"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

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.


brandon said...

Good review, and the not quite ripe banana comparison, homo or not, makes a lot of sense. For some reason, I'm a big fan of Kanye's bad rapping on 'Dropout' because it doesn't even try to be good but you're spot-on about the newer stuff.

I'm resisting downloading the leak because I'm excited about this album but your review is making it harder to not start-up Soulseek...

Also, that's great about doing the Masta Ace entry. Just e-mail me or comment so I can give you permissions to post on the blog.

T.R.E.Y. said...

LOL@the no homo comment. don't worry man, ya gotta be careful.

i gotta say, if this's an improvement over Late Registration, i'll probably love it. i know that a lotta people like 'Ye's persona more on Dropout, but it just never really clicked for me. LR on the other hand, is like "rap on steroids" as i saw someone put it. the music's so great that i can forgive 'Ye when he ain't on his A-game.

dope review, can't wait to hear it for myself.

T.R.E.Y. said...

by the way, do you know exactly how much input Toomp has here? i noticed Breihan made a comment 'bout that too.

or for that matter, how much input Brion has -- is he more on the sidelines this time around

DocZeus said...

I'm not really sure what DJ Toomp or Jon Brion's input into Kanye's albums are. I think in Brion's case, they help fill and craft the sound like a traditional (read: non-rap) producer would on a record. I think Brion was responsible for the large amount of instrumental interludes in the last album. As for Toomp, I'm not really sure. I know he was supposed to have co-produced a couple of joints on the album.

And about the banana comment, yeeeah... I re-read that line after I initially wrote the review and even I was struck about how...umm...homoerotic it was. I even thought about replacing banana with the word "fruit" but that just made it worse. So, yeah sorry for "no homo" comment gay people but drastic measures had to be taken. Forgive me.

Mr.O said...

I like Drunk and Hot girls.

"DAHAHAA thats how the fuck sound"

One of the greatest lines on the album can you not relate to this song.

T.R.E.Y. said...

not sure if the above dude's completely serious, but i gotta agree, "Drunk and Hot Girls" is like a 100x more bizarre and entertaining version of "Celebration." if there's one song i woulda taken off this album, it's the Yeezy/Weezy collabo. and i may've taken out the sped-up sample from "The Glory," but that's a minor detail.

DC said...

The Cold Vein comparison has definitely lifted my expectations -that sound deserved to take over the world, so it's welcome even if it's six years overdue. The singles were disappointing, 'Can't Tell Me Nothing' especially. 'Stronger' has grown on me, but is nowhere near Kanye's best, and your description of it as the centrepiece worries me. Still, every Ye album is an event, and that can't be said for anyone else in hip hop, at least after Kingdom Come. And his pronouncements always make me life - recently, when in London at the time of a failed terrorist attempt that would have killed hundreds of clubbers, he refused to rule himself out as the possible target.

A couple of problems, though - can you really comment on the skits when you haven't heard them all? And, though you've apologised, is 'no homo' really necessary?

DocZeus said...


Just as a point of warning, the album doesn't really sound that much like The Cold Vein but more on the lines of Kanye interpreting the Def Jux sound in my opinion. It still has the static synth buzzes but its a lot more mellow and Dilla-esque if that makes sense.

And no, the "no homo" comment is not needed. It's a stupid, cheap overused joke but I simply was struck about how latently "gay" for lack of a better word, the banana comment was and it just seemed almost too perfect to pass up. If you got offended by it, I apologize. I mean no harm.

Thanks for reading, though.

Ali said...

A very honest review, I agree with a few things and then disagree with others. I think Kanye has become one of the better rappers of today, I like him better than Wayne, Game, 50, pretty much the field. He created amazing production on this album and laced it with simple yet exciting lyrics, he did what a lot of rappers fail to do, "say alot by saying very little." I also could have done without 'DHG' and 'Barry Bonds', but I understand how 'DHG' fits with the theme. I liked 'Homecoming', though I like the original version much better. (Check out 'Home' from the unlreased version of 'College Dropout', the beat is amazing, real soulful) What you have to remember is that this album has been in the works for 2 years and as he said on 'Big Brother', he made this song before Jay made his, so don't judge it based on that. I feel he used Coldplay to push that stadium sound he's going for which is a cool concept. I can't wait to hear this album live in a big stadium or arena. Also, it's very cool how he uses the metaphor of a girl to describe his hometown, Chicago. The one thing I don't understand is why you feel this album isn't personal, I feel he always speaks for the heart, like on tracks like 'Champion', 'Good Life', 'Can't Tell Me Nothing', 'Big Brother', 'Glory', 'Evrything I Am'. Overall, its 4.5/5

magilla gorilla said...

have you heard about this guy, zeus?



supposed to be the next kanye, but i don't think they sound anything alike. i think he raps and makes his own beats too. looks like definitive jux got their own kanye now.

Bogart Lo said...

I think the comment about 'The Cold Vein' not knocking vapid Hip-hop off it's prized perch as pretty stupid- was it trying to do that? Did anybody (least of El-P and Can Ox) expect it to do that? It is like laughing at a noise-rock band for not destroying the Hinders of the world. Yeah Hip-hop has probably got dumber- the so-called 'ring tone Ra', but Def Jux have a (relatively) large following. Largely agree with the review though- good work.