Saturday, 25 July 2015


Check it out... if you seek a commendable advancement in the career of Kanye West that retains the soulful instrumentation from his debut album, and combines it adequately with modern pop, disco and rock

Skip it... if you seek a retread of either The College Dropout or Late Registration, Graduation a definitive step forward from the artist


There's something satisfying about an artist who openly acknowledges the depth of their achievements. A precedent in modern culture is the tendency to equate humility in success to genius, and to denigrate those who have no shame in admitting their creative capacity. Rock has always been a breeding ground for narcissism and arrogance, and late 90's hip-hop popularised the unofficial sub-genre of braggadocio, but few artists from either category have consistently irritated the public with acts of blatant or perceived egotism. And thus, in this respect, Kanye West is undoubtedly distinctive. The fact that his bold and unabashed personality, unwilling to be restrained by courtesy or social etiquette, can still be defended by supporters (amiably, might I add) in a world where circulation of opinion is so frequent and rapid is an achievement in and of itself. The rapper has cultivated a fan-base of dedicated enthusiasts, and unlike many of his contemporaries, has embraced a range of varied lyrical and stylistic methodologies. His initial, exceptionally influential record, The College Dropout, resurrected the soul beat sampling inclinations of days gone-by, and established a culture which respected more reflective and relatable hip-hop. His secondary offering, Late Registration, founded the more melodic inclinations of modern rap music, thanks to the involvement of film composer Jon Brion. For the first three years of his solo career, West dominated the market, releasing hit single after hit single; smash album after smash album.

His first major advancement in style comes in the form of Graduation; an album which separated itself from its predecessors thanks to an extensive range of eclectic influences, an intrepid and audacious sonic direction, and more introspective lyricism. This Kanye West is still as ambitious in concepts and sound as the one that exploded onto the scene from 2003-2006, but this time, he seems more content. As the introductory kick-beat from album opener 'Good Morning' emerges, it becomes apparent that West is more confident in his ability. He proved his capabilities with Late Registration's soaring, broad production. He's no longer running to the podium, scared he'll miss his cue; miss his opportunity to prove his worth. With Graduation, the rapper comes to terms with his elevated position; now, West is the one who's casually striding to the stage, head up, confident. This time around, people are waiting for him, and he's happy with it.

This development proves initially jarring, especially coming off the maximalistic sound of Late Registration. The bountiful baroque pop that characterised tracks like 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone' and 'Gone' has been replaced by slower tempo electronic melodies, West finding ways to incorporate European disco, American alternative pop and indie rock influences into his distinctively lush soundscapes. Stadium rock seeps into tracks like 'Big Brother', mellow electric guitars interacting with the synthetic elements to generate a relaxing and aesthetically delectable palette. The heavy bass lines that brought 'Crack Music' and 'Spaceship' to life are numerous in quantity here, 'Barry Bonds' and 'Drunk and Hot Girls' two songs that are bolstered in effectiveness and resonance by the suave of the lower register. The heavy drums of 'Gold Digger' return heartily, West's productions consistently more compelling in this area here than in previous endeavours, pieces like 'Stronger' augmented in intensity by the kick-heavy, energetic percussion. 

West doesn't wholly abandon the lavish, organic compositional style he perfected within Late Registration; strings pervade the duration at various intervals, and piano-led melodies reminiscent of 'Heard Em Say' individuate 'Everything I Am', 'The Glory' and the serene 'Homecoming' from the rest of the record. The album's masterpiece, 'Flashing Lights', is a daring and luxurious parable that examines West's relationship with fame and the insistent and prodding eye of the media. To match the lyrical and thematic content, West and co-producer for the track, Eric Hudson, employ a sumptuous string chord progression which mingles with the forceful and measured beat to create a sharp atmosphere. It serves as one of the defining moments for West's career as a composer and producer. 

Heavy gothic synths and electronic-disco rhythms permeate the album at length, allowing West to exploit his melodic flair; the distorted synths and bubbly soul of 'I Wonder' and 'Good Life' expose his aptitude for stirring writing, and serve as a number of the primary highlights from the record. Despite the pop influence that pervades many of the beats on offer, the characteristic intricacy of his music is retained, West testing the limits of the oft-times restrictive genre with enthusiasm. There's nothing particularly challenging about Graduation as a listening experience; it flows evenly, and the comprehensive aural scheme should mean that no listener feels completely alienated. Old-school fans of West will appreciate the lively exuberance of 'Champion' (even if the track is the most blatantly repetitive on the LP) and 'The Glory'. Those seeking lyrical goodness will appreciate the pleasant rhythm of hit single 'Can't Tell Me Nothing'. Those unfamiliar with the bulk of West's previous offerings shall embrace the robust size of 'Homecoming' and many of the other symphonically-charged tracks on the album. It's not entirely crowd-pleasing, but it should prove aptly engrossing and entertaining for the average listener.

On preliminary run-throughs, Graduation is sure to isolate many. But given the appropriate time to weave its way into your soul, and the record proves undeniably catchy. West's existential reflections on his own fame, position in life and journey are more sensuous and careful in execution than anything on College Dropout or Late Registration, and his contemplative lyricism inspires more analysis than has been previously warranted. But the real attraction of Graduation is in its tone; jubilant and celebratory. The album is accurately titled, West having finally graduated to the top of the rapping and popular music scenes, earning the approval of his contemporaries and the public (for a brief instance, at least). It's not perfect; certain tracks, like the aforementioned 'Champion', lack some of the diversity that West is usually so good at implementing, and near half the tracks seem to possess minute issues in relation to mixing, namely concerning the percussion sections. It's not going to demand re-plays as persistently as Late Registration, and it's the most relaxed Yeezy has ever been, whether or not to its detriment or benefit. But it is self-assured, confident, intelligent and individual, and undeniably Kanye's own product. You can purchase Graduation on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.         



Additional notes about release: the iTunes copy features a digital booklet. Both explicit and clean copies are available.

Track Listing

1.Good Morning3:15
4.I Wonder4:03
5.Good Life3:27
6.Can't Tell Me Nothing4:32
7.Barry Bonds3:24
8.Drunk and Hot Girls5:13
9.Flashing Lights3:58
10.Everything I Am3:48
11.The Glory3:33
13.Big Brother4:48
14.Good Night3:06
Total Album Time:51:12

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