Kanye West - Graduation
Record Label: Island Def Jam
Release Date: September 11, 2007
The most relevant hip-hop artist of our time? Or the most irrelevant?
It's hard to imagine, but the man responsible for being just about the only notable mainstream hip-hop artist this generation not 28" deep in “gangsta" posturing is also one of the most hated people in popular media. He's pissed off everyone, from President George Bush to 50 Cent to Evel Knievel (who pisses off Evel Knievel, honestly?). Due to his unorthodox (and admittedly stupid) remarks, West has been dismissed by almost as many people as those who embrace him. Two albums into his career and he's easily the most distinguished rapper of our generation. Most youngsters these days probably can't remember a summer that didn't feature a Kanye banger worth jammin' to. But still, what release has been as universally over-hyped as Kanye West's third studio effort, Graduation? Sure, the indie folk were waiting for Bright Eyes’ Cassadaga more, and pop bottom feeders are holding their breath for Britney Spears' comeback, and one could argue that 50 Cent's Curtis is more anticipated in the rap world. But to look at the music world in its entirety, everybody has been waiting for West to follow up on the conscious hip-hop beauty of Late Registration.
Kanye brings his college trilogy to a close in solid fashion, removing most of the usual Kanye trimmings (Bernie Mac, barbershop quintet type skits, solid guests rapping on the album), and, much like his public image, puts himself solely in the spotlight. Unlike the refreshing College Dropout, or the refined and improved Late Registration, Graduation is the "let's push things forward" phase of his career that perfectly positions West in vogue once again with the masses. Hyper stylized soul sampling is mostly replaced in favor of original, bass-heavy synth arrangements, and for the most part, he excels in his new field.
Kanye didn't exactly graduate summa cum laude this time around though. While Late Registration could make Paul Wall worth my time, the guests on this record can barely even muster a "meh." "Barry Bonds", probably the album's weakest link, allows Lil' Wayne to stumble his way through a lethargic beat, which gives way to one of the worst choruses on a pop record this year; "Here's another hit, Barry Bonds / We outta here, baby." I'm serious, that's the whole damn refrain. Let's not forget to mention the latest example of Mos Def's downward spiral: "Drunk and Hot Girls." If it's not the worst ideas here, it's easily the most brainless.
Even with the step-up on beats, there are still flaws in Graduation. He doesn't confront his demons like he did on Late Registration either, instead opting to keep the subject material strictly about his fame and good life. He rarely strays from that path, dedicating one song to Jay-Z (“Big Brother”), a verse to his dad (“Champion”), and of course, an entire song to drunk and hot girls. Does he have nothing else to say about his mom after "Roses”? How many times has he brought up his car accident since "Through the Wire”? Will he ever bring up serious subject matter again like "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"?
This album stumbles in many categories, that's for sure, but when it excels, it can be mindblowing. West is a perfectionist first, a producer second, and a rapper third. Graduation is another moment in his career where his producing and perfectionism shine through and we realize once more why rapping comes third. His self-produced genius flows from (almost) every track. The best example is the beautiful, urgent yet slow opener "Good Morning," which masterfully samples Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Another one of the highlights, "Stronger", an immense behemoth of a banger, took at least seventeen reworkings to get right. The album version isn't even the same as the hit single! It's better. (Then again, most songs would get better when Timbaland is called in to help) .This is vintage Kanye and the album is all the better for it.
What can we discern from Graduation that would help answer my first two questions? He steps up his game when it comes to the production, like most people expected him to, but he falls even further down in the ranks of worthwhile MC's. He doesn't take shots at anybody, but isn't that what we want him to do? He reduces the usual amount of filler to nill, but he forgot to cut the just plain trashy tracks. All this evidence supports both questions so well that they cancel each other out for the time being. The highs on Graduation far outweigh the negatives and make it a worthwhile release, but how many more albums can West limp on with his subpar talking points? It seems to me like the graduate needs to go back to school before he thinks that dropping out was the best thing he ever did.
i would say that most of this album is a celebration of sorts for kanye. there aren't any dark past experience or serious subject matters here, and i'm ok with that.
i think this record kanye wanted to express the good side of his life, because i'm sure being kanye west is pretty good these days.