Try to recall just how embattled hip-hop was just a decade ago. Starting at the end of the '90s and hitting a fever pitch by the mid-2000s, the story was that Puff Daddy and his shiny-suit shenanigans had made a mockery of real rap, while a then-burgeoning underground scene savvy enough to market itself as the stalwart alternative - never forget that king-making backpack-rap label Rawkus Records was started by Rupert Murdoch's son! - was fighting the good fight for lyricism and social responsibility and all that good stuff.
But when Kanye West's debut album, The College Dropout, arrived on February 11, 2004, it loudly announced what plenty of rap heads who preferred neither faction were already whispering to one another: Neither side's got it right! The record revealed that hip-hop's culture wars were fueled by the narcissism of small differences: It just took a true narcissist to call everybody out and bridge the gap. His production style? The over-the-top Michael Bay boom-bap of Puff himself mixed with the crate-digging classicism of Pete Rock-informed classicist beat-makers like J Dilla.