A Look Back At Kanye West's 'College Dropout' 10 Year Later
The creation myth of College Dropout is well-documented. West wasn't going to wait 10 years for Billboard to collect sound bites from everyone who touched it, recording the oral history of his own origin story on the album's final track, "Last Call." Early in the Bette Midler-sampling, nearly 13-minute interview track, he talks of his deal with Capitol Records that never was, killed in the zero-hour by an unnamed executive.
While it might be fun to ponder what a Capitol-backed Kanye West album might have sounded like, it's more interesting to think about how the entire process may have influenced his career. It's easy to think about Kanye being able to do anything he wants during an age in which he is praised for a song about infidelity that samples a song about lynching. But in 2003, that freedom was a pipe dream.
Kanye always saw himself as a rapper, but for a while, no one else saw it that way. It may have had something to do with the pink polos and Louis Vuitton backpacks that he would wear to the studio to play beats for established "gangsta" rappers like Ludacris and Jay-Z. It may have had to do with his very un-gangsta upbringing, his collegiate studies, or his professor mother.
Is that why the deal with Capitol was killed? Only one man knows, and no one seems to want to ask him. But it's certainly why Damon Dash was so hesitant to sign him to Roc-A-Fella. Dash & Jay-Z's imprint was built upon gritty street personas, and those were the records dominating local airwaves in New York and the hip-hop charts nationwide.
Black artists have been fighting against stereotypes in America since there was such thing as a black artist in America. When Duke Ellington was first composing American classics for his white audiences at the plantation-themed Cotton Club, it was billed as "jungle music." It would be decades before bebop would free the best black musicians from playing the music they wanted to hear, free of convention and expectations.
And while the deal Kanye ultimately struck with Roc-A-Fella hinted at a different industry climate in 2003, was it really that different? The stereotype of the "gangsta" rapper was still the established voice for a black MC. Kanye got his deal as a rapper not because he could sell his image to the public, it was as insurance. His talent as a producer was so valued that Dash couldn't afford to let him leave-he needed the beats. And the beats are what powered Kanye for the last decade.
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