The Quotable Reviews: Graduation

"This is my dissertation. / Homie this shit is basic. / Welcome to Graduation. Good Morning" - Kanye West: "Good Morning"; Graduation

Kanye West is the most arrogant, most big-headed, most self-righteous, most self-confident, most creative, most hard-working Emcee in mainstream hip-hop today.


The brash producer slash rapper has etched a lasting impression on The Culture as whole not only through his music, but through his outspokenness. Never one to hold his tongue[1], Kanye has received (justifiable?) criticism for everything from throwing public fits after not winning awards, to ranting on Hip-Hop's homophobia over public airwaves, and most notably for stating "George Bush doesn't care about black people" during a nationally televised fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina victims. Homie speaks from his soul and no matter how you feel about definitely know where he stands. You have to respect that.

You also have to respect that, hate him or love, he's created some of Hip Hop's best music since his 2004 debut album, The College Dropout. The gifted artist has sold over 7 million albums worldwide with largely positive content (an anomaly considering rap radio is dominated by pimps, and hoes, and needles, and guns, and drug filled subject matter) ranging from self-consciousness ("All Falls Down"), to spirituality ("Jesus Walks"), to reaching for your dreams ("Touch The Sky"). On his first Lp (The College Dropout) he proved he truly is an MC and not just another producer-turned-rapper dropping a compilation album. On his sophomore set, Late Registration, 'Ye proved his success wasn't a fluke - that he's an impactful MC who can sell records while still growing as an artist.

Thats 2 for 2 people.

Round 3 brings perhaps his biggest challenge yet. Not only does the polarizing Emcee face unparalleled criticism should Graduation suck. But this time around he will box it out with the raining champion (of album sales. Only. Period.) 50 Cent; who's' dropping his highly anticipated third studio album, Curtis, on the same day (September 11, 2007). Billed as the Showdown for Hip Hop's throne (peep the cover of Rollingstone's September issue below), Kanye has much at stake (though not as much as Fiddy). Is Graduation up to the bout? Lets listen.

Cue the Michael Buffer entry...

"Good Morning. On this day we become legendary, / everything we dreamed of. / I'm like the fly Malcom X, buy any jeans necessary." - Kanye West; "Good Morning"; Graduation

Graduation kicks in perfectly with the bass-heavy, subdued, Kanye West produced , "Good Morning" where its apparent immediately that 'Ye has lyrically stepped up his game. This is how you're suppose to start the potentially defining album of your career(Common...take note). "Good Morning. Look at the Valedictorian. / Scared of the future while I hop in the Delorian. / Scared to face the world, complacent, career student. / Some people graduate but be still stupid." (this track has that quiet-before-the-storm its the buildup to something anthemic; something epic). "Champion" feels like the proto-typical Kanye track, infectious hook and melody with a chopped-in, sped-up soul sample. Inspirational in nature, fun, short and to the point, this is a great song too. The Daft Punk sampled, Timbaland assisted "Stronger" feels like one of those classic 80's songs that will lodge itself in your dome forever. Here 'Ye drops one of the illest lines of his career: "You know long I been on ya. / Since Prince was on Apollonia. / Since OJ had Isotoners. Don't act like I never told ya." That line is up there with his Michael Jackson line from "Slow Jamz." Fresh.

Mr. West showcases his slow flow on the soulful, laid-back "I Wonder" and then seamlessly transitions into the soon-to-be hottest song of the fall, "Good Life". This upbeat, party cut is unquestionably Graduation's standout track (he even coyly borrows an old 50 Cent line at the end of each verse. Coincidence?). Lyrically dope, infectious beat, and T-Pain fits perfectly. It doesn't get much better than this, people! From there, 'Ye gets introspective on the DJ Toomp produced, "Can't Tell Me Nothing" spittin' "How he move in a room full of Nos? / How he stay faithful in a room full of hoes?" Lil Wayne grabs the mic on "Barry Bonds," an ill cypher track that hits right at the right time on the album. Heads will appreciate this one, despite Lil' Weezy's lazy guest appearance (I hope he laid his verse without hearing Kanye's first. 'Ye dominated the self-proclaimed "Greatest-Rapper-Alive." Hands down). "Drunk and Hot Girls" is the album's riskiest song. Using a melodic flow that comes 50-Cent close to singing the lyrics, 'Ye enlists Mos Def for back up vocals on this woozy cut about the "bullshit we go through just to mess with these Drunk and Hot girls." I'm not sure if the replay value is there and maybe its a bit ahead of its time...but hey, its funny so at least its entertaining.

"Flashing Lights" sounds like something borrowed from Timbaland's play book with a beat reminiscent of those on Justin Timberlake's Future Sex / Love Sounds or Nelly Furtado's Loose. More witty storytelling here. "Everything I Am" is another introspective track that makes you wanna sit back and smoke something. "The Glory" reminds my cousin Sha of Jay-Z's "Encore" (The Black Album. Also produced by Kanye) - upbeat and celebratory in nature but with a sped up soul sample that feels like a Jackson 5 song. Coldplay's Chris Martin drops the hook on "Homecoming," an ode to Chicago that 'Ye wrote in the early 2000s that finally made it onto a studio release (finally a Chris Martin collabo that doesn't sound forced...sorry Jay, but "Beachair" was...yawn...underwhelming). Graduation wraps-up with "Big Brother" an honest anthemic salute to his boss and mentor, Jay-Z. "Big Brother saw me at the bottom of the totem. / Now I'm on top and everybodys on the scrotum." A suitable close to the album.

"People talkin' shit but when the shit hit the fan. / Now everything I'm not made me everything I am." - Kanye West: "Everything I Am"; Graduation

At 13 tracks in length, Graduation is sleak and to-the-point. No interludes, no filler cuts, and only one rapping guest appearance. Its clear he's learned from previous mistakes while continuing to push himself. Lyrically and style-wise he's leaped ahead of even his own expectations ("I can't even explain it / I surprised myself too" - Kanye West: "Barry Bonds"; Graduation) and its refreshing. Sonically, the majority album has a stadium vibe to it - like its meant to be heard in the Georgia Dome or in Giants Stadium...or in...I dunno...someplace huge. Its one of those albums that gets better the more you listen to it (2 weeks and counting...crazy replay value). Aside from a subpar bar here and there ("Damn, no way. / Translate, espanol - no way Jose"? Thats just weak in any language) and the fact that he's not the most graceful MC to pick up the mic, Graduation is the complete Lp.

"Hey Mama, they can't hate 'em. / Cause after all of the drama, K' slayed 'em." - Kanye West: "Can't Tell Me Nothing (Remix)"; Graduation

Now theres no telling which way Hip Hop's fickle buying public will lean come D-Day on 9/11 (No doubt Fiddy nation will come out in droves to pick up Curtis), and we here at The Quotable aren't in the business of making predictions. We deal in content, and creativity, and progressive Hip Hop pushing The Culture into the future. We deal in reality. And the reality is that the brash, winy, arrogant College Dropout has takin' cats to school for the third straight album[2]. FACT. "And here's another hit...Barry Bonds. We outta here baby."

Rating: QQQQ.5

[1] Mr. West is sure to catch more flack for his Britney bashing during the here to read.
[2]My cousin Sha and I tried to figure out which other rapper has dropped three straight near perfect albums at the beginning of their careers...after much debate, we landed on Ice Cube. Pretty exclusive company.

Carry On...


ENID P. said...

I heard some of teh songs at the VMA. Can you send them to me??


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