye West got his jaw broken in a car accident. But he never sounds worried about how this unglamorous, confessional style might sit with the traditional rap fan base, most of whom were already on board for the phenomenal beats anyways. West courted crossover audiences unabashedly from the get-go, which became even clearer on College Dropout's second single.
With "Slow Jamz" [below], West proved he could work with a formula as well as any other producer or rapper in pop music. More than just the token slow jam of its title, the track, which is also featured on Twista's album Badunkadunk and includes a tongue-in-cheek introduction and chorus by Jamie Foxx, pokes fun at its delicious, syrupy sweetness, just as it enshrines itself among R&B royalty, name-dropping everyone from Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight, to Sly and the Family Stone and Luther Vandross (whose voice the song samples). Though Twista's trademark speed-rapping easily overshadows West's clumsy lyrics ("She got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson/got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson"), the fact that both Chicagoans can rap in their spectacularly disparate cadences over the same beat is a testament to the producer's terrific craft.
Haha.. we were kidding about all those other ones. This is obviously, objectively, the best record
ever of the decade.
Dec 23, 2009
Breakup records should not be this good.
Dec 23, 2009
After five years and three albums spent building something, Wilco decided to tear it down and start fresh. The music industry did the same thing. But it didn't exactly have a choice.
Dec 22, 2009
With just ten songs, Arcade Fire successfully mourned the loss of multiple relatives, helped us discover a new way of dealing with adversity, and changed the face of indie-rock.
Dec 21, 2009
With the music industry in a perpetual downward spiral for much of the decade, it became difficult to blame bands for licensing their songs to corporations. When the money paid for records as brilliant as this one, it was impossible.
Dec 18, 2009