Review Summary: This is Kanye West, before he became the voice of this generation ;)
Everyone knows Kanye was strictly a producer, most notably for Jay-Z, before he released this album. The prominent style he showcases here is somewhat of a continuation of the style found on The Blueprint – pitched soul samples etc. This review is coming after the artist in question has become huge, so it feels kind of trite pointing this stuff out. Everyone has heard “All Falls Down”, “Through the Wire” and “Slow Jamz”, and all three are highlights, mainly because Kanye’s forte is making these incredibly catchy, popular types of beats. “Through the Wire” is probably the pinnacle of this style for Mr. West, and it’s no surprise that his previous albums have seen him dabbling with live instrumentation, electro and often merely samples from a wider range of genres. In this sense, this album is perhaps his most “hip-hop” one – the sound doesn’t branch out into territory occupied by the likes of “Stronger”, but this is the album that made him a star so it goes without saying that the tunes here are at the very least catchy. Lest we forget “Jesus Walks”, a monster single that predates the likes of “Stronger” and his recent “Power”, their stomping, anthemic drive surely being born out of that song ode to faith.
There are more “party” oriented tracks here too, such as “Get ‘Em High” and “Breathe In Breathe Out” – West’s ability to get the usually more “conscious” MC Talib Kweli on the former track aptly demonstrating what made him so big in the first place – his ability to straddle the different subsets of the hip-hop genre. Although he’s from a relatively privileged background (and doesn’t hide it), his lyrics touch on the topics such as family, education, frustration and the aforementioned religion – his vulnerability being (at the time) somewhat of a rarity in the genre, and a quality that allows him to speak to everyone. His influence has been undeniable – if “conscious hip-hop” is an accepted sub-genre, surely Kanye can be accepted as the forefather of “self-conscious hip-hop”" (I’m joking don’t get angry internet). Seriously though, the stance taken by Kanye West on his debut is surely the cause of the mainstream success of the likes of Drake, Kid Cudi and others of their ilk, and they have much to owe to this album.
Pretty much every song here is top quality – even though he would improve as an MC, Kanye’s beats are pretty much untouchable here, so much so that even when he slacks of, the sheer quality of the music, and often the guests, makes the listen extremely enjoyable nonetheless.