Music Reviews

Kanye West Graduation

(Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella) Rating - 7/10

It's about time we start filing Kanye West under 'electronic music'. The prolific rapper/producer's third record, Graduation, may not exactly be a dancefloor-filling techno disc, but by now the influences from electronic music are threatening to overshadow the hip-hop. Which is not at all something to frown upon: The Neptunes have built an entire career out of creating hip-hop that sounds nothing like hip-hop (and ironically thereby creating some of the best hip-hop around). But in light of Kanye's 2005 Late Registration (a colossal, gorgeous and brilliant record which still manages to raise goosebumps every time I hear it), the stark and raw Graduation comes as a somewhat of a surprise. Trading strings for synths, perhaps we should consider buying Kanye a black wig and crow mask?

Of course I'm exaggerating a little, although the absence of Bernie Mac is another indicator of the record's deviance. Instead of a broke-phi-broke interlude, on Graduation we are welcomed by Mr. West himself, crooning a controlled 'uh!' before unleashing a floor-trembling bass drum. The song we're being played is Good Morning (labelled 'Intro' even though its three minutes in length), which is a concise but slightly blunt effort. The track is innocuous and respectably fun, but it never really steps out of its modesty like so many of Kanye's earlier tracks have (and then have, and have again).

Which is really the biggest problem concerning Graduation. It's a little two-dimensional. There is absolutely nothing I can really comment on during its fifty minutes -- as a hip-hop release, it's light years ahead of most of modern hip-hop's attempts at record creation -- but as the third record from Kanye West it's a slightly underwhelming effort. Knowing this, it will not come as a surprise that the best tracks are those that stay closest to the formula perfected on Late Registration. Everything I Am is a slow burning piano-and-strings ballad which would not at all be misplaced sitting between The College Dropout's best tracks. I Wonder is a surprising track, combining Kanye's trademark strings and samples with a distorted beat and razorblade synths (an instrumentation choice he later successfully copies on Big Brother). But the best seconds on the record are those of Champion, which is a clever, intelligent track with an impeccable concision (which may have something to do with the fact that it never reaches the three minute mark).

Perhaps it's not fair to keep referencing Late Registration, and criticizing Graduation for all the ways it does not resemble it. If us critics were to disallow artists from growing and evolving, we would have a boring time reviewing music. Without the very gift of redefining a sound, discographies of bands like Radiohead and Liars would be a lot less interesting. Still, I can't suppress a feeling of slight disappointment towards Graduation. While another concise and accomplished release from an immensely talented rapper, it fails to really deliver the one thing Kanye's always excelled at: beauty.