On Wednesday (February 10), the MTV Newsroom blog celebrated the anniversary of the release of The College Dropout, the watershed debut from Kanye West. It generated quite a bit of discussion here in the Newsroom and among the followers of MTV News on Twitter, mostly surrounding a key question: Is The College Dropout the best debut album of all time?
It’s a distinct possibility. Obviously West made a big commercial smash on the back of hits like “All Falls Down” and “Slow Jamz,” and The College Dropout was almost universally adored by critics (it has a Metascore of 88, which suggests “Universal Acclaim”). But the thing that makes the album truly remarkable is how completely it presents both West’s sound and his point of view. He arrived fully formed and made an immediate impact because of it.
Of course, there are plenty of other candidates for the prize. Here are a handful of other nominees that deliver in the same way that The College Dropout did.
The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die
Like West, Biggie Smalls arrived on the scene already fully-formed. The man born Christopher Wallace had a clear point of view that he was able to deliver in a distinct way. When you add in the best production that Diddy has ever done, you get a total package that ranks up there with the best hip-hop records in history.
Oasis, Definitely Maybe
As the rest of their career has taught us, Liam and Noel Gallagher are only really good at one thing, but on Definitely Maybe, they did that one thing better than anybody ever had before. Big, loud, heavily melodic and decidedly English, Definitely Maybe basically 11 singles, as every single one sounds great when cranked up on the radio.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?
For a guy who experimented as much as Hendrix did, his first (and best) album is an incredibly confident work. Containing some of his signature tunes (including “Foxy Lady” and “Fire”), Are You Experienced? not only contains layer upon layer of Hendrix’s out-of-this-world guitar sounds but also the kind of songwriting that set him apart.
Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
The thing that usually makes a band’s debut better than subsequent albums is the fact that the first album is the result of years of hard work and songwriting evolution. Unknown Pleasures is just such an album, as it crams an entire lifetime’s worth of angst and suffering into 10 chilly post-punk tracks that helped give birth to the underground sound of the 1980s.
The Clash, The Clash
The Clash didn’t invent punk rock, but their debut album certainly represents the genre’s apex. Full of machine gun guitars, sing-along chants and enough socio-economic frustration to fuel years of protests, The Clash is everything that made punk rock great, from pop (“White Riot”) to politics (“Police and Thieves”).
50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
At the time of its release, it was amazing that 50 Cent’s massive debut even existed. He already had one album (Power of the Dollar) that was shelved by his former record company, and he had also survived a shooting that gave his voice that signature rasp. The Grammy-nominated Get Rich or Die Tryin’ owes a lot to Dr. Dre (who produced the album’s best tracks), but it also presented 50 as an artist who knew exactly what he was and how to present himself.
Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
For all its terrible haircuts and Cinderella songs, the entirety of ’80s hair metal can be justified in three words: Appetite for Destruction. The rock world had never heard anything like it before, and the combination of Slash’s blues-punk approach to the guitar, the Gunners’ songwriting chops and Axl Rose’s signature wail turned a simple rock record into a 1,000 megaton game-changer.
Britney Spears, …Baby One More Time
It’s hard to imagine now, but “pop” was a dirty word at the end of the ’90s. Shiny, happy songs about boys had disappeared from the radar a decade earlier when the world got tired of Debbie Gibson. After several years of angst, Britney Spears dropped the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of the new pop set in “…Baby One More Time.” The album as a whole should be preserved in a time capsule, so that when civilization forgets what the radio is, we can be reminded what pop music is supposed to sound like.
Pearl Jam, Ten
Having formed from the wreckage of two other broken bands and hired a surfer from San Diego to lead them, Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut walked an incredible tightrope between classic rock, metal, punk and everything in between. They’ve had one of the better careers of any of the group’s introduced in the ’90s, but the album that delivered instant classics like “Alive,” “Even Flow” and “Black” is completely flawless.
Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear View
Don’t laugh. Not only did the band with the funny name sell tens of millions of albums based on the admittedly great singles from their debut (including “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You”), but they also tapped into a genre that was years ahead of its time (a style that blended together country tropes with classic rock and mainstream pop). It’s no wonder frontman Darius Rucker is having a phenomenal second life as a Nashville star.
Arcade Fire, Funeral
It’s dense, complicated and moving in inexplicable ways. Can you believe that this Canadian collective was able to dream up something so complete on the first try?
Okay, so those are the nominees from the MTV Newsroom. Cast your lot in the poll below, and if you think we’ve forgotten something, please let us know in the comments below.