Featured, Music, Theory & Essay

I Just Was Not That Into Rap Music…Until I Heard The College Dropout

This is an embarrassing thing to admit, but the first rap album I ever owned was Beware of Dog by Lil’ Bow Wow. In my defense, I was young and that “Puppy Love” video was lit. But I still cringe thinking about it — my early insistence that Shad Moss was the GOAT — especially when I think back on the incredible musical environment that I was raised in. I had a brother who played DJ Screw from the stereo in his bedroom and neighbors who opened their trunks to blast Fat Pat on the street and a local radio station that played UGK before “Big Pimpin’” was even thought of.

All that syrupy greatness in my orbit — living down the street from Bushwick Bill, having Paul Wall show up after school to pick up his manager/my middle school P.E. teacher — and I still didn’t listen to much rap. Not even the legendary, glorious, chopped (never slopped) Houston rappers who propped up the genre, going on to influence the Drakes and A$AP Rockys and half the other artists playing on your Spotify. I knew what I needed to know to not be the lame kid in school, but I was good with a couple bars at the end of a Destiny’s Child record here, a lil’ “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” at the school dance there.

I guess it was partly because my mama wouldn’t let me listen to half of it, changing the station whenever she heard cuss words or “booty” too often. But beyond that, hip-hop didn’t seem to want me as fan anyway. The predominate rap music around me was for the syrup sippers and slab swangers; those who fancied themselves ballers and shot callers, 20-inch blades on their Impalas. I mean, don’t get me wrong, ‘cause by senior year I was dating a guy who had a solid gold grill with a different letter of his nickname etched into each tooth, but I never felt quite as connected to the surrounding culture as my older brother — the aspiring producer — and my younger sister — who looks like one of the girls Drake be rappin’ about — had been. I was corny as fuck, watching Degrassi reruns on Friday nights and reading the morning announcements at school and throwing a Spice Girls themed birthday party once. There wasn’t much on Rap-a-Lot for me to relate to. At least not on the surface.

But of course, all that changed, on a Saturday afternoon during my junior year of high school. I had been tasked to clean the living room, and my mom was like, “you better not half-do it this time.” So I was down on my knees — my knees! — spraying Windex on the far corners of the coffee table, even taking the magazines and coasters off instead of just trying to wipe the spaces the around them. Though I was cleaning up for real that time, I had one ear open for the TV in the den.

I needed — needed! — to learn the dance break at the end of Maya’s “My Love is Like…Woah” video and had everything set up to press record on the VHS player if it came on while I was cleaning. I kind of tuned out every song that didn’t start with “see baby, I know you done had your share of girls…” but a couple of seconds into some other rap song that was playing, and both of my ears perked up. I nodded my head a little but kept on cleaning. It wasn’t Mya, but it was pretty good. I liked the drums and the soulful vocals in back and DID HE JUST SAY SOMETHING ABOUT DELTAS?

Now, I ain’t no Delta. But at the time, as a 16-year-old southern girl whose uncles were branded and whose godmothers were her mom’s line sisters and who was obsessed with A Different World, I was definitely was going to be a Delta. What the fuck did this rapper know Deltas?!

I ran into the living room, dropping the roll of paper towels and letting it unspool across the hardwood, standing in front of the television and clamoring to press record.

He mentioned Emmitt Till and was rapping about seat belt safety and telling a story in between the chorus and the verses and was that Chaka freaking Khan on the hook?! My life changed that day, standing in my mama’s living room. Here was some rando from Chicago with a weird name, relating to me in a way that HAWK and Pimp and Big Moe hadn’t.

Later on I became a sincere fan of those guys, embracing my Houston rap lineage and appreciating them one thousand times more than I had as a kid. Like, for real, you should see me when Z-ro’s “Mo City Don Freestyle” come on. But it’s honestly all thanks to Kanye West. Men could listen to it and women could listen to it and so could street niggas and SAT niggas. You could be The Wire and A Different World. He’s a little less of what I always loved him for now, but I’ll always be thankful to him for opening my eyes to the world’s greatest genre, and making me feel like I could be part of it too. All that rappity-rap for me after all. Even though it wasn’t, I like to pretend that his debut was the first rap album I ever owned.

Jada F. Smith

Jada F. Smith is a crop top wearing, trail mix eating, bobby pin collecting writer who often feels like she's Brad Jordan. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and TheRoot.com, and she has been a guest commentator on NPR. She also writes short stories about passing out at music festivals and getting kicked off the metro on her blog, CasualTuesdays.com.

  • KB

    Oh how I long for the days on College Dropout Kanye, when he was a young, hungry, breath of fresh air to the rap game, instead of the vapid, narcissistic, self-service douche-cunt a**hole he has become.

    • If you paid attention, the narcissist was always there. You just had to see where he was trying to go with it.

      • KB

        True, the difference was that he was trying to get on, so the narcissism was excused as “believing in yourself when nobody else did”.

        • Epsilonicus

          Yup.

          Whats considered hunger when you broke becomes intolerable once you made it

    • Sigma_Since 93

      All music is better when the artist is hungry. I can’t recall who said it but it’s hard to write struggle rap when you’re no longer struggling. It’s hard to write angry rock when you are happy. It’s hard to write songs about the man when you’ve been accepted into the club.

      • I think it was Dee Snider in one of those Behind the Music specials. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like “it’s hard to write music about being an angry teenager when you’re sitting by the pool of your mansion.” Truer words have never been spoken!

        • Sigma_Since 93

          I use the Freddy Jackson reference. When you listen to Rock With Me Tonight For Old Times Sake, you could hear the hunger in every breath he took.

          • HeyBooHey

            Ugh I don’t care who it was for, Freddie Jackson sang like somebody was getting rocked on sight in that song

        • LeeLee

          I saw that special. He also talked about his Christian faith, I believe and how happy he is with his wife, whom he’s been married to since 1981! Ironic that to be so deep in a heavy metal, his lifestyle does not reflect it.

      • Sahel

        Yeah,this is true. Look at 50 and get rich. That album was a classic

      • Question

        But that’s just it – I think Kanye is struggling precisely because the man is treating him like he’s been accepted to the club but he’s realizing that he will never be fully accepted. They want you around because you make them feel “cool”, “hip” and “experimental” but only in mutual spaces or your house, not theirs.

        And I think that’s why he goes on these random (drunken) rants. He tries to stuff it down and act like it doesn’t bother him, but it does.

        And unlike everyone else, he isn’t cool with “just being rich” – he wants to be accepted and for some (good?) reason, he won’t stop trying.

        • MeridianBurst

          Has he ever said acceptance is what he’s going for? Recognition for your hard work and impactful vision is not the same as acceptance. I think he wants his proper dues and to become a staple, an icon in whatever industry he’s operating in. Perhaps acceptance is part of that but recognition for quality output is pretty vital to ANY human being.

          • Question

            In my mind, what you describe “recognition for your hard work and impactful vision” is the essence of true acceptance – but the acknowledgement of one’s output and contribution.

            • MeridianBurst

              Or just acknowledgement, a head nod of respect, but it does make sense that they would be considered the same thing.

      • Epsilonicus

        Jay Z said in an interview once he cant repeat Reasonable Doubt bc he spent over 20 years (talking about life experience etc) creating that album while the others can never get that treatment

    • yorapper

      You obviously never saw early Kanye interviews.

  • KB

    Your trip down memory lane has reminded me of all the debates in college I used to have with my boy Fred (an H-town native) about which southern city had the bigger hip hop scene/greater influence in the region, Atlanta or Houston. Good times man, good times *goes to listen to H-town and ATL rap lists on spotify*

    • The correct answer is Houston. Thank you very much, from a native New Yorker. :)

      • KB

        debateable

    • The scenes weren’t exactly the same. In fairness you have to throw Memphis into that the debate too.

      • miss t-lee

        Definitely Memphis, and even New Orleans too.

      • KB

        This was back when southern rap was a movement/force. Each city/region had its own distinct sound.

  • panamajackson

    This was one Houston a** post. I appreciate how much of Houston you managed to get into one post.

    While I don’t think chopped propped up the genre though there is an argument to be made (unless you just mean Houston rap), I respect the opinion.

    • KB

      Though I’m a fan of Houston rap, my “beef” with it so to speak, is that it is SUPER regional and unless you grew up listening to it, you aren’t really going to be that into the sound. This is especially the case when it comes to the chopped and screwed aspect .

      • Tx10inch

        I was born and bred Houston and I don’t listen to much rap now but even when I did, I wasn’t really into chopped and screwed. Some of it, if done right was ok but it just never stuck with me…too slow. Geto boys, UGK, Face, Thug, Paul Wall had my ear too. Great Houston post Jada.

        • KB

          Shouts out to ESG’s “Swangin and Bangin”, one of the songs that truly put me onto the Houston rap scene. Of course you had the Geto Boys, UGK, and Face, but that song exposed me to the underground of H-town music.

          • miss t-lee

            ESG popped up at this Zydeco show I went to in Louisiana a few years ago. He jumped on stage during a break and did his verse from “Mann!” Folks lost it.

        • miss t-lee

          I was just listening to Color Changing Click the other day reminiscing. Had to dig it up on youtube.

        • MsSula

          Thats was indeed a great Houston post.

          Made me miss Summer Sundays at Sky Bar…. or when Richmond Ave was hot… or Club Roxy where all the young tenderoni and college girls go to party (Aye!!!!)… I was an adopted Houstonian but I have mad love for this city :)

          • miss t-lee

            Whew! That was a good time.

      • pls

        and i did get that chop god beyonce album! if done properly chopped n screwed can be so sexy.

        • HeyBooHey

          Properly, it can be REAL sexy. If not it’ll have me feeling real weird and thinking the end is near

        • miss t-lee

          Yes, indeed.

      • miss t-lee

        It can be super regional, but that’s because for so long (pre-internet) it was. Plus, with Texas being as big as it is, it wasn’t unheard of guys going platinum selling their music independently, so there really wasn’t any reason to change it up.
        I don’t want it to ever change. I want the music from here to keep sounding like it’s from here. We don’t have to sound like anyone else, our sound is ours.

        • KB

          Good point.

        • Leigh

          Living in Houston by way of Louisiana. There is no other sound like Houston rap. It can be chopped and screwed (RIP DJ Screw), sexy and raunchy, thugged out and ghetto at the same damn time. Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Lil Keke, UGK, Geto Boys and even Kirko Bangz. What ya’ll know about dem Texas boys?!! ALREADY!!

          • miss t-lee

            ALREADY MAYNE!

            • Leigh

              YASSSSSS!!!!

          • KB

            I was with you until you mentioned Kirko Bangz.

            • Leigh

              LOL!!! I’m only mentioning him because he’s from Houston. Nothing about his “artistry”.

    • miss t-lee

      As a Texan, and a Houston rap connoisseur I love this post.
      screwed and chopped was always more of a sub-genre. Even now, folks will release the straight version, and then the s/c version.
      All s/c ain’t good though. It’s often sloppily done,by kats who think they know what they’re doing. I’ll only listen to a few DJs that do it.

  • I’m here.

    • HeyBooHey

      So you don’t get fined?

      • Basically….im a little Kanyed out

        • HeyBooHey

          Kanye is a little Kanyed out. But I feel you

        • miss t-lee

          You? a little Kanyed out?

          • Well, this separatist narrative of eff Kanye but College Dropout spoke to my soul in ugrad, its tired.

            • miss t-lee

              Uh oh…lol

            • Question

              Woooooord.

  • kid video

    I dug the “Though the Wire” song/video, but wasn’t until “All falls Down” that got me to buy the record.

    UGK 4 LIFE

    • LeeLee

      RIP Pimp C. He seemed like a fun dude!

  • pls

    college dropout was my first ever rap album. my dad made us play it in the car on the way home so he could see what foolery I was listening to but he ended up liking it as well, and he is generally not here for anything new.

    but i still didn’t rrreally get into rap until freshmen year of college where i became friends with two aspiring rappers. I credit them with introducing me to the world of rap and by default, the n-word.

  • HeyBooHey

    This reminded me of going to college and being exposed to music I’d never heard in New York. First time I heard chopped & screwed, I was at a party in an old skating rink throwing back syrupy ass alcoholic drinks underage in a wife beater and jeans. Thought the DJ was messing up the record or I was suffering alcohol poisoning but nawl. Texas kids went UP for the UGK and Paul Wall cuts. S/o to still knowing Mike Jones number though he never picked up the damn phone

  • My introduction to rap was Em and DMX in 99. By the time Kanye dropped I was a pretentious backpacker.

    • Lea Thrace

      Was?….

      :-D

      • I’m not even in the top 10 most arrogant people here.

        • Lea Thrace

          #Trufacts!

    • HeyBooHey

      Pray tell, you got an intro from 2 spazz-tastic rappers but segued into a pretentious backpacker….how?

      • Someone who’s opinion I highly respected as far as hip hop went told me to buy Madvillainy. That and I was really invested in being different between 04-06. I was listening X and Em because they were going 5 times platinum and I was angry and they were angry.

        • HeyBooHey

          Lol @ “I was really invested in being different between 04-06”. Makes sense, as you were backpacker

    • Just say “backpacker”. The “pretentiousness” is assumed.

      • miss t-lee

        Basically.

      • I’m the King of the Backpack. From 93 to about 2000, that was my movement. Then I started listening to other music…

      • Racism.

    • Epsilonicus

      Its Dark adn Hell Is Hot was the first hip hop album I bought

  • ED

    “He’s a little less of what I always loved him for now…”

    I think Kanye is the same person he’s always been, even compared to the College Dropout days.

  • miss t-lee

    ” Like, for real, you should see me when Z-ro’s “Mo City Don Freestyle” come on. ”

    You should also see me. It is *not* a game.
    Soon as I hear, “slow, loud and banging…all in my trunk…” it’s wraptastic.

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