Kanye West’s smash debut, The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella), has a couple big shortcomings–the antieducation rhetoric is funny but wrongheaded, and the 12-minute monologue that closes the record is only charming once–but it’s still the smartest, most enjoyable pop album I’ve heard this year. Though the Chicago native is hardly flashy on the mike, he has a deadly sense of humor and the rare ability to confront hip-hop’s double standards from both sides without coming off as a toothless hypocrite. On the hit single “All Falls Down” he zeroes in on the insecurity that underlies the conspicuous consumption endemic to hip-hop culture, but hardly places himself above the fray: “I got a couple past due bills, won’t get specific / I got a problem with spending before I get it / We all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” On the bouncing club track “Breathe In Breathe Out” he ruefully admits, “Always said if I rapped I’d say something significant / But now I’m rapping ’bout money, hoes, and rims again.” West’s trademark production touch–sped-up samples of old soul records–is already played out, but the album suggests that he’s got plenty more tricks up his sleeve. Opening all three nights of West’s Chicago stand are LA underground fixtures Dilated Peoples, whose recent third album, Neighborhood Watch (Capitol), sticks to fundamentals: unfussy beats and straightforward, declamatory rhymes. The one overtly commercial production turn is by West on “This Way” (currently the sound track to a Volvo ad). The May 4 show is sold-out. Monday, May 3, 6:30 PM (all ages), and Tuesday and Wednesday, May 4 and 5, 9 PM (18+), House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.

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