10 years ago, I was that high school kid riding the bus to school every day when all of her friends had cars. The ride was about an hour each way, and to fill those two hours, I’d listen to music. Discman in hand (Yes, Discman—it was the Stone Ages…) I’d sit with my knees pressed against my chest, listening to mixes I’d created from downloads and my parents’ CDs.
I learned that certain albums would become the soundtrack for different parts of my life, and Kanye West’s The College Dropout set the tone for the latter half of high school. I’d never heard a record like it: His distinct voice and lyrical wit gave a breath of new life to samples from artists like Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan. The passion I felt as he rapped with a wired-shut jaw on “Through the Wire” gave me goosebumps. “Spaceship” helped me get through long days in classes I didn’t care about. “We Just Don’t Care,” became my anthem for hope, and of course, “All Falls Down” was full of aha-moment gems like: “It seems we living the American dream, but the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem.”
And so, thanks to those early morning bus rides, my love affair with ’Ye began. A decade later, I’ve seen him perform live six times. Late Registration became (ironically) the soundtrack for my freshman year of college; Graduation, for early morning inspiration; 808s and Heartbreak for the laying-in-the-dark emo moments (hey, you know you have them too!); My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for long walks in the city, and Yeezus for intense workouts at the gym.
Rants and Kardashians aside (although, full disclosure: I love a good Kanye rant, and I’m maybe, kinda, sorta coming around to him and Kim) Kanye is, as he himself has pointed out to all of us, a genius. His music has helped me feel confident enough to dream out loud, to go against the grain, and to be my own biggest champion—and it all started with an album that’s just as relevant today as it was ten years ago. Now that’s a classic.