Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam 2004
He was already a Hall of Fame-worthy beatmaker—the inventor of "Chipmunk Soul"—but Kanye West wanted to rap, and in 2004 Jay-Z, West's mentor and Roc-A-Fella Records major domo, let the guy record his debut. The result was hip-hop like no one had heard it before: riotous gospel ("Jesus Walks"), wild boudoir music ("Slow Jamz"), tear-jerking family drama ("Family Business"). It was a sound that combined, as Kanye put it, "a Benz and a backpack," fretting over materialism even as it reveled in it. All this, plus "Through the Wire," the greatest song ever rapped through a jaw that was wired shut.