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3 February, 2004@12:00 am

     While Roc-A-Fella may have initially put Kanye West’s debut on the backburner, thanks to a parade of hits (Talib Kweli’s “Get By,” Ludacris’ “Stand Up,” Alicia Keys “You Don’t Know My Name” and his essential contributions to fellow Roc-A-Fella members efforts) some calculated risks (coming out of his own pockets to fund the current MTV smash “Through The Wire”) and shameless self-promotion, there was simply no denying that 2004 would be the year of The College Dropout. 

    With Lebron James being dubbed “The Future” of the NBA, though he’s not a teenager, similar connotations have been cast in Kanye’s direction when it comes to hip-hop’s future. Yet before Kanye’s buzz was palatable, and years before he became one of the industries’s most sought after producers, Kanye initially cut his chops as an emcee; where in 1996 the then relatively unknown West was bodied in a lyrical battle with his city’s (Chicago) most formidable emcee, Common—who just happens to make a very impressive cameo here with fellow Okay Player Talib Kweli, on “Get Em High”.

     Though Kanye does not exude the sheer lyrical dexterity of more polished veterans, it’s hard to front on the fluctuating double-time raps he twists around the ambidextrous violins and staccato claps of “The New Workout Plan”, his singy-songy flow on “School Spirit”, or the sheer enthusiasm that transcends the triumphant “Through The Wire”. Kanye’s primary strength as an emcee resides in his natural presence and his refreshing topic-matter; especially when his tracks are tinged with a socially conscious (“All Falls Down” feat. Syleena Johnson, “Jesus Walks” and the amazing “Two Words” w/ Mos Def & Freeway), or personal hue (“Through The Wire,” “Never Let Me Down” where Jay-Z’s flossy verses clash with Kanye’s uplifting messages).  But perhaps the best example is “Family Business”.  Driven by an embracing piano loop, with “Family Business”, Kanye similarly captures the dysfunctional and harmonious elements that co-exist in any family—and anyone who was raised with Grandma at the forefront of the family circle will find it especially moving).  And while Kanye comes off completely self-absorbed on the inflated twelve minute ego trip, “Last Call”, he’s “so sinn-surr” over the uber soulful “Spaceship” w/ GLC & Consequence, where his passion becomes utterly contagious—”ya’ll don’t know my struggle/ya’ll can’t match my hustle/you can’t catch my hustle/you can’t fathom my love dude/lock yourself in a room doing five beats a day for three summers/that’s a different world like Cree Summers/I deserve to do these numbers.”  And all you need to do is listen to “Spaceship” once to find out why Kanye is now being sought by R&B heavyweights as well.

     Clocking in at a hefty 76-minutes, College Dropout could have shed some weight (“We Don’t Care” and “Last Call”) but even when it gets bogged down in a plethora of skits, or under-utilizes Ludacris on what is still destined to be a radio-smash “Breathe In Breathe Out”,  you can’t help but become completely immersed in Kanye’s rich and diverse production. Producers, take note at the way Kanye changes his drums up!!

     On “Last Call”, Kanye laments “the fans want the feeling of A Tribe Called Quest/but all they got left is this guy called West.”  Cocky?  No doubt!!!  But you can make a broad statement like that when you meet expectations of this magnitude head on and win.  Not too shabby for a College Dropout, huh?

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