March 11, 2004

The Repeat Button

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Stepping into the studio from behind the mixboards, long time Roc-a-fella producer Kanye West has just released his debut album. With a penchant for mixing samples with original beat structure, Kanye has a knack for sampling colorful soul melodies in order to warm up the occasionally cold hip-hop ambiance, dropping his casual, witty rhyme scheme on top. His debut, College Dropout, despite its unacademic leaning proves to be a work of intellect. Throughout the album, Kanye spits rhymes that are at once serious social commentary and hilarious shots at everything from his brush with death (“Through the Wire”) to poking fun at Pilates (“New Workout Plan”).

“All Falls Down” finds Kanye rapping about what he believes is the source of hip-hop materialism: insecurity with having to fit into a white-dominated society. The song centers itself around the throaty melismas of Syleena and a sample from Lauryn Hill’s unplugged performance. The gentle guitar refrain endows the track with an earnest, organic feel that is later contrasted with a strutting, bass-heavy rhythm. As West rhymes, “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.” Evoking the memory of the Post-civil war Freedmens Bureau, Kanye draws on the continuing struggle of blacks to overcome white prejudice. In their efforts to overcome an unjustly perceived inequality, it seems blacks always have to take an extra step to impress whites. Kanye locates this point as the origin of hip-hop materialism. It is the attempt to overcome the insecurity blacks feel when they are cruelly scorned by white society.

According to the song, successful rappers have realized their American dream, but their desire for acceptance propels their materialism. The exorbitant spending of the hip-hop lifestyle cannot change our culture’s prejudice. Yet, Kanye’s social criticism leads the way.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman