It’s no exaggeration to call “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West ingenious.
West layers no fewer than three hooks in the song — a marching rhythm with sampled bass line, a wordless background melody, and the chorus itself: “Jesus walk, Jesus walk with me”.
But the crux of the song comes toward the end, when West takes his colleagues to task for the content of their music. Conventional wisdom in the music industry — wow, I typed that with a straight face — says don’t mention God in your music.
West, on the other hand, says he’s more than willing to take the cut in spins — and “ends” — just to hear a club shout, “Jesus walk, Jesus walk with me.”
And with a hook that fucking catchy, his dream is reality.
If nothing else, “Jesus Walks” is worth the entirety of The College Dropout.
To get people to sing “Jesus walk with me”, then to confront the cultural norm that would make such an act pariah? It’s not often that pop music gets this literate.
But The College Dropout doesn’t stop with “Jesus Walks”. The first half of the album is an avalanche of hooks.
Syleena Johnson sings only two lines on “All Falls Down”, but man is it hard to get those two lines out of your head when you hear it.
The driving force of “The New Workout Plan” isn’t the jittering beats but the Middle Eastern violins by Miri-Ben-Ari.
And when the “kids sing, kids sing” on “We Don’t Care”, it’s a moment of biting humor.
After the eclectisim of “The New Workout Plan”, the album begins to drag. The wild inventiveness of the first half makes way for some really creepy, sped-up samples that’s novel on first listen, then alternately annoying and disturbing each subsequent listen.
(I’m looking at you, sample of Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”.)
The songs in the last half aren’t as compelling thematically either.
Throughout the album, West confronts the perception that higher education is the gateway to a successful future. He’s rather proud of his dropout status to become one of the most in-demand hitmakers in the business.
In a series of skits, he lampoons the pursuit of education. It’s not a convincing argument, dressed in exaggeration though it may be.
A lot of people get degrees in fields they eventually don’t pursue. (Because by now, I really should be getting comissions to compose for university ensembles, if that were the case.)
And yeah, the bureacracy behind getting a degree is spirit-crushing, but the pursuit of knowledge shouldn’t be.
Personally, the degree was a side effect of my years in college. I only went to hang out with people from the newspaper.
Whether you agree with West’s thesis, it doesn’t stop The College Dropout from being one of the most imaginative albums of the year. I’ll go ahead and walk with Jesus, but leave my damn degree alone.