For fans who can no longer stomach his behavior or his “New God Flow,” today is a day to bask in this album because it symbolizes the grind, the hunger and creativity that made us fall in love with him in the first place.
During his explosion as Jay’s new producer, I’d heard guys on my college campus debate which of his beats on The Blueprint was the best, but I was formally introduced to Ye while randomly looking at MTV one day. The opening scenes of “Through the Wire” made me sit in front of my TV and wonder, “Who is this guy?” The photos of his puffy cheeks after his near-death car accident made me pay close attention to his lyrics. “I must’ve had an angel cuz look how death missed his ass/Unbreakable. What you know? They call me Mr. Glass.”
It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school that I really fell for Mr. West. During a midnight run to McDonald’s, a friend popped in a bootlegged copy (don’t judge) of College Dropout, and skipped to track #10: “Kanye’s Workout Plan.” The soul clap and synthesizer a la Roger Troutman pulled me in, and I vowed that when it was really released, I would purchase it.
I bought the album today 10 years ago, and it immediately became the soundtrack of my life. With that album, he’d made an announcement to world that defiance can be healthy if you’re willing to work. “I’m about to break all the rules. Don’t tell anybody. I got something better than school. Don’t tell anybody. My mama would kill me. I’m just not everybody.”
It was ironic that I could relate to a guy whose story was centered around abandoning formal education to pursue his dreams when I was obtaining an advanced degree to pursue mine. My favorite track, “Spaceship,” was my reality. Instead of The Gap, I worked at SuperTarget, ringing up purchases for folk who like to eat their items before they buy them and throw empty wrappers my way, who try to get over on returns and exchanges and trash dressing rooms. I too, was locked in (literally) until midnight and sometimes later when all I wanted to do was party with my friends (mostly still in undergrad) after a long week of studying, reading academic essays and fighting through boring lectures.
Even though graduate school was a means to an end, I couldn’t see the end. Working two jobs, going to school full-time in a new environment had taken an emotional toll on me. I’m not easily overwhelmed, so every morning on the way to my 7 a.m. class, I pressed play on The College Dropout. It provided a sense of normalcy in what was a brand new world to me. The interludes like “I’ll Fly Away” reminded me of hymns we’d sing at my home church. The house music samples were reminiscent of weekend radio mixes when I was in high school. “Slow Jams” made me proud that I grew up on real love songs by Luther and Anita. I internalized his lyrics about Jesus never leaving him, “I know He hears me when my feet get weary.” How did this dude know my life? Everything about the album was so new, yet so familiar.
Looking back, I was a bit entitled during my transition into adulthood, but then, my struggle was real, and you couldn’t tell me differently.
Because he made “like, five beats a day for like, three straight summers,” his music would eventually make believers out of everyone. Doubtful music critics couldn’t wait to see what the rapper wannabe could really do with a mic. No one imagined that he’d tell rappers, drug dealers and strippers that Jesus walks with them, too. That you could veer off of the path people told you was the only way and find your own.
His lyrics were fun and real. From songs for loved ones we’d lost to the plight of young women lost in a culture of materialism and fake fame or being the token black dude at his fancy retail job, he gave us what we’d all seen or experienced. For us, it was a mirror on record.
The College Dropout was about proving the naysayers wrong, and it is proof that in a world of Louie and Maybachs, we can still take note of and appreciate music straight from the heart. But mostly, the album is about Kanye’s individuality, something he still prides himself on today. As he danced across the stage of The Grammy’s in a fit of praise during one of his most groundbreaking songs, I screamed at the television in happiness because he was officially a star. But he was already a star to me, and to us. The young, pink Polo-wearing, arrogant producer had finally made it, and he let us in on the journey and celebration.
Today, we thank him for the ride.