Saturday, March 25, 2017

Certain Songs #829: Kanye West – “School Spirit” | Medialoper

Album: The College Dropout
Year: 2004

One of the most polarizing figures in the current musical landscape, it’s almost guaranteed that Kanye West will be remembered by future generations — long after whatever stupid-ass shit he said and did outside of the music that he produced (or, I guess, in his lyrics) — as one of the absolute indisputable musical geniuses of the early 21st century.

To me — and this will probably piss off a lot of the folks who “just don’t like” Kanye — the musical figure he most reminds me of is Jimmy Page.

Heh. But Jimmy Page is one of the greatest guitar players ever, you say. Yeah, but it will be my argument when I get to Zeppelin in a couple of months that for all of Page’s awesomeness as a guitarist, his true genius resided in how he layered those guitars.

What Jimmy Page was to the production of guitars — both in terms of stealing from the past and in terms of how precise his sonic sculptures — Kanye West is to the production of the human voices.

On a song like “School Spirit,” from his 2004 debut The College Dropout, back when his insane ambition seemed more charming than scary, listen to how the voices act like guitars right from the opening chant/riff.

Alpha, step, Omega, step
Kappa, step, Sigma, step
Gangstas walk, pimps gon’ talk
Oh hecky naw that boy is raw
AKA, step. Delta, step
S G Rho, step, Zeta, step
Gangstas walk, pimps gon’ talk
Oh hecky naw that boy is raw

And with a speeded-up Aretha Franklin sample providing commentary and licks throughout, “School Spirit” is free to have Kanye and Tony Williams rap, sing and “whoo” whenever they want until they wordlessly hum together at the end.

I’ll fully admit that I didn’t get all of this until just a couple of years ago. I checked out The College Dropout when it came out — it was pretty inescapable — but it wasn’t until I went back to revisit his records in the wake of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that I think I fully appreciated what he was doing.

“School Spirit”

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