Kanye West, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

Less than 10 months after the release of his double-platinum debut album, The College Dropout, the Chicagoan producer-turned-rapper Kanye West arrives for his UK tour as the biggest news in hip hop this year. West is charged with proving mainstream hip hop (or hip pop) has a conscience with his nourishing messages of substance flying in the face of the amoral majority perpetuating clichés of guns, girls and bling.

Less than 10 months after the release of his double-platinum debut album, The College Dropout, the Chicagoan producer-turned-rapper Kanye West arrives for his UK tour as the biggest news in hip hop this year. West is charged with proving mainstream hip hop (or hip pop) has a conscience with his nourishing messages of substance flying in the face of the amoral majority perpetuating clichés of guns, girls and bling.

The question is how he will shape up live, in particular without his album's all-star support cast, which includes Jay-Z, Twista, Ludacris, Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli, his resident soul-provider John Legend and the Harlem Boys Choir.

West begins well and on time - breaking hip hop's time-honoured tradition of keeping the audience waiting - bounding on stage to his hardest track, "Get 'em High". He soon launches straight into "We Don't Care", with the audience taking over the deliciously black-humoured chorus, "Drug dealing just to get by". It's a high-octane opening, West bouncing and prowling with such vim and vigour that the album's guest rappers are long forgotten; the audience is breathless and baying for more.

West's attire has also almost gone unnoticed - he's wearing a white suit jacket, a blue argyle sweater, a crisp shirt, light brown slacks and brown shoes; he looks more like an English gentleman than hip-hop superstar. Bravely, he's backed only by a DJ: there are no distractions, all eyes are on West and he rises to the challenge.

We're four tracks in before West addresses the audience directly, he's humble and gracious, declaring that he makes music for his fans first and foremost. Then it's back to the hit parade with his favourite song, "Through The Wire"; West shuffles across stage with a slo-mo foot routine that Usher and Justin Timberlake would be proud of.

West's love of soul, incorporated through speeded-up vocals, means with each track's opening refrain the audience involuntarily erupts; it's a reflex action. Without Syleena Johnson's piercing chorus and a blues guitar, "All Falls Down" ("We a buy a lot of clothes/ That we don't really need/ The things we buy to cover what's inside/ They made us hate ourself and love their wealth") becomes a rousing diatribe reminiscent of Public Enemy's Chuck D.

West teases out a thunderous four-song encore including his biggest hit, "Slow Jamz". There's no doubt West's debut is a hip-hop classic, up there with NWA's Straight Outta Compton, Dr Dre's The Chronic, Nas's Illmatic and Eminem's Slim Shady LP. Arguably, song for song, it's stronger. West's a safe rather than spectacular rapper but after this performance, which resounds with graciousness and positivity, The College Dropout has graduated with first-class honours.

Kanye West plays Brixton Academy, London SW9, Thursday; Manchester Apollo, Sunday; and Glasgow Academy, Monday

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