College Dropout

This debut from the most sought-after hip-hop producer not named Pharrell delivers the unthinkable: West magically sledgehammers home his opinions on taboo topics over beats that are equally daring. The envelope-ripping beats shouldn’t come as a surprise given that he’s supplied the soundscapes to monster singles by everyone from Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”) to Talib Kweli (“Get By”). What is freakish is that in West’s world, rhymes about strippers, God, college life, and guns can co-exist tidily and not undermine each other. On “Breathe In Breathe Out” he raps “I gotta apologize to Mos and Kweli/is it cool to rap about gold if I told the world I copped it from Ghana and Mali”–tongue firmly planted in cheek. On the catchy “Through the Wire,” fuelled by a Chaka Khan hook, he spits some impeccable rhymes despite his jaw being wired shut after a near-fatal car accident. Maybe it was this brush with mortality that kicked his lyrics into high gear on “All Falls Down.” The skits on here are just as potent, one poking fun at the overeducated underclass that makes a small fraction of the loot he does. With jaw-dropping cameos from Jay-Z, Common, Mos Def, and the Harlem Boys Choir plus the feel-good club tune of the year, “Slow Jamz” featuring Twista, College Dropout is as explosive, contradictory, and complex as rap music gets. –Dalton Higgins

Price: $13.98

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