This month marked the 10 year anniversary for Kanye West’s debut College Dropout album. Kanye has since gone on to become a highly recognized, provacative, mainstream success. While Kanye’s arrogance and lack of verbal filter has made him significant in the media, and his mainstream success has made him relevant to the Rap music industry, his importance to Hip Hop culture is significant for reasons usually not discussed.
The New Voice
Kanye’s College Dropout album was extremely important to Hip Hop culture as the album marked the emergence of a new voice in Rap music. a change inthe image of respected successful rappers. Prior to Kanye, the most successful rappers often had to have street credibility and cross-over appeal. Rappers like Jay-Z for instance. Jay-Z definitely has the skills and he has the background but he also had the ability to codeswitch into a personality that could be marketed to mainstream America. The only other alternative image was that of the conscious backpackers. Rappers like Talib Kweli, Common, and Mos Def. These rappers gained their respect through sheer skill but often lacked mainstream success because they didn’t have the street credibility that the mainstream had come to expect and lust for in the image of rappers. Kanye didn’t quite fit either of these two archetypes and, therefore, couldn’t be expected to create the kind of music that was making profits.
Kanye was this other thing. He was somewhere between the thug and the backpacker. He knew streetlife but he hadn’t lived it. He was smart and passionate but not an activist or conscious. What Kanye was, though, was the image of the majority of the young Hip Hop generation. Half of this generation may have grown up in the hood but they grew up with parents that worked 9-5’s and pushed them to get good grades, go to college, and leave the ghetto behind. The other half of this generation was growing up in the lower middle class. This kids’ parents may have college degrees and/or be married and they, ofcourse, expected their kids to accomplish at least as much as they had accomplished (though they probably pushed them to accomplish more). So this new generation of voices had witnessed streetlife, they understood it, and most likely were only a few degrees of separation from being in it. Others had tried it or dabbled in the streetlife a little before returning back to the expectations of their parents. The gist is that this majority was being unrepresented in the voice of Rap music. They were just as much Hip Hop Heads as the most hardcore rapper and they had come from the same environment as the hardcore rappers; they had only experienced it differently.
The College Dropout
The album begins with We Don’t Care. The first line in the chorus of the song says, “Drug dealing just to get by/Stack your money til it gets sky high.” From there Kanye goes on to talk about looking up to the “dopeman” as a kid. He spends the rest of the song emphasizes the context of that leads to drug dealing: poverty and necessity. It is the perfect opening song to introduce the world to this new generation of Hip Hop Heads who, unlike the 80’s babies, can’t really remember a time when crack wasn’t a phenomenon that killed masses of Black people or a time before drug dealing became a common option for Black youth looking for money to transcend the ghetto.
The entire album could be utilized as a sort of manifesto for the new generation of Hip Hoppers. This was their story. This was their experience. I would argue that part of the reason Kanye became so successful is because of that majority. It was that majority and his credibility as a Hip Hop producer that led to him being successful as a rapper. It was this album that helped give the next generation their voice and paved the way for a lot of the eclectic production and content as well as the varied images that we currently see in rap music.
Everyone has their choices of artists that they like and/or respect; however, we have to give credit where credit is due. College Dropout definitely deserves credit and its relevance acknowledged. Ten years ago on the 10th of this month, the Rap game was changed. Hip Hop is always changing and that’s what makes it exciting. In light of the recent stagnation in creativity in Rap music, it’s even more appreciative when changes take place. What I wonder now, is how it will change again? and who will change it?
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man