Graduation overall sounds like classic Kanye. It’s a bit more relaxed, not unlike a student earning a degree after several years of hard work and study.
A Commencement of Sorts
Already a respected producer, Kanye West introduced himself to the world as an emcee in 2004 with The College Dropout's first single "Through the Wire," his celebration of life after surviving a near-fatal car accident. His wired-jaw performance was a reflection of just how badly he wanted it all; the release of a new single and video was more important than his full recovery. Two more albums later, Kanye still rhymes like there is something holding him back. He doesn’t refrain from self-congratulatory egoism ("Can’t Tell Me Nothing") and sounding as if he’s joking even when discussing serious topics (“I Wonder”), with almost no variety to his delivery. Despite his persistent flow-flaws and faux pas, he does retain the ear-catching wit that made us listen in the first place. “Feeling like Katrina with no FEMA/like Martin with no Gina,” he quips on “Flashing Lights,” with Dwele.
Graduation offers a sense of development, but not a sense of urgency – there is a greater emphasis on subtlety as evidenced by the irresistible “Barry Bonds,” where ‘Lil Wayne and Kanye are actually at parity lyrically. West spits, “Top five MCs you ain’t gotta remind me/ top five MCs you gotta rewind me/ I’m high up on the line you can get behind me/but my head so big you can’t sit behind me.” Wayne follows with “I’m so f***in’ Good like I’m sleepin’ with Meagan/I’m all about my Franklins, Lincolns and Reagans whenever they make them."
Kanye has graduated from the excessive use of sped-up soul samples to broaden his sound. “The Good Life,” with its obvious (and expensive), but slower-tempo sample of Michael Jackson’s PYT and T-Pain on vocals is a fun ride. He even references 50, “50 told me go 'head switch the style up/And if they hate then let 'em hate and watch the money pile up.” On the production, the most notable difference on this effort is his foray into Euro synth-pop on the Daft Punk-sampled single "Stronger" and you’ll have a hard time forgetting “Drunk And Hot Girls,” Kanye’s quest for easy sex with a little help from Mos Def on vocals.
"Big Brother," is the standout on Graduation. The tribute to his mentor, Jay-Z is perhaps his greatest exercise in humility. He demystifies much about his life at Roc-A-Fella and the developments that propelled him to star status, "He helped get me out my mama crib/then he helped me get my mama a crib." Commendably, Kanye shows Jay the kind of love that hip-hop too often reserves for posthumous honors. "If you admire somebody you should go ‘head and tell ‘em/people never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em."
The Bottom Line on Graduation
A few lyrical missteps aside, this is a solid, enjoyable collection. Pure rhymes, no skits, no fillers, no throwaways. You can put it on repeat and not get sick of it. The abundant and varied guest list never overpowers the songs – Mos Def, Dwele, T-Pain, Lil' Wayne, and Chris Martin from Coldplay all sound like they belong. And ‘Ye is true to himself. He sounds like one of your witty, though slightly annoying homeboys who occasionally works your nerves, but never enough to make you stop hanging with him.Top Tracks for Graduation
- "I Wonder"
- "Barry Bonds"
- "Big Brother"