10 years ago, Kanye West released his (first) masterpiece, and changed the rap game forever. From the first moments of The College Dropout, it was clear that Kanye had subverted all expectations and created something that was truly unique. Kanye’s signature production style had already made its mark, but perhaps his lasting impact on hip hop was his departure from the gangster archetype to highlight the different struggles of the middle and working classes, as well as his own internal struggles as a ambitious young black man. This set the stage for the success of many of the most successful young artists today, such as Drake, J. Cole, and Kid Cudi.
Though Kanye’s lasting impact is indisputable, an important question remains – does the music and content of Kanye’s debut hold up? There are many albums, considered classics, which do not capture the listener the way they did when they were released. That makes perfect sense – music, and hip hop above all, is very wrapped up in the context of its production. In my opinion, especially given the departure Kanye has made in both style and content, The College Dropout manages to sound fresh. The everyday struggles that Kanye describes are collective, which is something that we miss in this era of more self-centered hip hop. His jokes are as funny as ever, and to a college student like me, the School Spirit skits are as relevant as ever.
In fact, I think it’s important, when analyzing the seemingly self-obsessed Kanye of the present, to look back at this first work. I wold argue that he hasn’t changed as much as many claim. This is, after all, the man who ended his album with a 9 minute monologue about his own struggles breaking into the music industry. It doesn’t seem very different from the so-called rants Kanye has been giving recently. It’s the same narrative of fighting against the boxes one’s placed in, and trying hard to be able to defy expectations.