While Kanye West won't be stripping Jay-Z of his "best rapper alive" title anytime soon, Graduation does prove once and for all that he might just be the genre's most adventurous collaborator, and hell, maybe even its best producer. Still interested in looking to old Soul, R&B, and even new Electronica for musical inspiration, West's newest outré marks the third time he's rejected forming a signature sound in favor of reworking old records, and the results are simply staggering.
Jumping seamlessly through different disciplines with all the exuberance of a teenager playing DJ with his parent's 45's, West moves from spinning unlikely choices like Steely Dan's ultra rare "Kid Charlemagne" on "Champion," to sampling Daft Punk on the album's first standout single "Stronger," to swapping vocals with Coldplay's Chris Martin, all without missing a beat. Of course, coming from the man who broke into public consciousness, not with a bang, but with an emotional reworking of Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," I wouldn't say I'm terribly surprised.
What is surprising though is the fact that Graduation feels free from the kind of clobbering club-heavy beats and crass battle of the sexes lyrics that came to characterize 2005's Late Registration (not to mention it spares us any more skits… whew). Unfortunate lines like "Stronger's" "I heard they'll do anything for a Klondike/ and I'd do anything for a blond dyke" notwithstanding, it may be that hanging out with the Emo kids from Fallout Boy or the sensitive Swedish lads from Peter Bjorn and John, has been rubbing off on the self proclaimed "Mr. Fresh."
Not that West doesn't puff out his chest and boast that he's on top of his game or anything. Certainly that would be undercutting the very self-aggrandizing fabric that hip-hop is based on these days. It's just that now, with success having perhaps minimized his perspective, West often turns the lyrics onto himself and his role as a hero to millions; "Cause who the kids gonna listen to? / I guess me, if it isn't you" he chimes on "Champion," a line which immediately recalls to memory his "George Bush does not care about black people," speech during a certain Hurricane Katrina telethon.
But, considering it's the most creative and articulate hip hop album to be released in arguably rap's most dismal year, I suppose it's not hard to find Graduation immediately likable, or even as endearing a West's own teddy bear mascot.
Review by: Chris Webster
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Kanye West - "Stronger"
Kanye West - "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
Kanye West - "The Goodlife"