Best of the B Sides: “School Spirit”

If you need to know anything about me it’s that Kanye West is such an integral part of my music taste it’s almost unhealthy. When I found out he’s playing Made In America next weekend, I flipped out. I’m a huge believer in Kanye West, and his work over the past ten years has covered such an impressive and unorthodox range that it’s impossible to ignore him. Also because, you know, he’s Kanye West.

So — love him or hate him — he’s coming to Philly in less than a week. Here’s a b side in honor of the man himself and in honor of the start of school.

Kanye’s debut album The College Dropout (2004) shook the rap world, and its reverberations are felt to this day. The tongue-in-cheek approach to academia made for a refreshing and unexpected album, a feeling that continued over to Late Registration a year later in 2005. But most of all, Kanye came on to the scene and proved he could spit and spit hard, and he wasn’t shy about working with his peers and predecessors. Even on College Dropout he was running collaborations with other musicians, a tradition he has upheld through every album ever since. Whether College Dropout was liked or not, it was certainly something different. Between unapologetic use of samples, a dedication to old-school vibes and sounds, and so many different voices on one album, College Dropout was a bold start for a kid from Chicago.

It’s really hard for me to pick favorite Kanye songs, so I’ve been wary of writing a b side on him. But it’s timely, so I’m picking “School Spirit” from College Dropout. It’s got all of the elements that Kanye plays with on the album and it’s got a wicked flow. There’s a great Aretha Franklin sample threaded throughout the song next to a gospel-tinted chorus (taken from the Aretha song) and a sweet piano riff. It’s the first of Kanye’s signature mixture of the sacred and the profane (taken to the extent of “Blood on the Leaves” by Yeezus (2013)) and it’s nicely done. Again, the sarcastic look at academia bleeds through every inch of the song and rolls into the fabulously satirical skits that make both College Dropout and Late Registration uncomfortably funny and delightfully different.

Each of Kanye’s biggest hits — “Jesus Walks,” “Gold Digger,” “Stronger,” “Amazing,” and “Monster” — are certainly up to creative par with the rest of his work, but every single album has stellar and overlooked tracks. The intent behind each single carries over to the rest of the album; the single is just one chapter. I, for one, cannot wait to see him live again, and Philly’s welcoming him back with open arms.

2 Comments

  1. Chaz Pace

    August 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Love this song. Kanye samples some great music; no question about it.

  2. Amie

    August 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Actually listening to this album as we speak. As much as I want to say how much I dislike his “persona”, he is a talented artist.

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