The term “old school” can be taken several ways on Kanye West’s “The College Dropout,” easily the overground hip-hop album of 2004. The once and future producer of Jay-Z, West obviously makes a lot of money so he doesn’t have to convince anyone that his lack of higher education didn’t hold him back. However, his joking advocacy of ghetto economics, while gentler on the mind than the usual hip-hop overkill, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. “Ain’t no student loans for sittin’ at home,” he claims, “so we forced to sell crack, rap and get a job.”

Actually, West is a rather average rapper whose strong suit as a writer-performer is his sharp wit and personable image. You’re less impressed by his flow than by the singularity of his mind, which is why the numerous guest shots by foul-mouthed MCs detract more than they usually do on this kind of record.

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