Ok, here’s the thing…..
……each and every last Friday of each month, we were supposed to be posting #FlashbackFridayVideos, a segment focusing on classic music videos, classic sports games and general signature pop culture moments from back in the day. While the spirit is there, I’ve changed the parameters a little. We will post at least one of these segments, once a month instead of the 4th Friday of each month. So in case the spirit hits me (or us when I tag-team the segment with someone), I don’t want to have to wait until the end of each month to post it. We’ll still have quick rundowns and explore all the angles that come to our minds on each video when it comes to sports moments and videos, cool? Cool. Phew! Now that we got that out the way, let’s walk with Jesus….
Before the spazzing-out episodes about getting deeper into the clothing industry, before the paparrazzi, before the Kardashians, the Yeezy kicks, the Adidas deal, even before Katrina, we had “College Dropout” Kanye. This version of Kanye used his first album to bring out some of the fallacies and pressures of college life, which was completely different from anything that was heard from Roc-A-Fella Records. He sounded different, looked different, dressed different, and acted different. This was a dude that would show up on the scene in a pink polo shirt, a blazer, and a backpack (usually Louis Vitton-affiliated, but still). He was as “clean cut” a rapper, as you were going to get out of the Roc. Kanye didn’t have a drug dealing background like Jay-Z, wasn’t from the Marcy projects like Memphis Bleek, wasn’t a Broad St. Bully like Beanie Sigal (who was the first rapper to use Kanye’s production), wasn’t about the grimy life like Freeway, and wasn’t hustling until the sun came up like State Property’s persona. For all intended purposes, Kanye seemed like a regular (if not cocky) guy that happened to be able to rap and produce. He had insecurities, flaws, & even if he loved to floss, he wasn’t afraid to deal with his issues in his raps. Then on the production side of things, he was building a catalogue that was helping to change the landscape of Hip Hop. Between him and Just Blaze, their production helped to extend the life of the Roc and even Hov in particular, in the early 2000’s.
Once Kanye stepped out, started rapping not with his labelmates, but with guys like Talib Kweli, Yaasin Bay (forever known as Mos Def), Common and Twista, & they co-signed his rhyming skills, he started to become official. He put out the videos to, “Through the Wire” & “All Falls Down”, but had a song bubbling on the low that was going to change everything in his career up to that point……
“Jesus Walks”, even at that time, was not only one of the most original songs that Roc-A-Fella ever put out, but was one of the more original records that we ever heard from an artist. We never saw someone talk about Jesus as blatantly as Kanye did in Hip Hop. It was thought-provoking, it sounded dope, it shed light on his relationship with the Lord without sounding preachy, it sounded dope, it was hella-artistic, and again, it sounded dope. A Hip Hop record speaking about religious beliefs doesn’t work unless it aces the test sonically. Let’s face it, people may love the Lord, but the masses don’t want to hear about it in 16 bars or more over a boom-bap beat. If that was the case, the Christian rap game would be huge right now. It’s probably one of the reasons why we haven’t heard a song like this since. With that said, this song & video represented the best examples of Kanye as an artist & where he was headed. In the video, he touches on many different kinds of people in different scenarios struggling through their lot in life. The white supremacist/clan member cutting down a tree to carve out a cross; the prisoners in a chain gang; the drug dealers fleeing from the feds with the stripper in the backseat; and the disenfranchised youth skipping, all share the common denominator that the Lord walks with them through thick & thin.
He represented all different facets, while showing his greatest strength, which is to never fear the opportunity to veer left when everyone is heading right. He wasn’t afraid to promote his message (he put out THREE different videos for Jesus Walks for goodness sakes!), wasn’t fearful of challenging the status quo (“So here go my single dog, radio needs this / they say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But If I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?”), & it was expensive as hell (1st & 2nd versions costs $1.5M combined). No one in Hip Hop would have dared tried to make this song, much less his labelmates. They might have tried to sautée their Roc-A-Fella chains, & eat it with some pasta before they’d cut a record like this.
It’s a shame though, because personally, I miss “College Dropout” Yeezy. Someone who made his own soulful beats, shared his experiences of his college days & his desires of making it big (even if he was already at the time), & also shockingly holding his own with some of the heavyweight rappers that guest appeared on his album. This album dropped around the time my friends & I were still in University ourselves, so for a lot of us, this album was our personal soundtrack. Shit, one of my boys even had a customized Jesus Walks Blazer back when wearing a Blazer &/or Button-up with a fitted cap was the way to go. Like many of us that have moved on and matured from those days, Kanye has graduated from his talents back then, to be one of the biggest superstars the genre has seen to this day. So much so, that outside of Jesus Walks, he barely performs any of the tracks off the College Dropout in concerts or other live events. Considering some of the controversies that we’ve seen from him since this song dropped (his mom’s passing, fighting the ‘razzi, “Imma let you finish”, etc.), maybe this song was a prophetic affirmation that HE would continue to walk with him through all his trials & tribulations (self-inflicted or not). I mean, how else do you explain the fact that he still remains so hot to the masses, with all of his public missteps and large portions of the public hating his guts because of it? He still hasn’t cracked yet, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Maybe in some way, this song is the one from his debut album that is still relative to his life nowadays, who knows really. All we know is that a song about God sent him on his way. Considering how dark Hip Hop can sometimes get, that’s probably an underrated blessing in itself.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
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