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Chi-town producer/emcee Kanye West is one of the most successful pop personalities of the ‘00s, and may be hip-hop’s most unlikely superstar. After Jay-Z’s The Blueprint dropped in 2001 with West’s productions “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Never Change,” the sped-up loops and sweeping strings of West’s patented “chipmunk soul” ushered in a new era of polished hip-hop formalism, creating a nice rejoinder to the bombast of Timbaland and The Neptunes. With a flow that was rigid in comparison to his Roc-A-Fella counterparts and a middle-class perspective, many doubted West could transition from producer to emcee. But on his 2004 debut College Dropout, he delivered one of the most thematically complex pop albums of the decade. Improbably, West had reconciled his middle-class upbringing with hip-hop’s nihilistic archetypes, alternately accepting and rejecting the conspicuous consumerism of the genre. Subsequent albums marked West’s ascension from quirky underdog to hip-hop king. He continued to hold on to his crown with 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak (which brandished a sensitive heart on its Auto-Tuned sleeve) and 2010’s acclaimed My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy.

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