Graduation – A Retrospective

Now just wait. I have a story to tell. And none of it excuses current events. Lets get into it.

Cut to the Katrina semester.

The first new music I can remember hearing after making it to Baton Rouge was Gold Digger. Prior to this, the only time I can remember hearing the name Kanye West was his performance with Common on Chappelle, which I did enjoy.

I can remember distinctly what drew me to it. The production. It felt like the most intelligent thing in an era of Crunk rap.

Just sounded polished. Clever sample. Doing something different…..

Then the event.

During the time in exile, I watched the Concert for Hurricane Relief LIVE.

Then, all of a sudden…it happened

The whole room blew up the second the singular line hit. I just remember alot of laughing and screaming from the idiots-at-large. From then on out, Kanye was a hero. I went out a bought the first two records. Cause I had to have them. Late Registration was a big album for that period.

Side note: I should really write a blog about the two albums that meant the most for that time period…maybe next August.

Cut to my graduation (natch).

Shortly after I finished college, I moved up to Chicago. I remember even in those days, everyone still blasting Kanye. Waiting for the next album. I mean that music…. Everyone else at the time felt half cocked at best. Whereas it always felt like Kanye labored over his shit.

That fall, I had started my first job out of college. And it was the talk of everyone my age. The album was coming out.

I remember my initial reaction at the time was….being underwhelmed. I think Late Registration and The College Dropout was HUGE in our minds, and you know….we were young. So hype was everything.

I think it ended up falling into rotation, but alot of my coworkers went back to College Dropout. I came back to Graduation from time to time.

Lets do the review now, cause I have more to say about Mr. West.

It has honestly been years…many years. At least a decade since I listened to any of these tracks. T

I think Graduation is one of those albums that cant HELP but be lackluster compared to Late Registration. It is has plenty of good moments in its own right. But, it is in the shadow of a giant.

I honestly think there is no lack of effort or anything in Graduation. It just may be be one of those things that just has the unfortunate distinction of following up a masterpiece. Lets pick a song at random.

What has always made Kanye different is the meticulous instrumental choices. He has never had the best flow or style, and I think he knows that. But he his fucking good at setting up that musical landscape. This whole album is really clean. Approaching sterile in some spots.

It’s also weird to hear some of this stuff in the modern context. This may be the last album where Kanye was truly happy. Especially comparing this album to anything that comes next, this is alot more…standard rap shit. How much money he has. Making nothing but hits. You can’t really approach this album in that way. Give an example.

I actually like this song more than I should…mainly because I am pretty sure Kanye knows exactly how fucking creepy this song is. Cause its basically a sing-songy anthem to club stalking. Its sleezy. I like it.

Alright, lets get to the best track of the album.

This was commissioned. The fact that we don’t have this in pristine quality shows that the director’s series needs a comeback.

You know who Kanye has shit in common with. Rivers Cuomo. Hear me out on this. They are both obsessed with writing big pop songs, but can’t get over their own artistic tendencies. Rivers is much more vocal about this, but I think Can’t Tell Me Nothing is an example of Kanye doing that type of thing. He’s got this really great “Can’t tell me nothing righhhhtttt” hook. A really strong sample. Just building a song that was another huge hit.

It does what it says on the tin, and Kanye does what the song says in life.

I should mention that I think the weakest song on this whole record is the single. It feels…a bit lazy for Kanye. There are better songs on this thing. It needed a bit of a differentiator other than riding the Daft Punk sample to death.

One last thing. This album also has one of the most unfortunate distinctions that an album can have. My favorite song? It isn’t the best track.

It’s the first track.

This is also the album where he puts his hatred for college to bed. That is ESPECIALLY weird to think about in the modern context. He has a major theme of what college can do to you (if you are already lost). I personally think he is too hard on that side, but hey he dropped it. Do you ever hear him talking about it since. Now the preponderance of all of his work doesn’t even mention this fact.

This song is what I choose to remember from this record. Even listening it to it now, it reminds me of putting the CD in my car and driving through Chicago metro to get to work.

There was a long time where I was a big defender of Kanye. Through the 808s period. Even Yeezus I bought the day it came out. But I became…less exuberant about it over time.

The music still had its moments. But there was more and more…kind of middling crap on Kanye albums.

I think for his own sake, Kanye should have existed at a time that was disconnected from the current era of the internet and politics. Some people can adapt well to a culture where everything can be about you. Kanye is not one of those people.

You all know what Kanye has become, and it kind of breaks my heart.

He has made whole songs about the concept of “where is the Kanye you love”. I think he is exactly who he has always been. I think MAGA politics is just another form of his “you are all wrong” identity.

I still listen to the new shit. I’ve heard everything he’s made that I can get a hold of (Donda 2 aside cause you know, exclusivity is the refuge of the fool). He’s just….lost it. Not the talent, its still there. He is just….lost man.

His last great project was Kids See Ghosts, and I am not sure how much of it was him vs Kid Cudi.

This is alot of rambling to say, you see what is going on. And you have seen this before. This does not end well. The man needs help. We are not going to give it to him. We like the spectacle, so the spectacle wins the day.

And I think that’s the thing. I don’t want the old Kanye. I don’t want the new Kanye. I want the best Kanye for Kanye. And that is most definitely not what is happening right now. Instead, we are going to watch a man torture himself and flame out. And I just hope he doesn’t hurt anyone in the process.

Good morning.

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