Never one for understatement, Kanye West has said that if his abilities as a rapper come close to the quality of the music he has produced for Jay-Z ("Takeover"), Ludacris ("Stand Up"), and Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name"), he would undoubtedly "kill the game." At last glance, the rap game was still breathing, but with his fine first solo album as a rapper, the Chicago-based West has certainly raised the bar on what mainstream hip-hop can and should be. Yes, he can make party jams like the hilarious "The New Workout Plan," but West's gift is his attention to matters beyond women and superficial symbols of self-worth. He isn't the sharpest rapper, but lyrically, he's already superior to much of what's currently clogging urban radio playlists. Racism, daily struggles of regular folk, and family life are the main topics occupying his mind. A gospel interlude, "I'll Fly Away," leads into "Spaceship," with West as a hard-working man who just can't seem to catch a break. "Through the Wire," the first single, is already a well-deserved hit, and may be the first song performed by someone with jaws wired shut. (West recorded the song shortly after surviving a near-fatal car accident in 2002.) There are guest turns by Jay-Z on "Never Let Me Down," Common and Talib Kweli on "Get 'Em High," and Twista, who lends his speed-demon flow to "Slow Jamz." Smart and skillful, West is one of the few rap artists who gives listeners an irrefutable reason to believe the hype.
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