The Album

On February 10, 2004 Roc-A-Fella Records released a highly anticipated album by one of their newest team members. The College Dropout by Kanye West is a refreshing change in the growing stagnancy that has hit hip-hop in the past half decade. By mixing more beats such as the ones he used in Alicia Keys' You Don’t Know My Name and Talib Kweli's Get By with his stunningly accurate, socially scathing lyrics Kanye has truly created an unforgetable record.

The record has several skits on it which deal mainly with one event in Kanye's life: the day he dropped out of college and became, in many people's eyes, a failure. Ever empowered, inspired, and reenergized by the act, Kanye wrote many of the songs for The College Dropout after this period. However, the skits aren't as inspired nor as smart and would do better if they were spliced into one track to listen to once, and then skip over the next time you want to listen to the record.

The rest of the album is devoted to songs which are more often than not quite meaningful, just as Kanye sings about in Breathe In Breathe Out. Songs such as All Falls Down, Jesus Walks, Never Let Me Down, and Through the Wire make The College Dropout a record worth buying.

The Songs

  • Track Two – We Don’t Dare – 3:59

  • Ain’t no tuition for having no ambition.

    We Don’t Care is a song about selling drugs to survive financially. It is a song about living the hustle, and not feeling poorly about it.

    Contains a sample from the Jimmy Castor Bunch recording I Just Wanna Stop.

  • Track Three – Graduation Day – 1:22

  • I’m just not everybody

    Kanye never walked at his own graduation, and this short song is about his reasons, as few as they are, behind that action. He felt that he was not like other people, he had to do other things to get by.

  • Track Four – All Falls Down – 3:43

  • Man I promise I’m so self conscious
    That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches.

    Kanye tries to fit in with the rest of the world. He spends money on things he doesn’t really need because he believes that maybe by showing other people that he possesses these material things they will accept him as he is. In the end of the song he admits that he’s no better than anyone else and for all his wanting to be better, that doesn’t make him a better person. What does make him a better person is that he’s confessing this self-conscious self-improving lust and implies that he wants to change that.

    The music video for All Falls Down shows Kanye chasing down his girlfriend Alexis, played by Stacey Dash, as she runs to catch a plane that she is dangerously close to missing. As an overture to this song about materialism and changing himself he’s also saying goodbye to a great love. The moment of the video that makes the biggest impression comes at the end, when immediately after spinning in a circle Alexis allows Kanye to lift up her dark sunglasses for just a moment, and you see her eyes welled up and a tear making its way gracefully down her face.

    Featuring Syleena Johnson. Contains an interpolation of Mystery Of Iniquity written by Lauryn Hill.

  • Track Six – Spaceship – 5:24

  • Takin my hits writing my hits writing my rhmes clearing my mind…
    So many records in my basement I’m just waitin on my spaceship.

    Spaceship is clearly a song about Kanye the aspiring. This seems to be written before Kanye-the-producer of stars and certainly before Kanye-the-star. He’s working a low-paying, low-respect job in a mall writing every chance he gets. He’s written enough material to fill up multiple albums if he only gets that chance. That chance that he’s talking about is his personal spaceship, his personal ticket out of his life that’s gone so wrong. And if that spaceship comes for him he will, as you hear by collaborating artist GLC, “fly past the sky” and enter a new life.

    Featuring GLC and Consequence. Contains a sample of the recording Distant Lover performed by Marvin Gaye.

  • Track Seven – Jesus Walks – 3:13

  • God show me the way because the devil’s tryin to break me down
    The only thing I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now
    And I don’t think there’s nothing I can do to right my wrongs
    I wanna talk to God but im afraid cause we ain’t spoke in so long…

    Jesus Walks is the story of Kanye’s repenting. He dreams of a day where he can walk into a club and hear people screaming about Jesus. He hates that other rappers feel that spinning religion on a record will hurt their sales. He thinks he’s done bad things in his life but he wants to make up for it. A flute is playing in the background and children sing the repetitive Jesus walks / Jesus walks with me (with me, with me, with me) lines.

    The Chris Milk version of the music video for Jesus Walks is a stunning short piece of cinematography. With the exception of the cut used for Kanye’s rapping sequences (Kanye standing in a wooden walled hallway, a flickering lamp overhead mimicking a halo) the cuts used in this video are breathtaking. We open on several cops overseering a chain gain, clearing trees off of an obscure highway. Next we see an unrelated shot of a police chase through a desert road. There is a girl crying and singing “I want Jesus” in the backseat. The car is finally caught and the young men up front escape. The woman goes to jail in the backseat of the squad car. The next shot is one man from the chain gain shaking hands with the warden, and walking out. The first thing you see him do is go to his barn and start working on a beam with some carpentry tools.

    Then you see that it is a cross.

    Then you see him pull the conical white hat over his head.

    The final sequence opens with this same man in full Ku Klux Klan dress standing beneath a flaming cross. The cross comes lose from the earth and tumbles down a long hill, with the man chasing after it. The man becomes completely engulfed struggling back up the hill with the inferno on his shoulder. He collapses, and a rainstorm comes to extinguish the flames. The man looks up with desperate eyes and closes them tinged with sadness as the video comes to its dramatic conclusion.

    Contains a sample of Walk With Me performed by Arc Choir.

  • Track Eight – Never Let Me Down – 5:24

  • I get down for my Grandfather who took my momma
    Made her sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat
    At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit-ins
    And with that in my blood I was born to be different

    In Never Let Me Down Kanye talks about racism and talks with distain about people who think that it’s no longer present in America. With his line “Now ni**as can’t make it to ballots to choose leadership / But we can make it to Jacob and to the dealership” Kanye’s protesting that being allowed to buy things and have possessions is in no way equal footing to having a voice in a democratic system. Kanye thinks that racism is still alive and well, just concealed better than ever.

    Unfortunately for this song, Kanye provides no suggestions as for solutions on how to remedy this problem.

    Featuring Jay-Z and J. Ivy. Contains a sample of Maybe It’s the Power of Love written by Michael Bolton and Bruce Kulick.

  • Track Nine – Get Em High – 4:49

  • My flow is in the pocket like wallets I got the bounce like hydraulics
    I cant call it I got the swerve like alcoholics

    This is the song when Kanye gets loose with his lyrics and gets down. The beat is quick and his lyrics are faster. The song is primarily about the time in his life when he dropped out of college to chase success. The chorus is more of a club theme, telling a group to put their hands high in the air and telling girls to get their men high at the same time. Catchy and smooth, Kanye flaunts his astute lyricism in this song.

    Featuring Talib Kweli and Common.

  • Track Eleven – The New Workout Plan – 5:22

  • It’s been a week without me and
    She feel weak without me
    She wanna talk it out
    But ain’t nothing to talk about

    Kanye tells his women to get slim to get him. The song is about an old flame wanted to get back together to work out the problems they had, but Kanye isn’t that interested, checking out new ladies on the scene. Another quick song with a great drum line, this song will get in your head and make you want to dance.

  • Track Twelve – Slow Jamz – 5:16

  • I’ma play this Vandross you gon’ take your pants off
    I’ma play this Gladys Knight me and you gon’ get right

    This song is for the ladies in the house. It’s just what the title says it is, a nice slow jam. It’s the closest thing to a love ballad we’ve seen on the record, even if its purpose is to put the ladies in the mood with that glint in their eyes. And to that purpose, the song is right up there with Luther Vandross.

    Featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx. Contains a sample of A House is Not a Home performed by Luther Vandross.

  • Track Thirteen – Breath In Breathe Out – 4:06

  • Always said if I rapped I’d say something significant
    But now I’m rappin bout money, hoes and rims again

    Just as the “yearbook” in the liner notes opening page has Miri Ben Ari labeled as the “Token White Girl” of the school, Breathe In Breathe Out seems to be the token rap song about scoring girls and driving fast cars. Nothing very new here lyrically, making it seem as though the short sampling loop behind the song would have been better used on a different piece where Kanye in fact does say something significant as he does earlier on in the album.

    Featuring Ludacris.

  • Track Fifteen – School Spirit – 3:02

  • Told em(my parents) I finished school and I started my own business
    They said “oh you graduated?” Naw I decided I was finished.

    As for school spirit Kanye doesn’t have much. The world breaks everyone, but he wants to fight it for as long as he can. He doesn’t want to work for four years and wind up as a waiter. He doesn’t want to work for four years towards someone else’s dream for him. He wants to go off and chase his own dreams, which leads the listener to conclude that this piece was written right about the time Kanye did drop out of college to join up with Roc-a-fella Records.

    Contains a sample of the Aretha Franklin recording Spirit in the Dark.

  • Track Eighteen* – Two Words – 4:26

  • You know how the game be / can’t let em change me

    Pay me. Those are Kanye’s two words. He feels responsible for holding up an entire city, self-perpetuating his idea that rappers are role models and should act as such. He says he was raised by Chi Town (Chicago) and now he wants to give back.

    Featuring Mos Def, Freeway and The Harlem Boys Choir. Contains a Sample of Peace and Love – Movement III (Time) as performed by Mandrill.

  • Track Nineteen – Through the Wire – 3:41

  • But I’m a champion so I turned tragedy to triumph
    Make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wire.

    In October 2002 Kanye West was in a horrible car accident that required him to have his jaw wired shut. One of Kanye’s strongest songs on The College Dropout, Through the Wire was recorded with that same wired jaw which damaged as it was, was still able to issue some jaw dropping beats (a section of the song was selected by the February 2004 issue of The Source magazine as the Rhyme of the Year). The song is entirely about the accident, events leading up to it, and Kanye’s newfound inspiration which he found during recovery.

    Contains a sample from the Chaka Khan recording Through the Fire.

  • Track Twenty – Family Business – 4:38

  • I woke up early this morning with a new state of mind
    A creative way to rhyme without using nines and guns…

    This song is Kanye slowing himself down a little bit. It’s a song about family, and it’s a song about loss. Losing a family member to jail time and feeling that sting every time the family sits down to a big dinner and he’s not there. It’s a song about coping with that sting and playing down on bad times by “Act like everything fine and if it isn’t / We ain’t letting everybody in our Family Business.” It’s one of the nicer songs on Kanye’s LP, and it’s clearly one written for his family.

  • Track Twenty-one – Last Call – 12:40

  • Now I could let these dream killers kill my self esteem
    Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams
    I use it as my gas so they say that I’m gassed
    But without it I’d be last so I ought to laugh

    Song is about unwinding. It’s the last song on the album and it sounds as if it was the last to be recorded as well. It feels comfortable, and has many of the collaborators pitching in on brief lines and lyrical cameos. In the song Kanye goes into, but doesn’t dwell on for long periods of time, how people tried to tell him to quit and he didn’t for two reasons. First off he thought he was better than them (“You ni**as wear suits cause you can’t dress no more”). Second he thought he was better than they were saying he was (he claims his arrogance as his inspiration).

*On the album there’s a labeling error, Track 16 – LiL Jimmy Skit runs into Track 17, titled Two Words. This error compounds itself, mistitling the rest of the cd.

The College Dropout liner notes

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