HBCU Network - BlackBerry, Volume 1   
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written by Christopher “Scav” Yuscavage    
If 2003 was the year of the “college dropout,” then grab a pencil and a notebook – 2004 is sending the hip-hop music back to the student center at the local college.

After Kanye West’s spectacular smash debut album, “College Dropout,” hip-hop had a strange epiphany surrounding the success of “Dropout.” What if Kanye was right? What if hip-hop music is the way around the registrar’s office and the nasty cafeteria food and the study sessions and the immature frat parties?

Enter the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Network and the release of “BlackBerry, Volume 1: The Soundtrack for Your Black College Experience” – a celebration of sorts, highlighting the best of the best to graduate from many HBCU-affiliated schools (Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Howard to name a few) with an abundance of musical talent and a true ear for creating solid tracks showcasing these many talents.

First of all, “BlackBerry, Volume 1” is not “get down in the club music,” or even music that might bump from the Escalade pulling up to the club. It’s a glass of champagne, instead of a forty-ouncer, a smooth-riding Cadillac, instead of a souped-up import, and a cocktail party, not a strip club.

From the harmonic input of the Freestyle Nation on “Grass Just Looks Greener” or “Back in Time” to the empowering lyrics of Tonya Chester on “Girlfriend,” “BlackBerry, Volume 1” carries the sort of hip-hop flair and swagger that should make those involved with the project proud – because this ain’t the average “hip-hop” album. “BlackBerry” amounts to a dignified and logical collection of tracks from graduates that have all the talent in the world, and yet, still chose college.

The abstinent tales of Shak-C on “Take Your Time,” where the emcee storytells his way through the life of a young girl finding herself pregnant at 14, takes the time to address a real social issue and offer up solutions. Likewise, the spoken word presentation by Jon Goode on “Let’s Talk” attacks issues ranging from AIDS in the black community to parents allowing their young girls to wear makeup and stripper boots as teenagers.

Still, the biggest celebrations come in the form of the celebratory Jahah track, “Everybody Up,” and the contributions by him and his band Good Company on “Ya’ Not Ready,” and “Off The Wall.” Everybody throw a diploma in the air and get your backs up off the wall – a college education really is a powerful thing.

Top all of this great music off with an executive production credit from Wale Oyejide (a.k.a. Science Fiction), a well-respected and righteous musician himself, and the result is a start-to-end enjoyably well-done and well-put together album. “BlackBerry” not only appeals to the hardcore hip-hop fan or casual fan of what the HBCU Network attempts to do, it transcends many of the original beliefs that Mr. West had in mind when he created “College Dropout.”

They say that no one can put a price tag on an education. They say that no matter how rich or poor someone is, an education can make all the difference. Well, don’t listen to “they.” Take Shak-C’s word for it, or Jahah’s clearly stated message. “College Dropout” is out. 2004 is the year of the “college drop-in” – “BlackBerry, Volume 1.”

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