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Jay Z's Roc-a-Fella Records isn't exactly known for it's abundance of amazing artists, but past Jay-Z himself, there is one Chicago rapper on the label who everyone has their eyes on. That man is Chicago producer Kanye West, who has created beats for every artist from Talib Kweli to Jay-Z, and whose debut album, College Dropout, is probably one of the most anticipted CD's of the year.
If there's any doubts about it, the production is A-Grade on the album. West is one of the most talented producers in the genre, and on his debut album he gets a perfect chance to show off his talents. From soul to acoustic guitars, West's production is rock solid for just about every song on this album. The perfect example of this comes in the second and third tracks, "All Falls Down", and "Spaceship". All Falls Down features an incredibly catchy hook with Syleena Johnson singing along with a quick but effective acoustic guitar lick. Spaceship offers an especially soulful hook that can draw almost any listener in. In fact, the first three songs are pinnacles of achievement for this album. West's production and lyricism all shine here, with the only con being the annoying and usually pointless skits that interject.
Still, while the opening tracks are especially strong, there's plenty of room for error in the album's nearly 80-minute run. Kanye West exposes his main flaw throughout many of the songs that follow; that he isn't an amazing lyricist. He's talented no doubt, but doesn't possess an amazing vocabulary and doesn't have perfect flow on all of his songs.
Most of the songs that follow range from good to great, the best ones including the current single "Through the Wire" in which Kanye spits with his jaw wired up, and does it while singing deep and meaningful lines and reflecting on his life.
Other key hits include "Never Let Me Down", which features a very soulful and powerful sampling looped with a good beat. Jay-Z and Kanye trade verses, and each does an incredible job on each verse never slipping up. "Two Words" also offers one of the best beats on the album, although the guests on the track fail to live up to their full potential here
The majority of the songs on College Dropout are definitely listeneable more than once and range from decent to great, but West's album has more than a few bombs as well.
These songs include "The New Workout Plan" and awful commercial attempt that would better fit on some talentless pop rapper's CD instead of Kanye's. The beat is one of West's weaker ones, and his many of his lines are contrived to say the least. The whole joke the song tries to tell isn't all that funny either. The mega-hit "Slow jamz" isn't all that impressive either, with a boring, none too amazing beat and some not too impressive fast-paced rapping from Twista and Kanye. The skits also lose their value extremely quickly, and after repeated listens, they begin to take their toll on the CD, making going through College Dropout an excercise in overworking the CD skip button to death, sometimes after the end of each song. There are a few skits that are funny, including the School Spirit/Lil' Jimmy skits, but even those lose their value very quickly.
Another con of the album is that not all of the guest rappers do a great job on the album. Ludacris's appearance on "Breathe In Breathe Out" is just annoying and doesn't help the song in any way. Twista also doesn't offer much past some fast raps that don't really mean much when you break it all down. The surprise here is Mos Def, who appears on "Two Words" doesn't show off his true skills and is merely satisified with spitting run of the mill lines, lines that even Freeway matches when he gets on the mic. Still, there are bunch of guests that do contribute alot to the song, especially in the opening three tracks and in songs like "Get 'Em High" which features rappers Common and Talib Kweli.
Still, past these cons, the majority of the songs contained in these 21 tracks are well-produced, introspective, and powerful with some great production and lyricism from Kanye. Past the few bad tracks and the skits, College Dropout is a rock solid album, and without Jay-Z putting out albums anymore, it could very well be the best Roc-A-Fella release of 2004.
V P is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at email@example.com.