Label: 1st & 15th, Atlantic

Lupe's debut dropped at the perfect time. Chi-Town had solidified itself as a legitimate talent source with the arrival of Kanye West's solo career, and the continued success of Common and Twista. And Lupe stepped on the scene, co-signed by 'Ye and Jay-Z, with an album packed with smart lyrics and top-notch, mostly in-house production.

He was an old Chicago soul trapped in a skateboarder's body, who could pen radio-friendly hits like "Kick, Push" and "I Gotcha," and tackle deeper issues as well, using creative metaphors and a unique vernacular. He had a style all his own, prolific and exquisite, and the ability to spit stories with a non-conventional approach.

Check out "The Cool" if you need a refresher, where he tells the tale of a young man who digs himself out of his own grave to return to his block to find his killer, or the brilliant role-playing on "He Say She Say." No wonder the album scored him three Grammy nods. - DI