Kanye West takes hip-hop to new levels
September 20, 2007
Graduation, Kanye West’s third album isn’t just a hip-hop masterpiece, it’s an evolution. The disc builds and improves upon West’s past offerings: each song is deeper and heavier (The College Dropout was catchy, but most of the songs didn’t leave much of an impact), and the album is more polished and tightened than Late Registration, which included some unnecessary skits. More so, the musicality has improved vastly. As you hear orchestral stings take over snare beats, or how a piano interlude will sneak its way into a chorus, you may wonder if you’re even listening to a hip-hop record.
Graduation isn’t as politically focused as Late Registration, but the words dropped by West have just as much of an impact. Every time you listen, you will love it. In fact, every time you hear it will only make you enjoy it more, as each hearing of a chorus, a hook, a word - it only makes listening to Graduation that much better. As a whole, the album is about returning from a journey - one which you grew up and learned from - and coming back to confront your past.
The album begins with the entrancing and bittersweet “Good Morning.” There’s a cynical tone in his words as he says, “Did you even see the test? You got D’s ... cheated on every test,” and goes on saying, “I’m like a fly Malcom X ... by any jeans necessary.” The song sets the tone for the rest of the album, where West gets everything off his chest.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is a slower tune which West wants people to let him live how he wants (“This is my life homie ... You decide yours ... Old folks talk about back in my day ... But homie, this is my day”). On “Everything I Am,” West blasts away all stereotypes and expectations, listing off awards, clothes, cars, actions and other things people tell him he should or should have to be (“Here we go again ... Everybody saying what’s not for him ... But everything I’m not, is everything I am”).
That’s not to say that every song on Graduation is as complex and serious. “Champion” begins with a disco-like wave of music that carries the chorus “Did you realize that you were a champion!” Also, “Stronger” revives an old school bass beat that is complimented by a robotic voice echoing in the background, as good as any guitar could try, while a synthesizer hits chords to match West’s melodic style of rapping.
The album really shines when West is haunted by his past. On “Homecoming,” West tells the story of a girl he knew and had to leave behind to follow his dream, while Chris Martin (yeah, the guy from Coldplay) sings “Do you think about me now and then? ... ‘Cause I’m coming home again.” The most intriguing song goes to “Big Brother,” which is about West’s mentor, Jay-Z. He tells a complex tale about the evolution of their relationship, and about “sibling rivalry” to become No. 1. It’s the best way to end the album: looking at who you were and the events that made you grow. That’s graduating.
Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.