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KANYE WEST: Graduation

 

By Andrew McIntosh

 

Now that awards shows are over and we’ve turned the page on Rolling Stone’s Kanye vs. Curtis hype, we can ask a simple question.  Does Graduation make the grade?

 

Kanye West third CD Graduation is one of the more genuine, creative, and ambitious major label rap releases in 2007.  Then again, that’s not saying much in these get rich and trying times.  And if Kanye was honest rather than full of himself for a minute, Graduation would posses more of the charm of College Dropout or the maturity of Late Registration.   That said, West’s third effort is rife with memorable hooks, intriguing production, and playful if not predictable patter from the mouth of Kanye.

 

Kanye believes himself to be a savior for Golden Era Hip Hop, that emotive classic boom-bap sh*t that nods heads and twists hips.  As skillful as West is with freaking unused samples or orchestrating catchy choruses and gospel choirs, its hard to think of him as the consummate producer that he praises himself to be.  It’s clear he’s more apt to discuss boot cut jeans with Wendy Williams than chopped up break beats with Pete Rock.

 

Like the late James Brown, the multiplicity of West’s public persona is seemingly at odds with the best intentions of his music.  He simultaneously presents himself a fashion designer, video director, producer, a player and a (semi) “conscious rapper.” All which obscures the most endearing hallmarks of Kanye’s music: humility (“Jesus Walks”), appreciativeness (“Dear Mama” and “Family Business”), and belief in one’s self (“Bring Me Down,” “Touch the Sky”).  It’s the substance that can be found beneath his sleek style that gives Kanye staying power.

 

And yet Yeezy is absolutely comfortable with this duality.  Why should Kanye West be pigeon holed into a particular category? This schizophrenia is evident though out Graduation.  Missing from this relatively short disc are the cohesive concepts of songs like the moving “Roses” or the escapist “Spaceship.”  On nearly every track of the new disc, Kanye derides his detractors (“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”), emphasizes his confidence (“Good Morning”), and celebrates his success (“Champion”).  The Chi-city love letter “Homecoming” reflects some thoughtfulness, as is the dear diary entry to “Big Bother” to Jay Z.  But a song like “Drunken Hot Girls” plays out like a Saturday Night Live skit - all joke, no punch line.  Simply put, Kanye West’s lyrics have taken a step back on this disc with many rhymes sounding like a throwaway mix tape verses.

 

So the question becomes, what about Graduation works?

 

It’s the music, stupid.  West has compiled a variety tracks with cleanly snapping snares and lush samples and orchestration that rivals most beat makers out there.  There is a decidedly pop appeal to his music as opposed to the yearning dusty soul samples of “Gold Digger” or “Two Words.”  Samples from Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Daft Punk, and Elton John and other healthy slices of sung choruses (“I Wonder” and “Flashing Lights”) keep things sweet.  “Everything I Am” is a distinctive song reminiscent of Gang Starr.

 

As usual, Kanye employs outside talent effectively, calling in Lil’ Wayne, T Pain, Mos Def and Coldplay’s Chris Martin for additional texture to his sound.  As meticulous as West is reportedly about his music, he seems intent on making pop fodder.  Songs such as the Gatorade commercial “Stronger” and the after school special “Homecoming” are impressive if not ingratiating. 

 

The arrogance and hunger as a rookie that made him so appealing in 2003 has worn thin in ’07.  And considering Kanye nearly sold platinum in a week’s time, you have to wonder who really is hating on him? But these are rhetorical questions that obscure what is an otherwise undeniable if uneven third CD.

 

 

Andrew McIntosh aka DJ ARM 18 can be found freelance writing from PA to CA in both print and on the web.  In addition to being an illmatic DJ, McIntosh teaches a Hip Hop history course at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. For more info: myspace.com/djarm18



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