It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Kanye West. Graduation is Mr. West’s third album, following up on the success of College Dropout and Late Registration. If there’s anything that can be said about Kanye West, it’s the fact that he’s remained rather unconventional in his style, sampling music from other genres to meld with his particular brand of hip hop.
I talked about the first two singles from Kanye West: Graduation way back in June. I then found the official music video to Stronger in early July. The release date shifted back and forth before finally getting firmed up for September 11th. Today. And I couldn’t be more stoked.
I had the opportunity to listen through all the tracks on Graduation and my overall impression is that it is significantly more mellow and “slow” than songs that I have heard from Kanye West in the past. You don’t get New Workout Plan or Gold Digger. Instead, you get cameo appearances by guys like Chris Martin from Coldplay. The sound is definitely different and innovative, and I suppose I should have expected this from Kanye all along. What follows is a track-by-track review of Graduation, much like what I did with Linkin Park: Minutes to Minute.
1. Good Morning (3:15)
This is the song that plays during the FYE Kanye West commercial. It’s pretty mellow and despite the fact that it’s supposed to be just the “intro” to the CD, Good Morning is actually one of the better songs on the album. Interestingly, the sample for this song comes from Elton John: “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
2. Champion (2:47)
One of the few upbeat songs found on Graduation, Champion is supposed to be uplifting, but I found the backup vocals (a Steely Dan sample) to be a touch on the annoying side. I appreciate the energy though. The reference to The Pursuit of Happyness was pretty cool too (let’s see if you can catch it).
3. Stronger (5:12)
Hardcore fans of Daft Punk will find that Stronger is a horrible bastardization of a legendary Daft Punk track. If you’re not a Daft Punk purist, however, this is easily the best track on Graduation. Lots of bass-thumping energy, electric lyrics, and a ditty that’ll get you on your feet and dancing. Kanye at his “sampling” best.
4. I Wonder (4:03)
The first time through this song, I was disappointed. For the first couple of verses, Kanye thumps out one word at a time in a very rhythmic fashion. To some people, this can be pretty annoying — it was to me initially — but the more I listened to this song, the more I started to appreciate the delicate balance that is created between Kanye’s hard-hitting words and the softly sung chorus (a sample from “My Song”) by Labi Siffre.
5. Good Life (3:27)
It could be because Good Life features the vocal talents of T-Pain, but something about this song just doesn’t rub me the right way. I’m surprised, really, because it contains samples from “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by Michael Jackson. Sorry, I just don’t like T-Pain and it’s hard for me to enjoy any song where I hear his annoying voice. I might actually enjoy Good Life if it weren’t for T-Pain.
6. Can’t Tell Me Nothing (4:31)
This was the first single and I feel it is the most powerful track on the album. Some of the lyrics are utterly amazing, whereas other aspects create such a strange contrast that it leaves you slightly disappointed. For example, there’s one section that goes: “If the devil wears Prada, Adam Eve wear nada, I’m in between but way more fresher.” The thing about the devil, Adam, and Eve sounds like it’s building up to something epic and then Kanye lets us down with “way more fresher.” I also can’t help but cringe when he says “nothing” in the chorus. Despite these shortcomings, I like this song and I’m willing to overlook its less than desirable features.
7. Barry Bonds (3:24)
“And here’s another hit, Barry Bonds.” Sorry Mr. West, this song is far from being any kind of hit. The verses seem to flow just fine, but the hook is poorly executed and the inclusion of Lil Wayne makes for a very strange mix.
8. Drunk and Hot Girls (5:13)
This track sounds like it was produced by Eminem, but looking through the credits, the Detroit rapper had absolutely nothing to do with this song. Drunk and Hot Girls definitely feels very dark and Kanye’s vocals are actually pretty close to what Eminem sounds like in his darker songs. This is particularly apparent in the repetitive nature of the chorus.
9. Flashing Lights (3:57)
Why do I feel like I’ve been thrown back into the 80s and 90s? When you pair Kanye West’s hip hop with electronica, this is the result and it’s very, very odd. Quite the shocker.
10. Everything I Am (3:48)
According to the opening verse, the beat was created by Common and then Kanye took it and made it into a jam. Very mellow and slow-paced, it seems like Kanye is trying to think out loud with this song, telling us that “everything I’m not made me everything I am.”
11. Glory (3:33)
Old school. Glory takes us back to some crazy ghetto roots, sounding like the soundtrack to Everybody Hates Chris.
12. Homecoming (3:23)
If you’ve ever wondered what a collaboration between Coldplay and Kanye West would sound like, wonder no longer because here is Mr. West teaming up with Chris Martin. Some may call this a mash-up and in a strange way, it sort of works. Chris Martin provides a typical Coldplay chorus, whereas Kanye provides the urban rap for the verse. “Do you think me now and then? ‘Cause I’m coming home again.” The lyrics are quite fitting, considering that this is “Graduation.”
13. Big Brother (4:47)
You get a very strong feeling that Kanye West trying to be epic with this closing track, talking about how his brother was BIG’s brother (Notorious B.I.G.). The atmosphere is definitely on the epic and introspective side of things. This is what conscious rap is all about.
Overall, I’d say that Graduation is a decent album, but it is not as powerful or inspiring as Kanye West’s first two efforts. There is no track on here that speaks you quite as much as Jesus Walks did. There’s no vital energy like that found in All Falls Down. But I still like it enough to recommend Graduation to any Kanye West fans. Now, let’s see how it well it competes against 50 Cent and Curtis.
3.5 Stars Out of 5