The year 2004 marked a sharp turn in the trajectory of hip-hop with the highly anticipated release of Kanye West’s The College Dropout. It was on this album that Kanye introduced the world to his, “creative way to rhyme without using knives and guns.” The unique brand of lyricism catalyzed a shift in the content of a large proportion of popular rap, and its effects are still visible today. Of course, this young, idealistic, and socially oriented Kanye would later be eclipsed by the infamous and perhaps mentally ill man who once posed as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone. So what happened, and is J. Cole justified in calling Kanye out for hypocrisy on his recent release “False Prophets”? To determine that it is necessary to delve deep into Kanye’s legendary catalog using the, “When G.O.O.D. Music Was Good” playlist. The playlist focuses on songs from Kanye West’s first two albums, The College Dropout, and Late Registration.
“All Falls Down” introduced the world to Kanye’s philosophy which can be summed up with a few choice lines from the song, “It seem we livin’ 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.” In the beginning the philosophy was one of character, to never sacrifice one self in order to move up in the world, but to do it the right way, to be good on the inside regardless of appearance and wealth. Somewhere along the lines though it seems that the money corrupted the man.
Kanye continues on “Family Business”, “Keep your nose out the sky, keep your heart to God/ And keep your face to the risin’ sun/ All my niggas from the Chi, that’s my family, dog/ And my niggas ain’t my guys, they my family, dog/ I feel like one day you’ll understand me, dog/ You can still love your man and be manly, dog.” The theme established earlier continues here with an emphasis on community, and what it means to be a good family member and neighbor. Kanye advocates for one love, giving back, and loving your home the same way that he loves Chicago.
By far the most politically charged song on The College Dropout is “Jesus Walks”. Kanye has choice bars for those listening carefully, “I ain’t here to argue about his facial features/
Or here to convert atheists into believers/ I’m just tryna 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?,” he raps. On this record Kanye shamelessly professes his faith and challenges others to come to their faith and serve their communities as well. Needless to say, this was before Mr. West came to the belief that he himself is, or is somehow comparable, to Jesus. Kanye believes himself to be a sort of prophet, something that J. Cole clearly takes issue with given his recent erratic behavior and slide into totally uninspired lyrics.
But before the slide Kanye managed to become even more socially conscious and touching on his second album Late Registration, with songs like “Heard ‘Em Say”, and the heartfelt “Hey Mama”. “Heard ‘Em Say” features Kanye confronting serious issues such as the minimum wage, the AIDS epidemic, the war on drugs, and the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the US. “Hey Mama” gives the listener a glimpse into the inner workings of Kanye through a heartfelt and tear jerking tribute to his late mother Donda West. This song speaks to anyone who knows what it is like to grow up in a single parent household, and Kanye confides in his listeners that his mom is his rock and the person whom he loves most in the world, and owes the most to. Its amazing to see Kanye so humble and grateful for the sacrifices his mother made for him. It’s apparent that since her death he has never been quite the same. Maybe that could explain Kanye’s fall into the dark place he seems to be in now, nonetheless the good G.O.O.D. music playlist will remind listeners of a time when Kanye asked the right questions and set the right example. When people hate on Yeezy point them in this direction, lest we forget to mourn the loss of the truly genius Kanye West who produced those early masterpieces of modern music.