Kanye West - Graduation

Posted September 10, 2007
Tags: Kanye West,

For years you watched countless graduations on tv shows and movies. It was the day when...

Graduation Album Review

For years you watched countless graduations on tv shows and movies. It was the day when everything would change. You’d throw your hat in the air and by the time it landed you’d be an adult, ready and armed to attack the world. Finally, the appointed day arrived like an oncoming train. You waited anxiously, the principal called your name, handed you a diploma, and then…well, then you ate dinner. Graduation was huge, no doubt, but you expected it to perform miracles. So when you woke up the same person you were the day before, it was hard not to feel disappointed, maybe even a little cheated.

Kanye West uses his album titles as metaphors for his career and I felt obliged to return the favor. Graduation is the third album from the deservedly egotistical Mr. West, the acclaimed rapper/producer/snazzy dresser. If you’re one of those doomsayers convinced hip-hop’s nothing more than formulaic violence, put Graduation in the system and press repeat. But if you’re like me you believed Kanye might just be the savior. He was a man who could seamlessly mix underground and club production; who could spit rhymes about models and the Black Panthers in the same verse. Unfortunately, Graduation proves Kanye’s not hip-hop’s Jesus, just a giant among men.

The album opens with the minimal feel of Good Morning, a song that continues his quietly complex work from Common’s Finding Forever. Lyrically Kanye’s packing more meaning into one line than ever; as Good Morning hums behind him he says, “I’m like a fly Malcolm X, by any jeans necessary.” Only Kanye could pull off that line. Similarly, Can’t Tell Me Nothing is some of his best work yet, a track that swirls with strains of ethereal singing samples cut with Young Jeezy’s distinctive laugh. West’s lyricism manages to outdo even his almost angelic production. He returns to the same theme of materialism as religion he explored on College Dropout, opening the songs with, “I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven/when I awoke I spent that on a necklace.” Brilliant.

Kanye’s always made crowd bangers, Get 'Em High kills every time, but Graduation is so sedate you have to wonder if he’s hooked on morphine. The single Stronger borrows heavily from electronic music heavyweights Daft Punk and moves fine, but never seems to go anywhere. I can handle ego, but “You should be honored by my greatness/that I even showed up for this base sh*t,” borders on obnoxious. Barry Bonds has Kanye relating to another big headed controversial hit maker, even bringing on Weezy for a decent verse. At first Barry Bonds underwhelms, but an hour later you’re at the grocery store humming the beat. That’s the sign of a good track. Good Life featuring the irrepressible T-Pain (who could sing the words on a parking ticket and it’d be a hit) is the closest thing to a party on the album. It’s good times, just not great times. Graduation is full of decent songs like these, but where’s the classics? Kanye’s set the bar so damn high, even he might not be able to reach it anymore.

A few cuts on the album feel just plain flat. Flashing Lights brings on the high-pitched Dwele for some electronic string arrangements and lyrics that compare the paparazzi to Nazis. Only a brief mention of Hurricane Katrina but a whole track about the pressures of fame? Drunk and Hot Girls has flashes of humor but doesn’t really connect, plus I was expecting a Mos Def verse and only got some singing. I haven’t been that disappointed since I learned Santa was my mom. Homecoming has Chris Martin laying down a good hook and Kanye dropping some tight metaphors but…well I’ll let my Chi-Town people decide. I don’t want another Late Registration, innovation is dope, but I was expecting even better and got this.

For two albums Kanye wrote songs about struggling, about having Bentley dreams and a minimum wage paycheck. We loved him for it, but now he’s got rich people problems. What happens when the underdog is on top? Maybe Kanye needs to be hated on to make great music. So my sincere hope is he reads this review and curses my name; then uses this criticism as fuel for the fire. Maybe that will get him back to boiling instead of Graduation’s slow simmer. How about it Mr. West? Crush me if you have to, I just need to hear Crack Music again.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted September 10, 2007
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