Rarely is an artist nearly as good as they think they are. Kanye West is. "My head is so big, you can't sit behind me," boasts Kanye on "Barry Bonds" halfway through his new record. Yes, yes it is. Graduation has been the subject of much publicity in the past few weeks, thanks to 50 Cent's on-air promise to quit music if his album Curtis doesn't outsell it. Oddly enough, all 50's antics did were help Kanye's album sales, while 50 saw his worst opening week numbers in years (The Massacre moved 1.1 mil in 2005). Poor 50. Not only did Graduation win the sales battle, but it wins just about every other battle as well.
It is even more rare for an album to be as good as it is hyped up to be. Kanye has already unleashed two monster singles, "Stronger" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing." The tracks are virtually polar opposites; the former a new wave dance track built on Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," and the latter an epic hip hop anthem with a...Young Jeezy sample? (it's true). While avid hip hop fans seem to be split on the subject of Mr. West, it's possible that that this is one of the best pop albums of the new millennium, and no arguing that it is one of the biggest (Kanye's first week sales were 40,000 short of a million).
Kanye's lyrics may be up for debate (don't over-analyze "Drunk and Hot Girls" or "Good Life." There really isn't much there), but it's his production (West either produced or co-produced every track) that has taken him this far. Tracks like "I Wonder" and "Everything I Am" showcase his talents as a hip hop producer, in case anyone has forgotten. DJ Premier scratches over a piano loop in what may be the song of the album. "People talkin' shit but when the shit hits the fan/everything I'm not made me everything I am." Kanye laments about a world he has created in his head where he is an underdog, constantly being over-looked and constantly getting snubbed by silly award shows. He is a genius, and the only reason we don't understand that is because we're not as genius. It's his confidence in this theory that makes his arrogance almost likable.
Coldplay's Chris Martin makes an appearance on "Homecoming," reportedly the result of a spontaneous jam session at Abbey Road Studios. Kanye pays homage to his hometown ("incase you don't know by now/I'm talkin' 'bout Chi-town"). The song is hard to peg as far as style is concerned, and this becomes it's strongest point. An off beat bass drum adds an element of reggae, while a very non-Coldplay esque piano riff is prominent throughout the whole song. Chris Martin does his best to not sound like Chris Martin at all (and arguably succeeds), and throws in a "le-yoh-e-yoh-e-yoh" for good measure. "Do you think about me now and then/Cause I'm coming home again."
The album is over within 52 minutes. Anyone who listens to Kanye West, or hip hop in general, will be surprised by how compact Graduation is. Unlike College Dropout and Late Registration, there are no skits; No drawn out intros or outros; No bullshit. Kanye takes a whole new approach in creating a hip hop record, and hopefully other rappers will follow suit (honestly, does anyone really like those skits?). He's taken everything that could have possibly been wrong with his first two albums, and fixed them unequivocally as if to say "What now?". Well, rhyming "Coldplay" with "Coldplay" on "Big Brother" is a bit cringe worthy, but at this point it's become part of his style.
Speaking of "Big Brother," Kanye actually shows somewhat of a humble side for a change. The song is a tribute to his mentor and label mate Jay-Z, though, there are some points where I can't decipher whether he loves him or hates him. In the aforementioned "Coldplay" verse, he suggests that Jay-Z only did a song with Chris Martin because he did (this also ages "Homecoming" a bit when you consider that Jay-Z released his Coldplay collab in '06...Unless I'm interpreting Kanye incorrectly - see third paragraph "lyrics up for debate"). It's as close as Kanye comes to humility, and the song itself sounds like it could easily be on Kingdom Come, which surely is no coincidence.
In the end, Kanye came out on top because he didn't really seem to care about the competition 50 Cent was trying to push. It wasn't about a hip hop rivalry. It wasn't about selling more records than Curtis. Kanye wants to take over the world, quite simply. Kanye wants to win every award and he wants everyone on the planet to love his album. Though he is still clearly and completely self obsessed, at the very least, he is well aware of it. He's also emphatically unapologetic about it, as evident on almost every single track. "Don't ever fix your lips like collagen/to say something when you gon' end up apologin'." This is good advice from someone who whines both on and off record about not winning awards. That's OK, he'll just take the "I got a lot a' cheese award."
Release date: September 11, 2007
Rating: 9.0 / 10
On the web: www.kanyewest.com
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