If this debut album was all Kanye West ever managed to accomplish, he still would have made his mark on history, beating the "producer tries to rap" jinx once and for all. But he was just introducing himself. West sounded determined to cram everything he loved about music into each one of his hip-hop grooves, even if that meant sampling Bette Midler and claiming, "The way Kathie Lee needed Regis/That's the way I need Jesus." Maybe all he wanted to do was become an international superstar, but in the process, Kanye expanded the musical and emotional language of hip-hop. His R&B-flavored productions ran the range from the gospel riot "Jesus Walks" to the Luther Vandross tribute "Slow Jamz." Calling himself the "first [rapper] with a Benz and a backpack," he challenged all the rules, dancing across boundaries others were too afraid to even acknowledge. Every track was a bold move. But for this guy, bold was never going to be the problem.
• Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review