Most of you already know the story of Kanye West. Fought hard to get in the rap game not only as a producer but as an artist, started making progress with production on the Jay-Z classic The Blueprint, got into an almost fatal car accident, used that as inspiration for his first single, gains critic acclaim with debut The College Dropout, becomes an in-demand producer, talks too confident and is seen as an asshole, says “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” in front of millions, becomes a bigger star, throws tantrums, releases classic sophomore album Late Registration, starts his own label GOOD Music, helps Common, talks more shit, etc. Now Kanye is set to release his third and what might be his biggest album, Graduation. With the rap music industry in a big slump and rappers having trouble achieving success, Mr. West has a lot against him. Not to mention 50 Cent releasing his third album Curtis on the same day (Don’t worry; King Jerm is reviewing that one tomorrow). With Kanye’s last release, he went a different way than he did with College Dropout; darker musically and more big guest appearances. Does he go in a different direction with Graduation? Shit, is it even a good album? Well, like most of you, I’ve had this album for about a little over a week to let it soak in. So what do I think? Let’s find out.
No “Wake up Mr. West!” this time, Kanye said he cut out all the skits for Graduation so it’ll be more about the music (Damn, no more Broke Phi Broke?). The album starts out with “Good Morning”. The track takes a take on the title and starts off where Late Registration left off; “Look at the Valedictorian, scared of the future while I hop in the Delorean.” It’s a good start, but not exactly what I thought he would go with. “Champion” is the next song. It sounds like something Kanye would have done during the recording of College Dropout. That’s not a bad thing; the sample and epic horns fit Kanye telling of his childhood. The best line of the song to me probably is “Lauryn Hill said her heart was in Zion, I wish her heart still was in rhyming”. Me too. His second single “Stronger” is next. When I first heard this one, I thought the use of the Daft Punk sample was genius. Now after hearing this song constantly played for the past month, my feelings aren’t the same. I don’t think it’s a bad song, I just think the after you get past the sample, there isn’t much there. Maybe I’m just tripping but you gotta admit the “blonde dyke” line was suspect. It seems like Kanye is going real sample-heavy for this album. “I Wonder” has the same template as “Champion” but it’s still different. The rhyme scheme and cadence are slower and might turn some people off. The pianos are hot though and Kanye once again tries something different. Good song. “Good Life” has the first feature of the album when T-Pain shows up on the hook. To me, this sounds like a song made for radio and at first, I didn’t care for it. But after listening to this album a few times, it puts me in the mind of “Gold Digger”. Not saying it sounds like “Gold Digger”, I’m just saying it’s not mindless like most radio songs…even though the person featured on the song may be responsible for some of those songs. After all that, I will say I like the song; I thought they could utilize the “P.Y.T.” sample better, I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. One thing about the song that is funny is that Kanye uses the line, “50 told me go head a switch the style up, and if they hate then let them hate and watch the money pile up”. The first single and hood banger off the album “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” comes up next. What can I say about this song that hasn’t been saying before? This is lyrically one of Kanye best solo songs, the DJ Toomp production help gave it a hard feel, and the use of the Young Jeezy adlibs was brilliant. The Lil’ Wayne featured “Barry Bonds” is an old-school back and forth that shows just how far Kanye had come with his rhyming. People might be mad at me saying this, but Kanye actually tops Wayne on this one; “Fresh off the plane, konitchiwa bitches, turn around another plane, my passport on pivot, ask for I did it, that asshole done did, talked it than he lived it, spit it than he shit it.” It surprised me too. “Drunk & Hot Girls” featuring Mos Def is next. This is probably the first song on the album that I never got into. The song itself is not awful and has its moment in the middle but it can get irritating. The rhyming format is like a lullaby and the subject of plotting on drunken girls at the club, while a good one, could have been executed better. “Flashing Lights” featuring Dwele is up next. The track had storytelling elements and the production is top shelf with a mellow feel. Not my favorite but still good quality. A stand-out track on the album is the reflecting “Everything I Am”. This gives Kanye room to talk about the way he is not what your average rapper and how that makes him stand out; “I never rock a mink coat in the winter time like Killa Cam, or rock some mink boots in the summer time like Will.I.Am”. With a nice piano sample and scratches provides by DJ Premier, you know that this one is a winner. “The Glory” follows the heavy sample pattern of the album almost sounding a little like “Izzo”. This is another song where Kanye shows his improved lyrical ability; “On nights when Ye romance, camera flash so much that I got to do that Yayo dance”. My favorite song off the album is the Chris Martin featured “Homecoming”. Yea, Kanye uses an old verse he already did for the unreleased song “Home”, but this version is like a big-budget remake and the rhyme he uses is still probably one of his best. Even though I have questioned Chris Martin place in Hip-Hop, him on the chorus fits here. The beat on this one is remarkable too and puts me in the mind of an unreleased Jay-Z song “Addicted to the Game”. Speaking of Jay-Z, he is the subject of the next song, “Big Brother”. This introspective song about Kanye and Jigga’s relationship is something I never heard before done in rap music. It puts light on some situations that Kanye thought was shady while still paying tribute. Kanye drops some real stuff here also, “When I kick a flow it was like pick and roll, cause even if he gave me the Roc, it’s give and go”. This song also produced one of the best beats on the album (courtesy of DJ Toomp) and even has a hint of Jay and West’s last collaboration “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)” for added measure. It’s a good closer and gives the album finality. The bonus tracks for the album are mostly leftover tracks not really fitting on Graduation. The John Mayer featured “Bittersweet Poetry” finally gets an official release even though it was intended for Late Registration. It still doesn’t fit on this album either even with the addition of Keyshia Cole to the song. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing (Remix)” featuring Young Jeezy has been a mixtape banger for a minute and makes sense because it’s like he was on the original anyway. I still understand why it wasn’t on the regular parts of the album; it was more of an afterthought. The rumored Japanese bonus track “Good Night” featuring Mos Def is the best of the three. It makes you scratch your head why they picked the other Mos Def featured “Drunk & Hot Girls” over this one since it’s way better. It would have been a better addition to the actual album.
I don’t wanna sound cliché, and I’m sure I might have said the same thing for Common’s Finding Forever and Pharaoh Monch’s Desire, but this has got to be the best Hip-Hop album of the year. How does it fit with Kanye’s other releases?College Dropout was the introduction, Late Registration was the musical album, and Graduation was the lyrical album. Besides Weezy, there aren’t any rappers featured on the album so it lets Kanye’s rapping be in the spotlight. (Mos Def sings so that doesn’t count and Jeezy is on a bonus track). This album is a breath of fresh air in a sea of “Wipe Me Down’s” & “A Bay Bay’s”. Kanye should be proud even if he loses the head-to-head in sales with 50 Cent. Fuck sales, this album is good.