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A more conscious and mature effort.
on September 10, 2007
Kanye West is thoughtful ("Everything I'm not, made me everything I am," he explains on "Everything I Am") and has a voice like honey and a breathtakingly broad musical palette.
On his third album, West wants that acceptance on a big piece of paper, rolled up in a ribbon and presented to him in front of the applauding world. To make sure that everyone had the date in their diary, he pulled the release forward to clash with his nemesis, 50 Cent. But why bother? If anyone was going to get the prize for coming top of the class right now, it would be West.
"Graduation" sums up the qualities that made West a star: smart sampling, funny pitched-up vocals, a new found maturity, sagacious rapping and a finely attuned ear for infectious beats and rhythms.
There are also a couple of new ingredients: steely, electro synths from Daft Punk on "Stronger" and Caribbean lilts on "Good Life".
He's even got rappers' favourite indie boy Chris Martin doing his best Gilbert O'Sullivan impression on "Homecoming".
Despite all this, something about "Graduation" feels a bit cold.
The goofy glamour of "Gold Digger" and "Touch the Sky" have been edged out by over-earnest, gratingly repetitive self-promotion and an underlying sense of isolation and paranoia. And for all his right-on credentials, "Drunk & Hot Girls" veers close to hip-hop's tired old misogyny.
Kanye West is a 'conscious' rapper whose album samples Steely Dan and kraut rock beards Can; who muses on the stress of success; and who likes speeded up chipmunk vocals.
"Graduation" will leave some fans cold (it's a pop album that takes hip hop further into mainstream dance culture).
The album has magnificent moments (the Daft Punk-sampling "Stronger", the wonderfully upbeat "Good Life") but is weighed down by navel-gazing and pales in comparison to "Late Registration" and "College Dropout".
And yet, the record is beguiling and addictive: you want to go back and listen again as all those shiny, unexpected layers reveal themselves.
"Graduation" might yet to turn out to be as important as West thinks it is.