All Falls Down
Label: Universal/Island Def Jam
Already an accomplished beat maker for stars like Jay-Z, Kanye laced sped-up chipmunk samples ("Through the Wire" and "Slow Jamz") with gospel choruses ("Jesus Walks" and "Never Let Me Down"), while cracking jokes on his brief college career and the dead-end retail blues of "Spaceship." With a reedy, wavering tone, he wasn't a great vocalist yet, but his complex persona and brilliant concepts gave a much-needed contrast to mainstream rap's focus with street credibility. For years after its release, The College Dropout inspired rappers to delve into the life of the black middle-class.