[Music] Graduation – Kanye West (2007)


graduationAlbum: Graduation

Artist: Kanye West

Released: August 20, 2007

Rating: 7.7/10

“Stadium status”, Kanye declares on his third studio album, Graduation, and it’s hard to disagree. Influenced by his year touring with U2, Graduation is West’s attempt at creating an anthemic sound that he felt hip-hop lacked. He has arguably had mixed success in that regard, but musically, West once again produces a home run. Gone are the warm, homely soul samples from College Dropout and Late Registration; they have been wholly replaced by a much wider musical palette. Much of the range that the album offers comes from Kanye’s increased use of samples from the electronic, rock and house music genres. It’s all very new but at the same time, it’s arranged familiarly; it’s a little like walking into your home and seeing new furniture in the old arrangement. Lyrically, it feels like West has stepped back a little and simplified his style – it’s a shame since his delivery on Late Registration was dramatically better than on College Dropout and it would have been nice to see the trend continue. The new style fits the music better though, even if there moments in which it feels like the idea was better than the execution.

In returning to Graduation, a full eight years after its release, it is important to consider it in its place in hip-hop history. Graduation was to face-off against commercial behemoth 50 Cent’s Curtis, a contest that seemed much closer at the time than most fans would admit to today. Hip-hop prior to Graduation, and arguably prior to Kanye West, had been dominated by the post-G-Funk era beats, the hand-me-downs from the gangsta, hardcore hip-hop era. If College Dropout was the beginning of the end of that sound, then Graduation was the final nail in its coffin. The dark, grimey beats that carried the greats in the late 90s were nowhere in evidence – not musically, not spiritually. Instead, Ye opted instead for lighter melodies and an altogether more expansive sound. Tracks like ‘Good Morning’, ‘Stronger’ and ‘The Glory’, all showcase the non-hip-hop influence in the album but for all the variety that these influences bring, Graduation still very much sounds like a hip-hop album. Yet, like Late Registration  before it, the album’s sound is not something that someone only marginally familiar with the genre would instantly pin as hip-hop. Whether the end product is something as anthemic or as captivating in concert as U2 or The Rolling Stones is up in the air – one could argue that not all the samples hold up in a live performance but then again, hip-hop has not been a genre kind to live performers for a good while.

In terms of his flow and delivery, Kanye switches things up again on this project but it doesn’t always work in his favour. His style has simplified in noticeable ways – the rhyme schemes are not quite as complex as what they were on Late Registration’s best tracks and there are a few instances where the delivery is laboured and almost painfully forced. It isn’t as though he can’t hit the sweet spot he found for himself on his previous album but rather that he is making a more conscious attempt at matching his flow to the music. As one might expect, there are moments where it works wonders – ‘The Glory’ comes to mind, as do ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Big Brother’ – but there are also moments where it holds the track back; ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’ come to mind, with the latter easily being one of Kanye’s worst tracks ever. Kanye has never shied away from talking about his feelings or speaking his mind (for better or worse); in fact you could argue that he has taken pride in it and his success stems in no small part from that refreshing honesty. Graduation is no different – we see lines that are charmingly candid but more so than any of his previous albums, it also comes with a heavy dose of his trademark swagger. It makes for a riveting contrast, an unyielding comparison between what Kanye was and what he has become. The jewel in the album’s crown however, is the track ‘Big Brother’, an emotional but candid breakdown of Kanye’s brotherly rivalry with his mentor and close friend, Jay-Z.

There is a widely held notion that each of Kanye’s albums reinvents the game in one form or another. There is certainly some truth to that; College Dropout and Late Registration heavily influenced a shift in what people considered the ‘traditional’ hiphop sound. Graduation, however, is less an influence and more a break away from the norm. At fifteen tracks, it is not a short album by any means, but the lack of the skits and fillers that plagued Kanye’s first album, make it feel like denser, tighter album. Notably, Graduation has only a single guest verse – a Lil’ Wayne in his Tha Carter 3 prime – and only a handful of guest vocals. Among the changed sound, the new flow and the other deviations from the norm, one might think that the album would sound strange to a hiphop, like a hodgepodge mixture of various musical elements that were never meant to meet. It is a testament to Kanye’s creative vision that the result is just the opposite.

Standout Tracks:

Can’t Tell Me Nothing

The Glory

Homecoming

Big Brother

Track Title Producer Rating
Good Morning Kanye West 4
Champion Kanye West 3.5
Stronger Kanye West 4
I Wonder Kanye West 3.5
Good Life Kanye West 3.5
Can’t Tell Me Nothing Kanye West 5
Barry Bonds Kanye West 4.5
Drunk And Hot Girls Kanye West 2
Flashing Lights Kanye West 3.5
Everything I Am Kanye West 4
The Glory Kanye West 5
Homecoming Kanye West 5
Big Brother Kanye West 5
Bittersweet Poetry Kanye West 5

Other Reviews:

Pitchfork

Rolling Stone

NME

Sputnik

The Guardian

Hiphop DX

Wikipedia

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