“The College Dropout” (Roc-A-Fella)
On his debut album, Chicagoan West emerges as a formidable 1-2 musical punch, as his skills as a rapper rival his production prowess. Inspired by a near-fatal car crash, his current single “Through the Wire” highlights many of West’s lyrical strengths: witty wordplay, ability to weave political statements into clever punchlines and his likable personality in the face of peril. The stirring “Jesus Walks” is the album’s highlight; its pulsating drums serve as the perfect backing for West’s reflections on his own mistakes as well as hip-hop’s tendency to focus on negative subject matter. West does tend to overextend his songs, as he does on the sly “The New Workout Plan.” But it’s a forgivable sin for a man whose music and message is so powerful.