Thursday, August 30, 2007
Kanye West - Graduation: Review
A few years ago, there was an article in the Village Voice about Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein in which the writer imagined a Hip Hop landscape in which the Def Jux aesthetic of loud, angry, futuristic, static infused synth rap would rule over the rap world and put an end to the bling obsessed and shallow pop rap of Hot 97 and its ilk. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened. If anything today’s hip hop is arguably even more shallow than it was earlier this decade. At least, rappers actually tried to rap back then instead of coming up with stupid dances and marketing schemes. However, an unlikely candidate has picked up the old Definitive Jux torch and created an album that sounds like nothing you will be hearing on the radio, anytime soon.
Kanye West is poised to do something that El-P could never do and that's knock off the Big Bad Wolf from the throne and possibly change the way hip hop will sound like in the near future. Kanye West’s Graduation sounds like a weird, futurist hybrid of what The Blueprint would sound like if El-P co-produced the record (or in this case, DJ Toomp) and replaced his schizophrenic, post-9/11 paranoia with a pop accessibility. Graduation is soulful, spaced out, completely and utterly weird and at the same time completely and totally radio accessible. It’s a revolutionary record and possibly, the best record released in years.
This record represents an improvement over Late Registration and to a lesser extent, The College Dropout. For one, it has less filler, less superflous “Look At Me, I’m Really Musical” orchestral interludes and seems to completely lack any annoying skits about how much college sucks. These are all positives and improvements over his previous efforts. Kanye has trimmed down off the fat of his previous efforts and instead is focusing on expanding and reinventing his sound. A song like Daft Punk-sampling “Stronger” could have completely come off as pretentious if handled wrong but it remains the album’s show stopping centerpiece. The “Chipmunk Soul” of his earlier records has almost been completely replaced with spacey, static infused synths and disembodied vocal samples to create a record that sounds sort of unique. The album’s monster single, DJ Toomp co-produced “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, is the perfect example of this. DJ Toomp’s signature synths are all over the place but the Dilla-esque vocal samples float over the record to create an otherworldly feel to the record.
The album is notably, less personal than his previous efforts. The greatest strength of his last records were that they were so deeply grounded in West’s life. There’s no “Hey Mama” or “Jesus Walks” on this record. The only record we get is “Big Brother” in which Kanye discusses his Game-esque devotion (*cough* stalker *cough*) love to Jay-Z. Its kind of creepy and kind of great in the same way that “The Doctor’s Advocate” was for The Game. Instead, we get records about fame. A trap that many artists go through when they get hugely famous is they start making music about the pressures of fame and it can possibly start to ruin or affect their music. Fame has ruined Eminem so much that he can’t not make a record about how much the fame sucks and the media is mean to him. It’s a credit to West’s talent that while he’s made a record that deals with fame and not made it completely boring.
The album does have a few flaws. Kanye still isn’t a traditionally great rapper. My main problem with his previous efforts were that his flow sounded force as if he was trying to prove to the world how technically great he is and it doesn’t quite work. Listening to Kanye rap is like eating not quite ripe banana. It sort of tastes like it should but there is still an almost tangy aftertaste that you can’t quite get out of your mouth. (Editor’s Note: Umm, I don’t usually do this because it’s idiotic but uh, no homo on that analogy.) It’s a testament to Kanye’s charm and wit that he’s able to overcome this even if it’s not as technically flawless as a Method Man verse. The perfect example of this is West’s duet with Lil’ “I’m Hot Like Light” Wayne, “Barry Bonds.” Kanye’s verse is charming and fun but he still tries to cram too many words that don’t quite rhyme with each other into his verse. Weezy has the same problem in many of his verses as well (and his similes are just atrocious. Seriously? On Like The Television?!?!?! That’s from the Best Rapper Alive?!?!).
The leak I received only had 13 tracks and is supposedly only missing two skits so its fairly complete. There are one or two records I could do without, though. “Drunk And Hot Girls” could probably go and I wouldn’t miss and “Homecoming”, West’s dubious duet with Chris Martin, is just straight up bad. Tell me what is with these rappers infautation with the dude from Coldplay? I like Coldplay and all but he needs to stay far away from the Def Jam offices as possible.
The only thing next up for West is to see if this record can knock off 50 Cent on September 11th. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think there’s a more than likely chance that this will happen. If it’s any consolation, Graduation is almost guaranteed to be a better record than Curtis. The presence of “Amusement Park” alone on 50’s record guarantees that it's worse than Kanye’s. I mean “Homecoming” is pretty bad but its nothing compared how jaw droppingly awful, “Amusement Park” is. Seriously, now.