Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
“I’m the funny version of Dead Prez.” That’s Kanye West giving an amazingly succinct and accurate summary of his career during an interview. Without a timestamp on that quote, it could have easily been something he said in the handful of, ahem, “honest” interviews he gave during the lead-up to the June 2013 release of his cathartic, abrasive and game-changing sixth studio album Yeezus. West’s incendiary “New Slaves,” for all intents and purposes, was the best Dead Prez song they never recorded, and it was a fantastic example of the ways in which his sonic and thematic fascinations mirrored those of the Brooklyn duo’s seminal first record Let’s Get Free. But that quote was actually from a Rolling Stone profile that ran in May of 2004, only a few months removed from the release (and subsequent smashing success) of West’s debut The College Dropout, which turns 10 today (February 10).
That made me take a step back. I’ve spent the past eight months lauding Yeezus as not only West’s best album, but one of the most important, innovative hip-hop albums of the last decade. For me, the angry, bass-blaring, Corbusier lamp-inspired, Chicago house-riddled Yeezus made the rest of his back catalog look downright saccharine. I remembering thinking at some point during the fourth minute of “I’m In It” that it would be very hard for me to revisit West’s earlier material — like, say, the day-glo urban working class paean “We Don’t Care” from his debut — and not yearn for what I saw to be his career’s avant-garde zenith in Yeezus.
But I went back, and ended up being astonished at how Ye’s creative vision and philosophical ruminations have stayed consistent and vital throughout a career spanning 10-plus years. The College Dropout is the brilliant foundation of his raging, creative restlessness, as well as his constantly sharpening social mind. With this album, he wasn’t given access to the zeitgeist. He took it. More »