It’d have been beneficial to Kanye West if he had followed the year 50 Cent had, because 2004 will see the coronation of a new golden boy in hip-hop.
Sure, the Shady/Aftermath crew had 50’s hype rolling long before Get Rich or Die Tryin’ came out, a luxury West hasn’t had. Kanye’s star is rising much more quickly then Curtis Jackson could have ever hoped for, however, and for good reason—The College Dropout is a great album, maybe the best true mainstream hip-hop album since Talib Kweli’s (coincidentally Kanye-produced) Quality. The Chicago beat-wizard, who’s also done work for Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, steps in front of the microphone and despite some lyrical missteps finds time to shine with a few jaw-dropping lines and a consistent sense of the elements that can make hip-hop so strong.
Of course, while most of the talk is about the fulfilled anticipation of West finally dropping lines, his beats are still what writes the checks; and here he is just as strong as ever. West’s style turns a cold shoulder towards the direction the Neptunes and Timbaland—hip-hop’s other two mega-producers—head in, rejecting blips in favor of 60’s soul samples and golden AM-radio nostalgia.
The College Dropout is too heavy on skits, but their presence falls in line with the satire of higher education that permeates everything from the album’s title, content, and artwork. For a debut, West sounds confident in his voice and ability and that confidence comes through in spades. Kanye rhymes like he not only realizes the success about to come but expects it and won’t except anything less. He doesn’t come off as cocky, though, just assured; and he makes sure to credit God for everything—not only his record deal and his success, but also his life following a near-fatal car accident that could have killed anyone else.
Kanye’s got all the tools to make the Roc-A-Fella boss proud and seems destined to lock the top-dawg spot now that HOVA is retired (for now). Everybody wondered if Kanye could really hold it down as an MC, and The College Dropout answers all doubts—he may make a few mistakes along the way, but this drop-out has an entry-level position everyone should envy.