80.) Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004)

I think hip hop has suffered in the 2000's. As a genre it has gone away from being about records and has become more about the single. Whereas in the 90's you had Pac, Nas, Big, Jay, PE, Tribe, De La, Dre, Snoop,Wu Tang, Black Star, Lauryn Hill, Cube and a host of others making statements with full lengths, the 2000's have brought only a handful of artists willing to go at it for the long haul.

One of those artists is Kanye West whose recorded output in the 2000's I'll put up against virtually any other artists. Kanye, love him or hate him, is probably the most vital artist of this decade period. The College Dropout, which could have simply been a top producer's vanity project, is a classic from start to finish. Kanye would go on to release better records, but The College Dropout still feels like a statement. Sure, Kanye isn't a great rapper, but he's a great crafter of beats, melodies and songs and The College Dropout has some of his best. The singles "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks" are, obviously, brilliant but the record is stacked from top to bottom. There's almost no filler here (unfortunately Kanye does find himself indulging in one of the worst traits in hip hop records - the infamous "skit" and "The New Workout Plan" is as sexist and boring a track as Kanye has ever released).

Those missteps aside, The College Dropout has always reminded me of one of my favorite records of all time, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Like that record The College Dropout is a fully realized snapshot of a life. The record always struck me because Kanye, at the time, wasn't afraid to be insecure (especially in "All Falls Down" and more subtly in "Spaceship") and in an age where hip hop became all about the boast that was refreshing. Kanye would of course go on to become one of the cockiest artists working, but I always think that the Kanye we hear from on The College Dropout is the real guy.

I still like Kanye. He gets a pass from me, probably forever. He's such a passionate artist and it never feels as though he's half assing it. He certainly believes his own hype, but when a popular artist is as interesting as Kanye whose to say he shouldn't. There's a reason why he's emerged as the definitive artist of this decade - everyone from hip hop purists to jaded rock critics to indie kids and old school rock guys like his music. He's universal. Your mom probably even knows the refrain to "Gold Digger."

In a decade where it seemed early on that Eminem would be the big hip-hop star, Kanye pulled the rug out from under him by being adventurous and challenging and, unlike Em, he never rested on his laurels. And The College Dropout was just the beginning.

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