Although Kanye West’s latest work, Yeezus, his most polarizing and controversial album to date, is still pretty fresh in listener’s ears, I took time from my busy schedule to juxtapose his most critically acclaimed classics, The College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as a way to settle a long-lasting debate among my brain-trust. On one side, I have a friend swearing by TCD and it’s foundation for the ego-maniacal super-producer’s historic career. The opposing side hails MBDTF as Mr. West’s magnum opus, his flawless master work. I stood in the middle wondering who was right, unable to choose a winner. Until now. But, first, let’s take a look at both pieces and organically arrive at the decision.
THE COLLEGE DROPOUT
Intro is a brief slip into the album where Kanye’s asked to give an uplifting graduation speech. We Don’t Care is Kanye’s sarcastic response, a supposed perfect song for the kids of his and younger generations to sing along to. The chorus plays:
Drug dealing just to get by
Stack ya’ money til’ it get sky high
(Kids, sing! Kids, sing!)
We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25
Joke’s on you, we still alive
Throw your hands up in the sky and yell:
“We don’t care what people say”
Although it’s a quintessential reflection of Kanye’s attitude toward society’s expectations and the status quo, West is not the skilled MC he will later become and his lyricism here is immature in comparison. Graduation Day is the teacher’s frustrated reaction to Kanye’s comical speech. It’s topped off with vocals from John Legend that highlight Kanye’s decision to chase his dreams in the midst of pressure from his beloved mother to follow a traditional path toward success.
I’m no longer confused but don’t tell anybody
I’m about to break the rules but don’t tell anybody
I got something better than school but don’t tell anybody
My momma would kill me but don’t tell anybody
She wants me to get a good ass job just like everybody
She ain’t walked in my shoes I’m just not everybody
All Falls Down is one of Kanye’s best performances. He flows unblemished with poignant, thought-provoking lyrics against the materialistic nature of society.
Man I promise, I’m so self-conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pasha’s done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that ver-say-see
Then I spent four hundred bucks on this
Just to be like, nigga you ain’t up on this
And I can’t even go to the grocery store
Without some Ones that’s clean and a shirt with a team
It seems we living the American dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we a stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe
I’ll Fly Away is a hymn written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley and popularized by Baptist, Pentecostal, and Methodist gospel churches. It’s a perfect thematic prelude for the next track…
One glad morning
When this life is over
I’ll fly away
To a land where
Joy shall never end
I’ll fly away
Oh I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away
When I die Hallelujah bye and bye
I’ll fly away
Spaceship articulates Kanye’s wish to traverse his own route and not the traditional 9-5 grind. He vents his frustration with racism in the work place and punctuates his placement in the game as a result of his passion and unwavering work ethic. The verses are strong thematically and structurally and the melodies are instantly memorable.
Y’all don’t know my struggle
Y’all can’t match my hustle
You can’t catch my hustle
You can’t fathom my love dude
Lock yourself in a room doing 5 beats a day for 3 summers
That’s a Different World like Cree Summer’s
I deserve to do these numbers
“The kid that made that deserves that Maybach!”
So many records in my basement
I’m just waiting on my spaceship
The track also features respectable guest appearances from GLC and Consequence and an outro from Tony Williams. Facing the hardships of ghetto poverty, police brutality, and the taboo topic of religion in popular music, Jesus Walks is Kanye’s prayer to help him push through these boundaries. It’s one of Kanye’s more famous works and deservedly so. It’s a total home run.
Now, hear ye, hear ye: want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary
Cause we’re the almost nearly extinct
We rappers is role models: we rap, we don’t think
I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?
Well if this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about
Next time I’m in the club, everybody screaming out
Never Let Me Down is an epic, inspirational piece wrapped up in religious connotation. The incomparable Jay-Z reminds us why he’s called, “Hov”, and Kanye declares he’s a heaven-send to the game; his defiance and talent divinely passed down through his ancestors genes.
I get down for my grandfather who took my mama
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-between, J. Ivy truly portrays a reverend’s gospel with rousing spoken word. Undeniably great music. Get Em High finds Kanye in a more traditional Hip-Hop vein as he joins Talib Kweli and Common to flex about their artistic talents and the fairer sex. It contrasts the precedingwork with a much less personal touch and rather forgettable lyrics. Workout Plan is a prelude in which a couple of females talk about a new exercise plan and diet regimen that’ll improve their looks which in turn will improve their lifestyle. The New Workout Plan is catchy, upbeat, and humorous. Its satirical nature showcases Kanye’s humorous side as he pokes fun at gold-digging women. It’s original and entertaining.
Slow Jamz features Jamie Foxx and Twista in an ode to women. It’s pretty groovy with an appealing hook and solid performances from all three stars. Kanye flashes some more of that characteristic humor.
She be grabbing
Calling me Biggie like Shyne home
Man I swear she fine, homes
Why she always lying though?
Telling me them diamonds
When she know they rhinestones
She got a light-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson
Got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson
Breathe In Breathe Out isn’t exactly a knock-out. A verse from Ludacris would’ve made it stand out. But, ultimately, it feels more on the filler side than a necessary album cut. Even the beat is rather simple for Kanye’s taste. School Spirit (skit 1) ribs the American educational system and School Spirit accents Kanye’s decision to abandon a career plan which didn’t make sense to him. It features a well-placed sample from Aretha Franklin and ties the album concept back together. However, it’s also rather insignificant. School Spirit (skit 2) and Lil Jimmy (skit) pick up where the first skit left off. There’s just as much humor and truth to the words today than ever before. The latter piece introduces Jimmy, the son of the first character from the former skit, as he talks about his life. His father passed away and all he had to remember him by were his degrees. Instead of working, he “just kept learning”. Two Words features the renowned Mos Def and Freeway. The title refers to the parameter each emcee followed throughout their verses, two words or syllables for each quarter bar. Mos Def and West animate ghetto living and ambition in their verses.
And I basically know now
We get racially profiled
‘Cuffed up and hosed down, pimped up and ho’d down
Plus I got a whole city to hold down
From the bottom so the top’s
The only place to go now
Yet, Freeway finishes blandly with an anemic verse to end the song.
On October 23rd, 2002, Kanye crashed his car and fractured his jaw. The doctors had to wire it together again. He went on to recite his verses against the pain for Through The Wire. The soulful Chaka Khan sample perfectly offsets both his predicament and the emotions he purveys in each verse.
What if somebody from the Chi’ that was ill got a deal
On the hottest rap label around?
But he wasn’t talking about coke and birds
It was more like spoken word
Except he’s really putting it down?
And he explained the story about how blacks came from glory
And what we need to do in the game
Good dude, bad night, right place, wrong time
In the blink of a eye, his whole life changed
If you could feel how my face felt, you would know how Mase felt
Thank God I ain’t too cool for the safe belt!
I swear to God driver two wants to sue
I got a lawyer for the case to keep what’s in my safe safe
My dogs couldn’t tell if I
I looked like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, it was televised
There’s been an accident like GEICO
They thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael
I must got a angel
Cause look how death missed his ass
Unbreakable, what you thought, they’d call me Mr. Glass?
Look back on my life like the Ghost of Christmas Past
Toys “R” Us where I used to spend that Christmas cash
And I still won’t grow up, I’m a grown-ass kid
Swear I should be locked up for stupid shit that I did
But I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph
Make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wire
Ironic that Kanye wasn’t in the best condition when he put the song together because it’s a sincerely polished work of Hip-Hop. Family Business is a heart-warming reminder that those he loves are more important than the rap furnishings. West is usually at peak performance when he vents from his own life story and as such:
Aw naw, don’t open the photo book up
I got an Aunt Ruth that can’t remember your name
But I bet them Polaroids’ll send her down memory lane
You know that one auntie, you don’t mean to be rude
But every holiday nobody eating her food
And you don’t wanna stay there cause them your worst cousins
Got roaches at their crib like them your first cousins
Act like you ain’t took a bath with your cousins
Fit 3 in the bed while 6 of y’all
I’m talkin’ ’bout three by the head and three by the leg
But you ain’t have to tell my girl I used to pee in the bed
Last Call recounts Kanye’s hard-fought progression from a burgeoning producer to a solo Rap artist. It’s a very intimate track with a built-in interlude that details Kanye’s history with various heads in the music industry. It foreshadows West’s impact on the genre as he would become the outspoken voice for the next generation that didn’t exactly look or act the part.
Some say he arrogant. Can y’all blame him?
It was straight embarrassing how y’all played him
Last year shoppin my demo, I was tryin’ to shine
Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme
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
So I don’t listen to the suits behind the desk no more
You niggas wear suits cause you can’t dress no more
You can’t say shit to Kanye West no more
I rocked 20,000 people, I was just on tour, nigga
I’m Kan, the Louis Vuitton Don
Bought my mom a purse, now she Louis Vuitton Mom
I ain’t play the hand I was dealt, I changed my cards
I prayed to the skies and I changed my stars
The College Dropout is a touching and inspirational soundtrack to Kanye’s life journey till that point. It falters occasionally with a few weak spots but its finest moments more than cover the spread. It galvanized Hip-Hop into a new age where rappers jettisoned their alter ego’s and spoke as their true selves; a landmark offering in just his first time at bat.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The album begins with the vocally talented Nicki Minaj paving the way for Kanye’s vision on Dark Fantasy. She verbalizes an urban twist on Roald Dahl’s poem, Cinderella, which talks about the classic story being much more gruesome than the public ever knew. Alterations were made to the original tale to make it child-friendly. It’s a precursor into West’s life where things are taking a turn for the worst and he sides with the devil in hopes of surviving the mainstream storm after the infamous Taylor Swift incident. Gorgeous, thusly narrates the uglier side of Kanye’s fame. Kid Cudi harmonizes West’s emotions as he tight ropes the periphery of celebrity success in the face of stereotypes that plague him in both the industry and daily life. The inimitable Raekwon finishes the song with a verse relaying their purpose: to teach newbie’s how to navigate the game and learn from their mistakes. Power is Kanye embracing his stature as one of the most important mouthpieces of his time despite the glaring criticisms his own self-destructive actions sprouted. The drums and hi hats hit hard as his temperament, confident and daring.
Fuck SNL and the whole cast
Tell them Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass
More specifically they can kiss my asshole
I’m an asshole? You niggas got jokes
You short-minded niggas thoughts is Napoleon
My furs is Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in
And I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
He knows, he’s so fucking gifted
I just needed time alone with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me
Taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece
All of the Lights (interlude) is Kanye’s trademark preface to All of the Lights and it only heightens the ambiance once the latter actually starts. There are eleven different vocalists on the track, mostly used for the song’s choruses: Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Tony Williams, Fergie, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, The Dream, and Ryan Leslie. The song is West’s welcome mat that sits at the massive door of his iconic lifestyle. It’s impossible to listen to without feeling the percussion in your bones.
Monster is a supreme team effort with some of the biggest names in the genre – Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Bon Iver on the chorus. The title is a double entendre as each artist is a top-tier talent, or a monster in the game, and the track, having featured each of these artists, is a monster, as in a smash hit, in itself. It also fits thematically as Kanye is always surrounded by monsters in this fantasy.
The best living or dead hands down, huh
Less talk, more head right now, huh
And my eyes more red than the devil is
And I’m about to take it to another level, bitch
No matter who you go and get
Ain’t nobody cold as this
Do the rap and the track, triple double no assists
So Appalled proclaims Kanye’s distaste for the perks of his own incredible success. It’s as if it’s all too much for him; the women, money, and champagne are each at an all-time high. RZA, Swizz Beatz, Jay-Z, Pusha T, and Cyhi the Prince all elaborate the topic further in their own respects. It’s a dark climate set against the decadence.
Devil In A New Dress reveals Kanye’s attempt at a relationship with what is generally thought to be Amber Rose then. Balancing a relationship with his level of fame is quite challenging as West can’t discern if she’s with him for what he has or who he is.
You got green on your mind, I can see it in your eyes
Why you standing there with your face screwed up?
Don’t leave while you’re hot that’s how Mase screwed up
Throwing shit around, the whole place screwed up
Maybe I should call Mase so he could pray for us
I hit the Jamaican spot, at the bar, take a seat
I ordered you jerk, she said you are what you eat
You see I always loved that sense of humor
But tonight you should have seen how quiet the room was
The Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme
That’s “Dior Homme”, not “Dior, homie”
The crib Scarface could it be more Tony?
You love me for me? Could you be more phony?
Rick Ross brings the track to a strong close with his patented materialism.
Runaway is Kanye’s warning to his lover, practically his way of saying, “It’s not you. It’s me”.
Never was much of a romantic
I could never take the intimacy
And I know I did damage
Cause the look in your eyes is killing me
I guess you are at an advantage
Cause you can blame me for everything
And I don’t know how I’mma manage
If one day you just up and leave
Pusha T excels at painting the picture of success and infidelity without concern. The track is a hard-hitting, haunting homage to the trials of super stardom and its negative effect on polygamy. It’s Kanye showcasing superior songwriting skill. Nevertheless, clocking in at almost ten minutes, the eerie production solo may prompt forward button action.
Hell of a Life flaunts Kanye’s decision to spiral into hedonism. He’s completely enthralled by the sex and excitement available to him.
One day I’m gon’ marry a porn star
We’ll have a big-ass crib and a long yard
We’ll have a mansion and some fly maids
Nothin’ to hide, we both screwed the bridesmaids
She wanna role play, ’til I roll over
I’mma need a whole day, at least rolled doja
What party is we goin’ to on Oscar day
‘specially if she can’t get that dress from Oscar de
La Renta, they wouldn’t rent her they couldn’t take the shame
Snatched the dress off her back and told her, “Get away”
How could you say they live they life wrong?
When you never fuck with the lights on
The production is thoroughly thrilling and well-conditioned. Kanye layers it with storytelling prowess and precision. Blame Game plays out as the inevitable result of the previous song. West struggles with guilt for both party’s actions which brought an end to the climactic relationship. He recites Chloë Mitchell’s poem as a perfect subtext over the solemn beat:
“Things used to be, now they not
Anything but us is who we are
Disguising ourselves as secret lovers
We’ve become public enemies
We walk away like strangers in the street
Gone for eternity
We erased one another
So far from where we came
With so much of everything, how do we leave with nothing?
Lack of visual empathy equates the meaning of L-O-V-E
Hatred and attitude tear us entirely”
And Chris Rock finishes the song with a humorous skit as the current boyfriend of Kanye’s prior paramour, who now has much to offer after experiencing a relationship with West. It’s also lengthy cut but well worth every second. Lost In The World is a full-figured track. Here Kanye uses stark contrast to illustrate his ambivalent feelings toward relationships and success.
You’re my devil, you’re my angel
You’re my heaven, you’re my hell
You’re my now, you’re my forever
You’re my freedom, you’re my jail
You’re my lies, you’re my truth
You’re my war, you’re my truce
You’re my questions, you’re my proof
You’re my stress and you’re my masseuse
The production is up tempo and brash. Gil-Scot Heron’s prose decorates the song’s theme on the outro, Who Will Survive In America:
America was a bastard the illegitimate daughter of the mother country
Whose legs were then spread around the world and a rapist known as freedom, free doom. Democracy, liberty, and justice
Were revolutionary code names that preceded the bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling bubbling in the mother country’s crotch
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye’s immaculate conception, his virtuoso audio diary. It’s a genius manifesto; over-the-top in the best way imaginable, free from defect, and as fulfilling a listen you’ll find in any music genre.
Winner: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy