When I turned 21, I lost everything.
I know that sounds really melodramatic. The year I turned 21, I lost my friends, I was kicked out of school, and moments later was kicked out of my house. At the time I had no one I considered a good friend (seems to be a recurring theme in my life), my family life was a complete mess and literally all I had left was 200 dollars to my name, a CD player, some head phones and the album "The College Dropout" by producer turned rapper named Kanye West.
At the time that The College Dropout came out, I was already familiar with Kanye's work. From the countless songs with Jay- Z (H to the Izzo and that sampling from Jackson 5's I want you back), & Talib Kweli. At the exploration of my musical tastes I familiarized myself with what made all my favorite albums tick. From The Beastie Boys to Radiohead to Notorious B.I.G, it was more than just the rhymes and the reason. It was the melody, it was a beat, it was the man behind the curtain that was calling the shots and making all these iconic, memorable albums. I dissected songs, I read liner notes and more importantly I idolized the producers behind these iconic albums more than I did the artists themselves. When Jay-Z's The Blue Print came out, I became infatuated with Kanye West's work. The fact that you could listen to the radio and tell from the first seconds into the song it was a Kanye West produced track. The sounds were bringing hiphop back, taking it back to having a voice and knowing what to say, on the streets with a boombox and a microphone.
The College Dropout was a game changer. Coming from the generations of early hiphop to the glorified gangster rap of the 90s, The College Dropout brought another level of old school hiphop with the social awareness of a new generation. The College Dropout spoke from a new generation of personal struggles. It spoke about pain, disappointment, family, social experiences, expectations, relationships and most of all vulnerabilities. It brought a throwback to the grandfathers of hiphop while blending the samplings of some of the most iconic songs of our hey day. It spoke to a new level of kids that didn't relate to the countless songs on the radio. It made a more humanistic approach to a genre that people found so vulgar and unexplainable. On September 30, 2003 my whole life changed. The moment I heard Chaka Kahn blare "to the fire, to the limit to the wall, for a chance to be with you I'd gladly risk it all..." I knew that at that moment hiphop was making a much needed come back to basics. That song became my anthem, that song became so much bigger than I ever anticipated. When The College Dropout dropped, that CD never left my side. I listened to that album day in and day out. I watched a relatively unknown rapper who was an amazing producer show his vulnerability to the world. The moment when I heard "all falls down" for the very first time, my life changed.
When you start growing up you start believing in all the wrong people. They say when you hit the bottom is when you start realizing who your real friends are. However at the same time you start realizing that people will take advantage of you at your lowest point in your life. Life hasn't always been easy. I've been sick, I've made myself sick, and I've hurt myself all because of so many demons I've held in my heart. To look back at that period in my life, I don't even recognize that person anymore. Every day I wanted to give up and throw my hands up. I was done with the bullshit people, the bullshit pressures, I hated school, I hated my peers and most of all I hated myself for not seeing things clearly. I stopped caring. I stopped believing in myself. I stopped wanting to live the bullshit existence of life. I've already let down so many people in my life, what was the point of living anymore? I was done, I just couldn't do it anymore.
It wasn't until I heard "Man I promise she so self conscious, she has no idea what she doin in college..." .
I cried until I had nothing left inside. I cried until every tear turned into a dry heave. The moment Kanye said "we all self conscious, I'm just the first to admit", I finally felt someone got it. From All Falls Down, to Jesus Walks then to School Spirit, they weren't just great tracks they were great anthems, they were MY anthems. This wasn't verses about making a quick buck or making a rhyme about just anything. These were words, these were my life, my fears, my dreams, and things I wanted to prove to the world. I couldn't tell you the nights I spent staring at the ceiling and reciting each and every verse of this album. How many times I wrote the lines from the verses that made me stronger. This wasn't just another hiphop album, this was the album that brought hiphop back from the dead. This was the album that brought me back from the sadness and into this never ending hustle mode. I wish I could say that after I heard that album I snapped back into life, but I didn't. It was with this album that I didn't feel alone anymore. I may have felt like shit but I wasn't lonely.
People always ask me what's so special about Kanye West? What makes this asshole your favorite rapper?
Before he dated Kim.
Before his countless toddler tantrums.
He was a person just like me that everyone told wouldn't do shit with his life. He would be better off, if he went to back to school. That he would never make it as a rapper and so he was signed a one album deal that everyone was sure would fail. It was his confidence and all the countless people that said "no" that fueled his power. It was this confidence that fuel powered this iconic album. This drive that proved that at the end of the day the underdog always wins at the end of the story. It gave hope to the hopeless and a reality to the dreamers. To the countless people that felt broken, that had nothing to lose it brought them strength through the darkness.
The College Dropout was more than just another hiphop album. It was the album that showed me that it was okay to steer away from the path others wanted me in. It was the hand that helped me up when I felt so broken to rise up. People say music saves lives, and it does. This album saved my life, my being, and gave me something I had forgotten I had. This album gave me the Hope I desperately needed in my life. Kanye has a way of releasing an album just when I need it in my life. Or showing up in life when I need it the most. But nothing will ever be the moment that 10th day in February of 2004, when I purchased the album from my local Target and telling the guy at the register that this was going to be one of the biggest albums in hiphop history. Nothing will ever be that moment I took the CD out of the case and breathed this album in. This album hasn't left my side and will never leave my heart.
Thank you Kanye West. Thank you for making the music that saved my life.
Some of my moments with Kanye West:
I wrote this Dec 15, 2009 http://ellielopez.tumblr.com/post/285095495 8 days before the below photo. Rolling Stone (or was it Vibe magazine, I can't remember) released the top 100 greatest hiphop albums and The College Dropout made the list.
Kanye West - Coachella 2011. I purchased tickets on a hunch that he was going to be a headliner. Low and beyond he was not only a headliner but played the last night of the festival. With no surprise acts, no gimmicks, this was by far one of the best performances I had ever seen him. (Better then when I saw him at the Glow in the Dark Tour in 2008). This was the show to be at if you're a Kanye fan. There was no excuse not to be at this show to see this memorable performance.
Kanye West - Watch The Throne - San Jose, CA 2011. I spent a lot of money on these tickets. I'll admit that (WE ALL SELF CONCIOUS IM JUST THE FIRST TO ADMIT IT). There was no headliners. Just 3 hours of music from two of the hottest rappers in the game. Great concept, great banter and honestly wish they would release a live album/dvd of this show. This was a must see for any hiphop fan of Kanye or Jay-Z but Kanye blew it out of the park.