REWIND: College Dropout turns 15 this week - we recall the five best tracks from Kanye West's debut album
Kanye West wasn't always what he is now.
In fact, from his persona, to his passions, to the music he puts out - he is almost unrecognisable from the artist he was when he released his debut album, College Dropout, exactly 12 years ago.
When Dropout dropped, Yeezy was already an acclaimed producer with Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records, having lent his services to Jay-Z's 2001 album The Blueprint, which ranked Number 1 on Complex's Top 100 Albums of the 2000s.
As such, West's musical genius was never in question - it was his authenticity, his lyricism, his technical ability to spit on a beat that held him back, until 2004 when Roc-A-Fella finally relented, and let him make his own record.
Kanye overcame each of these obstacles by approaching each track on the album with profound lyrical honesty - addressing his struggles, his failings, and the failings of society at large - and created a masterpiece in the process.
Kanye talks a very good game these days on Twitter and the odd outrageous interview with Sway or Zane Lowe, but he doesn't seem to appreciate that College Dropout was more revolutionary than any of the albums he's released since.
Just about every track on this album is a classic, but these are our five favourite moments from one of the finest hip-hop albums of the 21st century:
5) Slow Jamz ft Twista and Jamie Foxx
Kanye West has always had a gift for collaborations, and he picked his partners perfectly for his introduction to the charts.
Jamie Foxx's vocals combined with Twista's million-words-per-minute verses made this track instantly memorable with minimal effort from Mr. West himself, though his line "Got a white-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson/Got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson" is a hilarious highlight.
4) All Falls Down
Long before Macklemore was hamfistedly tackling the showy nature of hip-hop from his (literally) ivory tower, Kanye West was on the inside looking in and offering a valuable critique of what rap music lacks.
When he ended the song "We all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it," he laid a marker down for today's current crop of rappers who make a living spilling their guts on their insecurities and their own perceived failures. He was the first to admit it, thereby making sure he wouldn't be the last.
And A+ for how catchy that hook is.
3) Never Let Me Down
Much like album opener We Don't Care, and Two Word ft. Free Way and Mos Def, Never Let Me Down showcased Kanye West's knack for sharp social commentary:
Now n****s can't make it to ballots to choose leadership
But we can make it to Jacobs and to the dealership
That's why I hear new music and I just don't be feelin' it
Racism still alive they just be concealin' it
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has gathered steam following the tragic deaths of people like Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice at the hands of the police. This is a theme Kanye West raised over and over on College Dropout, over a decade ago.
Clip via Kanye West
2) Jesus Walks
These days there's only one God Kanye West is praying to, and his name is Kanye West, but at the outset of his career, his Catholic faith informed everything he did.
Jesus Walks is a powerful gospel-rap track that sees Kanye West trying to navigate his way back into God's good books, and how hard it is to stay free of sin as a young black man in America who is struggling to make ends meet within a society that's keeping him out.
1) Family Business
What sets an artist apart from his peers is the ability to create somebody that nobody else can. The wincing sentimentality of the album's penultimate track Family Business is the kind of thing that is inescapably relatable - despite dealing with subject matter so rarely touched upon in mainstream rap music (it certainly makes a pleasant change from Eminem's obligatory death threats aimed at his mother).
Family Business matches Tupac's Dear Mama for poignancy and comes with a joyful gospel refrain that will make you want to go and give your parents a hug. It was this kind of track that made Kanye so revolutionary when he first burst onto the scene. Somehow we doubt his upcoming album, 'The Life of Pablo', will see a return to tracks like this one.