Student kills the teacher? Who would have thought that Roc-A-Fella’s “least marketable artist” would become their hottest commodity in years, perhaps even surpassing Jay-Z in terms of popularity. Well, maybe not quite, but “Golddigger” was a bigger commercial hit than the last few Jay-Z singles we remember. With his third LP, the aptly titled Graduation, Kanye West matures, and officially enters A-List artist status.
Graduation is not Kanye’s best LP, but it has no problem matching up to his previous works. It’s Kanye’s shortest album to date (a tight 13 tracks), and it’s not weighed down by the usual collegiate themed skits. The album begins with the sparse Elton John sampled “Good Morning”, a mellow opener that hits with hollow snares and sampled crooning, as Kanye grabs your attention, speaking on the topic of graduation. This track acts as a bit of a prologue to “Champion”, which is an up-tempo Steely Dan sampled banger, in the vein of “Touch The Sky”, where Kanye reflects on his life thus far. The chopped-and-screwed Daft Punk reworking, “Stronger” follows, which is finds Kan in the club, trying his luck with various women, which comes off as sort of a lukewarm club knocker.
Kan plays both sides of the fence on Graduation, half the time lacing listeners with fun, energetic sample based hip-hop party songs, other times trying to catch feelings with more melancholy selections. The T-Pain featured “Good Life” begs to be the next single, a celebratory drinks-in-the-air anthem utilizing a freaked Michael Jackson “P.Y.T.” sample. The same could be said for “The Glory”, which packs the rawest set of drums you’ll find on a platinum album this year, while he spits his trademark braggadocio. The pumping “Flashing Lights” (feat. Dwele) treads the line between danceable club jam and thought-provoking hip-hop song, in sort of a Jay-Z “Hollywood” type of way.
Far more time is actually spent with those bittersweet, soulful beats with feeling, for better or for worse. “I Wonder” is a beautifully constructed track built around a Labi Siffre sample - Kanye does his thing here with an almost hit-&-miss collection of start-and-stop lyrics, but you almost wonder what kind of masterpiece someone like Common or Jay-Z could have written to this beat. The same argument might be made for “Everything I Am”, but here Kanye fares a little better, showing improvement as an emcee, touching upon a number of introspective topics. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is another one that falls into this category, as Kanye uses the hypnotic backdrop to get some shit off his chest.
Kanye has improved as a lyricist since the last go ’round, despite his sometimes cheesy, dated punchlines. He lends an extended metaphor to “Homecoming” (featuring Chris Martin), a love letter to his hometown of Chicago, patterned after Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.”. But the best song on the album? “Big Brother”, a very revealing look at his relationship with Jay-Z. No real beef is sparked here, more like “sibling rivalry” as Kanye puts it, but it’s a beautifully written, Toomp produced thank you note to the Jiggaman.
The album’s only real misstep is “Drunk and Hot Girls”, which thanks to Kanye’s sing-songy flow and Mos Def’s over-the-top harmonizing, gives the same dreary effect of 4AM after too many shots – but maybe that’s the point. It goes without saying though that something feels like it is missing on Graduation, but regardless, Kanye’s crafted another excellent LP, even if it’s his shortest. – D.T. Swinga
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