Like getting shot out of the seemingly complacent and sheltered environment of the education institute and into the unknown wilderness of the unforgiving, fend-for-yourself real world (as illustrated by the Takashi Murakami designed album cover), Kanye West’s 3rd studio musical opus falls on to the ears of critical music fans, hungry for meaningful hip hop in an era where mind-blowing, fantastic music is constantly overshadowed by more commercially accessible and creatively inferior offerings (yeah, I wrote that pretentious intro myself). Graduation has been traversing the interwebbings for about 10 days now and will be officially released this Tuesday. Many of you have probably read a lot of the online reactions and early reviews up to this point, as well as “sampled” the album yourself. And well, I’ve been digitally spinning this album like crazy, moments since the leak. So in light of that and the upcoming official release, here’s one more review. Track for track style. Straight from a page of your fay-voh-rite author.
Good Morning (Intro): This is the perfect intro song and evidently a nice song to wake up to; very fitting of Ye’s ongoing education themes (and equal disdain for the entire system). Straight up, class is in session for the next hour, so sit up and pay attention. Fave lyric (2 way tie): I guess, this is my dissertation, homie, this sh!t is basic, welcome to Graduation/I’m like the fly Malcolm X, buy any jeans necessary. Note: I wouldn’t put Ye in my Top 10 lyricists of all time, but on this album he came through with some great one liners, especially for a producer, so this fave lyric thing is just giving props to that.
Champion: It’s like Kanye said to himself, what can I do in 2:47 to get this show on the road? Here’s the answer. Blazing. Not a fan of Steely Dan, but I like how they were used in this song. Yes I did. Fave lyric: When it feel like living’s harder than dying/for me giving up’s way harder than trying/Lauryn Hill said her heart was in Zion/I wish her heart still was in rhyming. So do I, Yeez.
Stronger: Official lead single. Drums are more pronounced in this version (Dilla style), as they should have been. Definitely establishes the next sh!t vibe for the rest of the album. Daft Punk rules, there’s no question about that. For the inclined, check out the Neptunes remix for Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (released on the Daft Club compilation from 2003) for an even better use of this instrumentation. Fave Lyric: You know how long I’ve been on ya/since Prince was on Apollonia/since O.J. had Isotoners/don’t act like I never told ya.
I Wonder: I LOVE when the synths kick in with the bass at the beginning of each verse. Kanyeez dropping some more inspirational lyrics fo dat ass. Dreamy with a great “orchestratic” breakdown in the second half of the song. Fave lyric: I’ve. Been. Waiting. On. This. My. Whole. Life. I want to have that feeling.
Good Life: If a song samples an MJ track (in this case, the P.Y.T. chipmunks), then it better be good! Fortunately, Good Life comes through. Heavy drums yet again (explosive, even). It’s obvious that this is a future single. As of this writing, if I were in Ye’s shoes I would perform this at the VMAs on Sunday as the finale, complete with a surprise appearance by Michael himself, 6 years since his last VMA stage appearance (come on Mikey, you gotta kick off your comeback somewhere). Side note: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Ye’s singles (and potential singles) from this album more than his previous 2 albums. Fave lyric: Have you ever popped champagne on a plane?
Can’t Tell Me Nothing: This is how hip hop should sound like in the ’07, more or less. Forboding, hard hitting, with great interpolation of the vocal sample and the lyrical cadence. This leaked way before anything else on this album, and it still sounds fresh to death (and I like his verses on this as opposed to the remix). Lots of money requires lots of self-control. Got it. Fave lyric (2 way tie): Bought more jewelry, more Louis V, my Momma couldn’t get through to me/So if the devil wear prada, Adam Eve wear nada, I’m in between but way more fresher.
Barry Bonds: Perhaps a last minute addition due to said baseball player’s questionable chase and eventual conquering of the most hallowed record in sports. Weezy still sucks and almost ruins the song, if it wasn’t for the grimy, low end heavy beat, that is. Ill (with another appearance from the Long Red sample). Fave lyric: Bow so hard ‘til yo’ knees hit yo’ forehead.
Drunk and Hot Girls: Purposely silly, I assume, but lots of truth in these words as I imagine music artists go through this sh!t all the time. Fave lyric: Aaahdaaaadaaadaada that’s how the fcuk you sound, you drunk and hot girls.
Flashing Lights: Wow. This is my favourite song on the album. Epic soundscape, ill use of the synths (gets my neck snapping instantly, not unlike a Neptunes beat), with a beautiful yet cautionary tale painted out by Ye-Tidda. Labour Day weekend I did some serious roller coastering in Jersey and this is the song I kept thinking about at nighttime when the coaster tracks were lighted up throughout the park (but not flashing). Sad yet inspiring and head-nod worthy all at the same time (how he do that?). Fave lyric: I’m more of the/trips to Florida/ordered the h’orderves/views of the water/straight from a page of your favourite author.
Everything I Am: Featuring the incomparable DJ Premier on the scratches (chopping up Chuck D, I believe), perfectly complimenting the keys. The winding down track (Common passed on this beat? Word?). Fave lyric: Remember [Chauncy] from Blackstreet? He was Black as the Street was/I never be laid back as this beat was.
The Glory: The home stretch begins with this upbeat track as Kanye is back to his trademark sped-up vocal samples (the roller coaster sequencing, especially in the final quarter of the album, is awesome). Ye talking to his College Dropout self, face to face (probably just got out of the Delorean). He did it for the glory. Again this track is perfect after Everything I Am, especially in the way that it instantly picks you up after the zoning out of the previous track. Fave lyric (3 way tie): In 2 years Dwayne Wayne became Dywane Wade/I spent that gas money on clothes with logos/I wanna be compared to BIG, anyone, Big Pun, Big L or Notorious.
Homecoming: If there’s a low point on the album, it’s this track. Home (aka I’ll Be Home aka Coming Home) feat. John Legend was perhaps the best thing to come out of all of Ye’s mixtapes (and that’s saying something). This is a reworking of that track. On it’s own, it doesn’t suck, but sometimes I feel like skipping it. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m not a Coldplay fan either. Plus, Home had a way more menacing beat which wasn’t so much key based as it was bass and vocal, ummm…based (and Legend killed the chorus). Fave lyric: I met this girl when I was 3 years old/And what I love most she had so much soul (an obvious reference to the classic hip hop track that the song premise is based on).
Big Brother: I almost agree with Kanye: this track is one of the Top 5 tracks he’s ever done; not sure if it’s the best though. The beat is definitely “Stadium Status” as Ye indicates. That part of the song always makes me laugh, since it’s just as corny/funny when artists say “The Bridge” right before the bridge. Also, the storyline doesn’t touch me as it should, as Jay is not even in my Top 10, but hey, different strokes (but the epic beat brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it, as I could feel the emotion just through the music…that’s a pretty good feat). Dope shout out to No ID. Cool concept, but seriously, just kiss and make up guys, you’re both rich brothers now. Fave lyric (2 way tie): When I kicked the flow, it was like pick and roll/cuz even though he gave me the rock, it’s give-n-go/if you admire somebody, you should go ahead tell ‘em, people never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em.
Graduation is very synth heavy, and I’m all for bringing back the synthesizer (which, in the urban music world, Pharrell and Chad deserve the credit for bringing it back to prominence from the 80s). Especially in light of The Roots focusing on synth arrangements for their 2008 studio album “Rising Down”. I can’t say how perfectly this album is sequenced (at least on this leak). Tracks flow seamlessly and every song is EXACTLY where it should be (that’s very important). It’s probably too early to say this, but I think this is my favourite album of Kanye’s. It’s tightly woven, perfectly sequenced, to the point (with none of that skit nonsense), head-nod worthy and an accurate snapshot of an artist in his prime, full of more passion than ever before. Homecoming (and maybe Drunk and Hot Girls, when you’re not in the mood for it) keeps Graduation from becoming a perfect album. Regardless, this is Kanye’s most complete and cohesive effort to date. And for me, this leak brought the perfect musical ending to the summer of 2007. OK, that’s it for now. We outta here, beh-bay.