Kanye West

College Dropout has been touted as the year's most anticipated release -- less because of what Kanye West has achieved as part of Roc-A-Fella's hitmaking in-house production team, and more for what he represents: The long-awaited bridge between hip-hop's over- and underground, he's a guy who admits that he wants to sport both "a Benz and a backpack," and has been described as "the future of hip-hop" by Mos Def and many others.

That's a hell of a load for a relative microphone novice to carry, yet West's sometimes-stiff delivery masks the soul of a real MC. Over the ominous gospel march of "Jesus Walks," he breaks down a crisis of faith in just two pithy lines: "I wanna talk to God/But I'm afraid, 'cause we ain't spoke in so long." And the amazing "Self Conscious" is a would-be playa's admission that he's seen the Emperor of Bling with no clothes on -- and still desires the same suit, in spite of himself.

But like all great albums, College Dropout connects equally well with those who have no idea of the context in which it works. Expanding on West's signature plundering of old soul records, these rich, classy tracks will undoubtedly convince the oblivious to extend his chart reign. Little wonder that the chorus of "Keep the Receipt" taunts, "Does anybody else make hits anymore?" Well, there are those Neptunes fellows, but if this is the future of hip-hop -- smart, funny lyrics with beats you can bang to -- who's gonna complain?


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