• The Dropout Issue

    “I Am a God” – How Kanye Helped Me Stay in School

    The Dropout Issue

    “I Am a God”

    I haven’t quite figured out how to be a fan of myself yet, but Kanye helped me stay in school.

    “If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the espresso. I’m just a shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome the situation that you’re dealing with all the time.”

    Kanye West during his BBC Radio 1 interview with Zane Lowe

    It was the evening before a final exam when my boyfriend at the time broke up with me over a misunderstanding that never should have happened in the first place. 

    My first year of college was full of emotional highs and lows – mostly lows. They say the transition between high school and university is always tough, but I didn’t know it would mean breaking down in frustration after receiving a failing mark for a midterm that I had spent days preparing for. My boyfriend, in a feeble attempt to console me, said, “It’s easy, if you just try harder.” 

    I remember the night of the breakup very clearly. I was in the middle of cramming for a history exam. I remember begging him to save the breakup conversation for later because I desperately needed to have a clear head for my exam. But he insisted on having the conversation right there, right then, in front of my dorm hall in the front seat of his car.

    Three hours of back and forth later, I returned to the study hall teary eyed and exhausted. Had it been any other night, I would’ve gone straight to bed. But I knew my exam was a priority, not my emotional well-being. So, I returned to my notes with a strained sense of determination, plugged in my earphones, created a playlist that contained just one song: Kanye West’s “Power”, and forced myself to study. 

    I entered the exam with the energy of Kanye’s music flowing through my head. I wrote three essays in a little over two hours. On the final essay about Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign in Europe, I finished with the line: “Like the great rapper Kanye West once said, “No one man should have all that power.” Whether or not it was appropriate within academia didn’t matter, I left the exam room feeling confident.

    Looking back, I finished that particular class with higher marks than expected. More importantly, it was the first time I had used a Kanye reference in an academic setting and it certainly wasn’t the last. 

    I discovered Kanye shortly after The College Dropout was released. I was eleven, awkward and extremely self-conscious. Back then, I didn’t read much into Kanye’s lyricism, but I was interested because Kanye was the first hip hop artist I discovered for myself. Ten years and six albums later, Kanye’s still here. To put it simply, I was definitely a fan of Kanye long before I became a fan of myself.

    The harder I tried, the more I realized that I wasn’t made for this college. At the end of first year, I had contemplated switching schools or dropping out entirely because I realized that being a student at this school was more like survival of the fittest than actually learning. There was more pressure on your ability to memorize and relay facts than your ability to pen a decent essay.

    Being the child of immigrant parents who didn’t have university degrees, I was entirely alone in my experience and struggle. When I felt like I hit a dead end, I had no one to turn to except for myself. When my parents asked me how I was doing in school, I would give a vague answer that failed to paint a proper picture of how I was actually feeling. I never felt more alienated from my peers and family. 

    When I entered college, Kanye had just released his joint album Watch the Throne and, two years later, Yeezus would come out. In both albums, Kanye refers to himself as being on top of the food chain – as a king, as a god. 

    Some students prefer to work in complete silence or with the soft hum of instrumental music in the background. Lyrics, they say, are a distraction. Personally, I prefer to study with West rapping about the myth of college as a pathway to success in “All Falls Down” or him driving the message home that he is indeed a God in “I am a God.” Listening to such songs where Kanye is flexing for himself, it was the boost of self-confidence and motivation that I needed to get through a ten-page paper or a three-hour exam.

    Everyone had an opinion about Kanye. I realized that for every Kanye fan, there were at least a hundred and one haters and critics, ready to attack when Kanye made a misstep. My last partner told me they believed in me. But they didn’t accept or understand my fascination with Kanye. In fact, they thought my obsession with Kanye was more absurd than my decision to not be a vegetarian. Last April, I was writing a proposal for an essay on cultural issues in the media, I proposed a paper on how the media coverage of the Kanye and Beck Grammy controversy was a signifier of the overall whiteness of the Grammys and popular music. When I proposed an essay on how the media treated the Kanye and Beck Grammy controversy was an indicator of the whiteness of popular music and the Grammys. When the proposal was returned to me, one of the comments that stood out to me was “Good topic, but remember, this is about the media, not race.”

    As a student who’s interested in exploring the immigrant experience, Kanye speaks to me when he talks about growing up with struggle and finding your place as a racialized person. In a society where the narratives of success belong to white people and most POC successes are treated as an anomaly, you end up realizing that the only person that you need on your team is yourself. If you aren’t Team You, then no one else is going to be.

    I will never reach the level of self-confidence that Kanye has. Heck, it was just this year that I finally learned about the importance of self-love and self-care. Before, investing in yourself seemed selfish. It’s been a turbulent four years so far, but I’m eager to enter my final year with my head high and with my Kanye iTunes discography ready to accompany me through another grueling year of essays and exams. Hopefully I’ll figure out how to flawlessly conclude my thesis paper with, “I guess this is my dissertation. Homie this shit is basic, welcome to graduation.”

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