Classic Album Review: Kanye West

The College Dropout – Kanye West (Roc-a-Fella Records)

For me, this collection of tracks is probably in my personal top ten of all time. It was one of my early introductions to hip-hop and established my fascination with the mind and music of Kanye West.

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, before anyone knew his name, Kanye West was paying his dues as a producer with a yearning to rap. A few years of persevering and steadily improving meant influential people in the industry began to perk up their ears and listen. One of the first guys to pay real attention goes by the name of Jay-Z. West’s groundbreaking style of speeding up soul samples became the signature sound of Roc-a-Fella Records. Kanye produced the majority of the tracks on Jay-Z’s 2001 album The Blueprint and was subsequently signed as an in-house producer for the fledgling record label in 2002. For many young producers, simply being acknowledged by Jay-Z, let alone producing full songs for him would be considering a success. Not for Mr. West. Not satisfied with just making beats, Kanye wanted to prove himself as a rapper. This album, The College Dropout, was West’s proof he could hang with the big names in hip-hop.

The first single, “Through the Wire” came out on February 3rd, exactly a week before the album’s release in 2004. It was inspired by Kanye’s near-fatal car crash in 2002 and was recorded with his jaw still broken and wired shut, thus rapping “through the wire.” The song opens with Kanye’s slurred voice proclaiming “they can’t stop me from rapping” before the beat interpolates a pitched-up version of Chaka Khan’s iconic 1985 single “Through the Fire”. The track is a mark of Kanye’s work ethic as much as it is a beautiful piece of music. In what Kanye called a “life or death situation”, his first instinct was not to let the hype surrounding him go to waste and against the advice of his doctors he produced and rapped this song.

It’s hard to discuss The College Dropout without explaining the skits of which there are six throughout the album. It opens with comedian DeRay Davis (doing a Bernie Mac impression) asking Kanye to play something for the kids who are graduating. It basically sets up the concept of the album which is Kanye addressing the academic system who told him he’d never be anything if he didn’t get a degree. It also, more literally, sets up the first track of The College Dropout: “We Don’t Care”. This is a glorious, celebratory song which hears Kanye talk to a class at their graduation, telling them to do what they have to do, regardless of what it makes people think of them. “We forced to sell crack, rap and get a job/ You gotta do something man your ass is grown” raps West over a simple drum beat and faultlessly chopped sample while a choir of children sing “We wasn’t supposed to make it past twenty five/ Jokes on you, we’re still alive”. The whole track is just a message to people who are doing less than glamourous things to get by – do what you have to do, the priority is survival.

‘Bernie Mac’ returns and cannot believe what he has just heard. He calls Kanye the n-word and tells Kanye he won’t be graduating and to get off of his campus. The backing track takes a dark turn which sets the mood for the rest of the album.

The next track sees Kanye at his evaluative best as he analyses his battle with consumerism. On a muted acoustic guitar-driven beat, Kanye teams with Syleena Johnson to create a hit that was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 47th Grammy Awards.

Next up, a then-unknown John Legend steps up to the plate with his version of a classic gospel hit, originally by Albert E. Brumley, called “I’ll Fly Away”. This sets up the next track, “Spaceship” which deals with the idea of escapism alongside GLC and Consequence.

The Chicagoan talks of the days when he used to work in The Gap as a greeter and how he felt he was treated like a “token blackie” and exploited to make the store look progressive. They criticised his workrate, to which Kanye responds that he made “five beats a day for three summers”.

This song is followed by one of Kanye’s most iconic tracks. On “Jesus Walks”, Yeezy gets spiritual and talks about problems with his relationship with God. He also discusses issues with organised religion and how they need Jesus. The impact of this song on rap music is criminally understated. It can definitely be crediting for bridging the gap between mainstream hip-hop and the church. In fact, the legendary DMC of Run-DMC said that he had stopped listening to contemporary rap music until he heard “Jesus Walks”.

“Never Let Me Down” is perhaps the most skippable song on the album but nonetheless has a place on “The College Dropout”. Jay-Z’s braggadocios verse about how many number one albums he has is irrelevant to the rest of the song which is about overcoming insurmountable odds put in place by racism.

In one of Kanye’s most ‘one of us’ moments on the album, he tells a story about using the internet to get with girls on “Get ‘Em High” from the second verse onwards. Admirably honest, Kanye comically uses the fact he knows Talib Kweli to hook up with a girl. On a totally separate note Kanye says “my flow is in pockets like wallets, I got the bounce like hydraulics” on this song, which to me is a magnificent line. Common also says “real rappers are hard to find, like a remote” on this song, which to me is a horrendous line.

Another funny skit introduces the next song: “The New Workout Plan”. In the skit, some women are having a conversation about losing weight. One of the women says that because of a workout plan she’s been doing recently she’s a “video ho-fessional”. “The New Workout Plan” suggests that the workout plan she’s been doing is The Kanye West Workout Plan. While the song really doesn’t fit conceptually with the rest of the album, it is still one of Kanye’s wackiest and most fun songs. It’s arrangement is a masterpiece as it seamlessly transitions from sound to sound and even includes a soul clap towards the end. In it, he basically sells his product to women, saying if you follow the instructions then you might be able to become a basketball wife or something of similar stature.

Another song ever so slightly short of the mark on this album is “Breathe In, Breathe Out”, featuring Ludacris, one of hip-hop’s biggest names in 2004. For some reason he is relegated to hook duty on here. Anyhow, we get a gem from Kanye when he calls himself the first “n**** with a Benz and a backpack”. Not exactly a bad song, but with a slightly dull bluesy trumpet beat, it definitely doesn’t live up to the rest of the album.

Next comes a song bookended by two skits called “School Spirit” in which West essentially washes his hands of the school experiences and tells his mother he’s going to “get on this TV”.  DeRay Davis returns for the skits to make fun of the higher education system and the subsequent unemployment that follows it. This carries on into the “Lil Jimmy Skit” which essentially does the same, but with a different character.

Guitars, piano, a full string arrangement and the Harlem Boys Choir all feature in “Two Words”, the symphonic peak of the album. Interesting verses come from Mos Def and Freeway, making this song a platform to combine, albeit briefly, the worlds of conscious rap and gangsta rap.

Another highlight of the “Dropout” is the heartfelt and soul-filled “Family Business” in which Kanye shares the relationships he has with his family members. He touches on several aspects of family life, some sombre, some happy. The side of Kanye which is so rarely exposed nowadays, his human side, is what made him so interesting initially and this song is about as ‘real life’ as a rap song can get. This is Kanye West at his reflective best.

In Jay-Z’s retirement movie “Fade to Black”, Kanye plays Jay a random beat of his. At the time, people would’ve presumed it was just another beat for “The Black Album”. Instead, it wrangled its way onto the tail end of Kanye’s debut album. And thank God! Instead, The Louis Vuitton Don’s fans are treated to a fifteen minute track in which Kanye excitedly tells part of his life story. Getting signed to Roc-a-Fella, moving around with his mother and even meeting Bun B at the Source Awards, nothing goes untouched here. It sort of ties everything he says elsewhere on “The College Dropout” into a pretty bow. Hip-hop artists like J Cole have utilised this type of outro since, and is yet another thing Kanye is entitled to take credit for creating.

Overall this album is still being talked about thirteen years on and will still be talked about forever. Before Kanye West was the king of controversy, he was just a kid from Chicago with a dream. “The College Dropout” is the realisation of that dream.

 

#BBAR

 

Twitter – @boombapacidrap

 

Facebook – www.facebook.com/boombapandacidrap

 

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The Boom Bap and Acid Rap 2016 Year End Awards, Pt. 3

TRAP ARTIST OF THE YEAR:

THE SHORTLIST:

  • FUTURE
  • QUAVO
  • YOUNG THUG
  • GUCCI MANE
  • 21 SAVAGE
  • RAE SREMMURD
  • DESIIGNER
  • LIL YACHTY
  • LIL UZI VERT
  • TRAVIS SCOTT

THE WINNER:travis-scott

  • TRAVIS SCOTT

In what was by far the busiest category and one of the hardest to judge, ten of hip-hop’s biggest stars went head to head. 2016 introduced us to young upstarts like 21 Savage, Desiigner and Lil Yachty, saw the escalation to stardom accelerate for rappers like Young Thug and Migos’ Quavo, the confirmation of greatness for trap legends like Gucci Mane and Future. Despite all this, it was the year of a Texan by the name of Travis Scott. Top class features on the stellar DJ Khaled album alongside Lil Wayne and Young Thug’s JEFFERY mixtape put Travis Scott firmly in the public eye. However upon unleashing a fiery, atmospheric album in September, Travis cemented himself as a bona fide A-Lister in rap this year. Getting tier-one artists like The Weeknd, Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar on his sophomore album is an achievement in itself, but for the tracks themselves to be so infectious and compelling is a triumph for Scott. To show off the other contenders, a supersonic year was needed. Travis Scott had just that.

 

SIDENOTE:

While he didn’t do a whole lot this year, Rich Homie Quan didn’t have one of his better years. From his crew being involved in a North Carolina nightclub shooting, botching a classic Biggie verse on TV, getting dissed by Young Thug, being sued by his own label and delivering possibly the worst radio freestyle of all time on Westwood… The list goes on but let’s just say Quan took a lot of L’s this year.

Mixtape Review: Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper (Independent) – May 2016

Chance took a major ‘chance’ here. His first solo effort since 2013’s classic mixtape Acid Rap (and one of my personal favourite projects of all time), Coloring Book is unlike anything that has ever been done in mainstream hip-hop. Proudly hailing from Chicago, the young MC shines a light on the rarely-seen positive side of the Windy City, while also wearing his faith in God on his sleeve for all to see.

The triumphant opening track, “All We Got” which features one of Chano’s idols in Kanye West manages to top their last collaboration on “Ultralight Beam” on The Life of Pablo. Religion is a key theme throughout this song and Chance’s lyrics, along with the choir and Kanye’s vocals on the hook give this song a very church-like feel right from the off.

The album then transitions into the glorious “No Problem”, where Chance proves himself to be music’s most successful free agent, flexing about how great it is to be independent. He calls on the Collegrove duo, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz to help him out which is apt considering they have both had issues with labels in the past. Another of Chance’s idols, Lil Wayne delivers a buoyant line about freeing “Tha Carter”, which suggests he is fighting to give us his long-awaited twelfth studio album as soon as possible. The song’s hook, “You don’t want no problem with me”, is a threat to record executives who have actively attempted to hold Chance the Rapper’s movement down. His attitude, however, is defiant. He won’t be stopped.

Other superstar guest spots are given to the elusive Jay Electronica, who pops up on “How Great” with a characteristically brilliant verse, T-Pain, who does a sublime job of complimenting Chance’s bubbly singing voice on “Finish Line / Drown” alongside the iconic Kirk Franklin, Noname and Eryn Allen Kane and Justin Bieber who does lends a glowing chorus to the Chicagoan anthem “Juke Jam”.

As well as these big names, Chance allows several newer names to join the party like D.R.A.M., who gets a solo track with “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”, Lil Yachty, who is fresh off of a great mixtape of his own in Lil Boat and doesn’t disappoint on “Mixtape” featuring the always-polarising Young Thug who also delivers the goods.

“Blessings” was premiered on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where it was announced as Coloring Book’s third single. Here, he vows to keep preaching until he “fades away” and touches on how the birth of his daughter monumentally changed his life. He delivers a brilliant series of lines on this song:  “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy/Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family/He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest/And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath,” which are a tribute to the religious leitmotif on Coloring Book, suggesting that perhaps God sent him this message directly.

Chance takes a slightly different direction with “All Night”, which is a more commercial sounding song, however infectious without getting annoying (I can assure you this, I must have heard it hundreds of times now). The Knox Fortune-produced joint is lively, vivacious and has that endearing hook that will be stuck in your head forever.

Returning from a quick “Smoke Break” with Future, Chance begins to shut up shop on “Finish Line / Drown”. In the first half, he admits to a past addiction to Xanax and pushing his body to its limit. The second portion, however is an intensely spiritual contribution featuring female rapper Noname and gospel artist Kirk Franklin. Noname delivers a theistic spoken-word verse before Franklin tops it off with a prayer-like donation to the Book. The tape closes out with “Blessings (Reprise)” which brings everything full circle neatly with a Chance-led choir of Ty Dolla $ign, BJ the Chicago Kid, Anderson .Paak, Raury and Nico. Each of their unique voices blend together to create a gospel/hip-hop fusion that is undeniably striking.

Chance the Rapper seriously comes into his own on this mixtape. Songs like “Same Drugs”, “All We Got” and “No Problem” mean if Chance was to retire tomorrow, he would have a discography worthy of a rap icon. Artists like Kanye West and DMX may have laid the foundations for the introduction of religion into traditional hip-hop but no-one has ever done something so spiritual on such a high profile project. The ‘chance’ that I mentioned Chance took at the start of the review is that he put it all on the line despite the possibility that the worship would alienate fans looking for gangster talk and turn-up records. The chance paid off and Chance effortlessly floats from song to song, keeping the religion discrete enough so as not to put off the casual listener.

At the end of the day, Coloring Book is probably one of, if not the best project of the year. It loses none of its inventiveness and imagination after countless listens and goes against the grain in a satisfying way, all while whetting the appetites of Chance’s original fans.

 

#BBAR

Listen to the mixtape on all streaming platforms now!

Follow me on Twitter @boombapacidrap

Follow Chance on Twitter @chancetherapper

A Year To Remember’s Greatest Albums: Ty Dolla $ign

Free TC – Ty Dolla $ign (Taylor Gang, Pu$haz Ink, Atlantic) – November 2015

 

What is most amazing to me about this album is that Ty Dolla $ign has developed that Nate Dogg knack of sounding vocally incredible while never giving the impression he is trying too hard. This album names 24 different acts as features and never feels like it isn’t Ty’s album, which is perfectly captured on the first track “LA, basically an exclamatory show of pride for Ty’s hometown of Los Angeles, which features Kendrick Lamar, Brandy and James Fauntleroy. While Kendrick delivers a verse in which he pays tribute to the LA Lakers and 2Pac, both synonymous with West Coast life, Brandy’s bit-part shows she still has it 24 years after her solo debut and Cocaine 80s’ Grammy-winning singer James Fauntleroy does what you’d expect him to.

One of my biggest gripes with so many albums of this kind is that, too often, the singles on it feel separate from the movement of the album, however Free TC manages to blend the tracks together to create a sonically-pleasing album through Ty’s unassumingly great voice and the production from some of the game’s best such as Hit-Boy, DJ Mustard and Metro Boomin among others.

Another highlight of the album is the collaboration with Babyface called “Solid” which, to me, is undoubtedly one of the year’s best songs. In order to demonstrate how impressive it is for Ty to have Babyface on his album, you have to go through his eleven Grammy award winning career and look at the fact he has written for and worked with people like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, the aforementioned Brandy and even Lil Wayne. The guitar-driven track is, in theory, pretty simple: wherever Ty Dolla $ign goes, women follow in their masses and he wants for very little, be it money, real friends or weed as he already has an abundance of said things. The actual song is infectiously catchy and since I heard it first, it has barely left my head.

The album grows naturally and feels very unforced. Ty and his team do a fantastic job of integrating A-List artists like Kanye West, R. Kelly and his label mate Wiz Khalifa without placing them on a pedestal and keeping Ty feeling like the main attraction the entire way through.

The hip-hop community looks forward to seeing if Ty Dolla $ign can keep his meteoric rise going. With a great feature on Kanye West’s “Real Friends” from The Life Of Pablo and two new songs out today, he is taking the right steps towards stardom.

A Year to Remember’s Greatest Albums: Pusha T

Darkness Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T (GOOD Music, Def Jam) – December 2015

Intended to serve as a prelude for the GOOD Music president’s third studio album, Darkness Before Dawn has set the bar excitingly high for the long-awaited King Push, due in spring of this year. For a start, the first single released in anticipation of the album, Untouchable heavily samples The Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic guest verse on Pudgee’s 1995 Think Big. In this verse, Biggie claims to be lyrically “untouchable, uncrushable”, which is clearly a recurring theme for Pusha on this project where he is consistently in a very self-appreciative mood.

The Metro Boomin-produced intro to the album sets the signature shady tone which Pusha T has utilised all through his solo career. Happily, this is followed up on in the majority of the next nine tracks.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is Crutches, Crosses, Caskets. A few curious lines (“Old n****s slapping young n****s, ha imagine that, where you from n****?”) on this song allude to the alleged Drake and Diddy altercation at a nightclub in December 2014. This is made more intriguing by the fact Diddy has production credit on this song. Pusha has cited this song as his favourite on the project, understandably.

Despite other masterful performances, the standout track must be M.P.A., an acronym for Money, Pussy, Alcohol, featuring his frequent collaborator and GOOD Music associate – check out New God Flow, Mercy, Runaway and So Appalled – Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and The-Dream. Sounding reminiscent of Blame Game by Kanye from his critically acclaimed (and one of my personal favourite) album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, M.P.A. has a star-filled feel about it that makes you sit up and take notice. And in the current era, a lot of hip-hop, although being good, doesn’t do this.

The Virginia-born and raised coke merchant continues to flow slickly over luxury beats crafted by top-tier producers such as Timbaland, Boi-1da, J Cole and Q-Tip. This album has a grandeur about it, polished to the point of excellence.

Pusha has a rare gift of being able to elaborate his grim images to the point where you finish listening to one of his projects and feel like a character from The Wire. The dictionary definition of ‘prelude’ is an event serving as an introduction to something more important. If that can’t sell Pusha T’s next album to you, nothing will.

#BBAR

2015: A Year to Remember

As I have been absent for over a week, I’ve decided this would be a good time to announce a new series of articles.

2015 was a fantastic year for hip-hop as a whole. We saw the emergence of Bryson Tiller and Goldlink. Future had his best year to date, as did Drake. We witnessed the seismic return of Dr. Dre with Compton. And Kendrick Lamar went from urban prodigy to the undisputed voice of the streets.

With so much exceptional music being released over the course of the year, it wouldn’t be right not to review any of it. For that reason, starting tonight, I hope to post at least one review per week for a good while.

Any criticisms, suggestions or requests can be submitted via Twitter @boombapacidrap. Any interaction is greatly appreciated.

#BBAR

How Hip-Hop Changed My Life: An Introduction

An Introduction to BBAR

 

After much deliberation, I have started a blog for a number of reasons, although mainly to relieve my Twitter followers from my constant outpour of nonsense and to put it into a more orderly form. I hope to update as regularly as possible, however with exams rapidly approaching, you may have to bear with me at times.

Basically, as soon as I heard hip-hop music, I fell in love with the upbeat feeling and the bright, in-your-face, cocky characters. Now, as I approach 18 years of age this year, I find myself getting hooked all over again with the braggadocios attitudes, unique culture and the lyricism in its rawest form. And for this reason, I feel a burning desire to publish my opinions and views so as to possibly inform, entertain and, almost definitely, let out some of my inner rap-nerd.

The first actual hip-hop album I owned was The Black Album by Jay-Z on CD. While I didn’t understand a lot of Jay’s metaphors or wordplay, something about his brash delivery connected with me. Upon hundreds of re-listens, it continues to be an album that shaped how I view music. For example, any hip-hop single that is hot at any given time, to me, is subconsciously compared to “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” or “99 Problems”, both perfect examples of producing a sound that not only captures the ‘pop’ audience’s ear but also manages to keep Jay-Z and hip-hop’s core fans satisfied.

From there I got to the murder-infused, dark bars of 50 Cent, to 2Pac who played a huge part in making it okay for a gangster to talk about his feelings and social issues, to the soul-sampling and self-evaluative Kanye West, to the paradoxical Brooklyn drawl of the Notorious B.I.G., all the way to the marijuana-loving thug that is Snoop Dogg. I was fascinated with all of these extremes and everything in between.

Fast forward to today and I feel, if possible, even more passionate about the art form that is rap. At this point in time, early February 2016, the hip-hop community is waiting with bated breath for Kanye West’s long-awaited follow up to his controversial 2013 album Yeezus, for Drake’s frantically anticipated Views from the 6 and for everything else that the world’s most multi-faceted and conflicting genre has to offer.

I, Peter Tomlinson, creator of Boom Bap and Acid Rap will keep you covered as far as possible.