Review Summary: Save for a few questionable decisions Kanye has put out an amazing album and although he is still reaching for the elusive classic album he is well on his way to getting it.
Many people will get caught up in the hype of Kanye vs. 50 Cent (which I will not get into). But, step away from that and look at the albums. Now we have Kanye's junior effort in Graduation.
Kanye is known production wise for his inventive and almost addictive use of samples, which although does not stray in this album is used a lot differently than his usual work. Gone are the happy fluid beats from his debut album, College Dropout. Gone are the darker, melodic toned beats from his sophomore album, Late Registration. What you have here is not just a combination of the two, but an evolution of Kanyes production style. Production wise Graduation’s direction is pushed to an unfamiliar avenue not only for Kanye, but Hip-hop itself. Using more techno/punk instruments and samples separates him from the trap that a lot of rappers with one producer headlining the whole album such as Little Brother, and Eminem have (in Little Brothers' case had). That is not saying that he doesn’t go back to his usual forte and when he does use these soulful samples its pure beauty.
Lyrically Kanye as usual has stepped his game up as shown on the beautifully produced intro, Good Morning. Kanye playfully dances around the beat as if he was one of the elites. "Goodmorneean/ look at the valedictorians/ scared of the future/ while I hop in the De Lorean". This growth, although not on par with the likes of a Jay-Z, Nas or Lupe, is a major step up from his College Dropout days and shows that he is both an accomplished producer and rapper.
The second track Champion ups the tempo with a sample from Grammy award winning rock band Steely Dan. Kanye's ego leaks out as the sample states "Did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes". But looking deeper into the lyrics Kanye not only boast about his "flyness", but states why he needed to get where he is right now and why Kanye doesn’t need have to be THE champion but, that someone needs to be one period. "Layrn Hill said her heart was in Zion/ I wish her heart still was in rhymin'/ cause who the kids gonna listen to/ I guess me if it isn’t you". One of the two hit singles Stronger is up next and continues to provide the banging energy that Champion left you with.
I Wonder begins to slow the album down with ought taking away the steam from Champion and Stronger over a beautiful Labi Siffre sample and embracive synths. Kanye seems to take a different direction and flows robotically over the beat, but understandably so as it fits the track not perfectly but well enough that you begin to not notice that he goes back to his usually self in and out of it. Good Life featuring T-Pain sounds like it could be a nice single, and although fits the direction of the album seems like it could have been better. Although lyrically Kanye is on his A game, and T-Pain does an ok job, somehow it feels like these two could have done better. Next up is Can't Tell Me Nothing which since is a popular single you can decide for yourself if it is worth another listen to.
Barry Bonds featuring Lil Wayne sounds a little forced, but shows Kanye's growth as he not only keeps up but equals if not betters the popular Wayne. Drunk Hot Girls, which describes itself, is an interesting track which has Mos Def going into singing mode (which has already been proven to not pull him back). In a surprising twist Kanye tries his hand at a sort of melodic/singing flow which sadly cant compare to Mos Def who easily steals the show Not only does he provide a poetic like flow but says some interesting things. Immediately following this is Flashing Lights featuring Dwele, he again dives into the techno/punk instruments and samples, and deals with him, relationships, and his celebrity status.
Next up, one of if not the best track on the album. Everything I Am. The laid back production, the fitting scratches by DJ Premier, the melodic singing of fellow GOOD Music artist Tony Williams all combine to assist what could be seen as more relevant than both Jesus Walks, and Diamonds From Sierra Leone combined. Kanye begins to talk about how he differs from not only rappers, but other artist in general. This then turns into him talking about his own faults and examining his own ego and how it holds him back from some things. It then turns into him going deeper into the rap game itself and criticizing not just the rappers or the industry, but the fans itself for accepting the glory of killing another man and begins to make you look at yourself and face the reality to death.
Moving on, The Glory ups the tempo and gets you out your seat with an amazing introduction. Kanye goes back to his boasting and beautifully so over a Laura Nyro
sample, as he seems to have "Graduated" from his Everything I Am track. Homecoming, bumps in with a thumping base and piano ensemble and although sounds a little weird is an infectious jam session between Coldplay's Chris Martin, Warryn Campbell, and Kanye West.
The Final Track is Big Brother which is an excellent closer to the album which gives homage to his mentor Jay-Z. His secret rivalry and true feelings good and bad about his Big Brother Jay-Z are all shared with him eventually spilling out that in the end he will surpass him as arguably Jay-Z did with his big brother Notorious B.I.G. It truly is a big brother, little brother relationship and Kanye plays it beautifully.
In all, this album like Late Registration is a major step up from his last effort. It seems that Kanye puts his all into everything that he does and gets better with every try. Save for a few questionable decisions Kanye has put out an amazing album and although he is still reaching for the elusive classic album he is well on his way to getting it.