Editor's Note: This story originally ran in February 2014 for the 10-year anniversary College Dropout.
Some lines will be well known, others I just grew to truly appreciate after really listening to them, even a decade or so after I first memorized them. And I'm skipping all the skits because I can't literally devote my entire life to this; songs only.
Alright, let's put on some Ready for the World and get ready for some action.
“We Don't Care”
Really just everything we love about a 'Ye rap in four lines. There's some serious commentary about a racist educational system that fails Black youth, closed out by a pretty good dyslexic “21 Questions” joke. And for the record, if you don't know and/or are too lazy to Google it, DCFS = Dept. Child and Family Services.
“All Falls Down”
It's kind crazy to hear this verse now; it pretty much describes 2014 Kanye West perfectly. For all the talk that he changed, and considering everything he has said in recent “rants,” he already said a decade earlier much more powerfully. Only now he's married to one the prettiest people who's done almost everything for the road to riches and diamond rings.
This has to be in there for best line on the album too—at least it's the one that really stuck in my head.
The five beats a day for three summers line has become a classic, but honestly, until just now, I never really bothered to look into Cree Summers. What can I say, I just wasn't really in the “A Different World” demographic growing up. Also, worth noting that Kanye went from deserving a Maybach to trashing one in a video.
And another thing I never bothered to really look into: I always just heard that line and thought, “Oh, clearly Consequence was in a Busta Rhymes video,” but which one? The internet says “Woo Ha,” but I can't seem to spot him. Who out there can actually place Cons in a Busta Rhymes video?
No rapper has ever transitioned so smoothly from talking about police brutality to “Happy Gilmore” jokes, which he also does with the “The way Kathie Lee needed Regus, that's the way I need Jesus” line. Feeling pretty old right now realizing anyone who hears that line now probably has no fucking idea who Kathie Lee is. Let's move on…
“Never Let Me Down”
Actually what had happened was….I broke up with your daughter Mr. Rainey, and then I fucked this bald chick for a while, and then I married this other girl who was in a Ray J sex tape. This has to go down in the Well-Intentioned At The Time But Would Later Turn Out to Be Completely Wrong Rap Lines Hall Fame, along with Jay's “not for nothing, never happen, I be forever mackin.” And speaking which, how dope is Jay's verse here? This is why I can't take anyone who thinks his verse on “Pound Cake” was anything less than wack seriously.
“Get 'Em High”
Really just a fantastic and hilarious verse on so many levels. First f, these technology references are great. We get an email—with a pic attached, sexting didn't exist yet—Black Planet and a screen save nod. PLUS, it's a nod to a time when Ye could have conceivably used Talib Kweli to get women, PLUS what's going on Tweet? Call me.
Just good times all around.
“The New Workout Plan”
Um…..you know, I'm not mad at “Workout Plan” at all, it's a pretty good times jam made for radio, it's funny in its own way, but….really thinking about it, I don't know if there are really any lines worth highlighting here. The SARS reference? “Thank you, God Bless, good night, I came”? They can't all be worthy a breakdown. Let's get to the slow jam
Let's be honest. At first, I was a little embarrassed to admit I don't really understand this line, but then I threw it out on Twitter and it turns out no one actually understands it, so I feel a little better about myself. Yes, I get that she's grabbing his wang, and it's big, so she's calling him Biggie. And ok, Shyne sounds enough like Biggie that people made fun him for it. But how are those two things LIKE each other? Why is she calling him Biggie like Shyne home? What does Shyne being home or in prison have to do with anything?
As close as I can figure out, a literal translation this line would be something like, “She be grabbing, calling me Biggie…and also, on a related note, remember how people thought Biggie and Shyne sounded alike? Shyne's in jail right now.” If you can actually explain that line to me, I'd love to know it.
Could this be the best-known line on the entire album? It has to be up there.
“Breathe In, Breathe Out”
Like “All Falls Down,” this is one those verses that means even more when you look at where Kanye is at now. In fact, I'd argue that “Benz and a backpack” sums up every contradiction and inconsistency and complication in Ye's music, from College Dropout to Yeezus.
I have to give credit where credit is due, I dropped out college (for real) and used this line repeatedly when asked why. Closing note, in retrospect how disappointing is it that we didn't get a full verse from Luda on this? He was at the height his powers here, that could have really taken things to the next level.
One those lines that I didn't really notice in all the times I've listened, but looking more closely; goddamn, that might actually be one the rawest, most fucked up lines Ye's ever spit. Otherwise, like “Workout Plan” this is one those songs I enjoy, but just doesn't make much a lyrical impact.
Real hip-hop heads know that, along with the “A Lexus” line and the “light skin/dark skin Michael Jackson” line, this is one the album's most memorable. In summation, Mos Def absolutely nails the concept because, surprise, Mos
is was an incredible emcee. Kanye pretty much nails it, and Freeway doesn't really bother with it (calling himself “slightly retarded” in the process). So how about we close by paying tribute to the brilliance Mos?
“Through the Wire”
This is exactly why I wanted to do this lyrical breakdown. Maybe it's just because I'm so familiar with it, and it's hard to truly appreciate something you're so familiar with, but lyrically this song is just amazing. A perfect blend punchlines and emotion and serious shit. Really, if you haven't lately, I recommend going back and (re)reading all the lyrics. On a closing note:
I might have to do a full story on Cedar Sinai hospital in L.A. Biggie died there, Kanye had his accident there, Pimp C died there, Kanye's baby North was born there and, perhaps most importantly, I had my appendix removed there.
I was going to just pick and choose lines from this song, but now that I'm really going over it, goddamn this whole verse is ill. As in “I don't really see this verse get brought up in the Best Kanye Verses discussions, but now it might actually get my vote.” And I'll go a step further and put it up there with “T.R.O.Y.” (although not quite there) as one the best nostalgic songs in hip-hop history.
And there were still people saying Kanye couldn't rap after hearing this? Get the fuck out here.
This is actually kind a hard song to break down lyrically because so much its impact depends on that closing monologue, which I'll get to in a minute. But before I do, can we all take a minute to laugh at Sean Paul's goatee hair? At the time it was at least relevant, but now it's even more hilarious.
Ok, moving on. Just like Kanye did on the album, it seems only right that I close out this insanely detailed breakdown the College Dropout lyrics with his closing monologue. Really, out all the Kanye interviews people have done over the years, all the oral histories College Dropout that have come out, really, almost everything you need to know is in that monologue.
I don't want to give false hope to rappers putting together Ikea beds right now and dreaming fame, but if the lyrics in this album are about anything—except for having sex with groupies and golddiggers—it's about getting out your dreams. Act accordingly.