Sep 192007
Authors: Nick Scheidies

(Release Date: September 11, 2007)

Kanye West’s much-anticipated new hip-hop album “Graduation” finds the vaunted producer at his most consistent, if not his best. But don’t take my word for it, ask the famously egotistical West how he’s doing. “Pretty good,” he says. “For a genius.”

Consisting of 13 tracks and about 51 minutes, “Graduation” earns distinction from its two predecessors for its relative brevity. Unlike “The College Dropout” and “Late Registration,” West’s latest is bereft of the obnoxious skits and filler songs that have become a standby of the genre.

In other words, West finally delivers an album that won’t wear out the “skip” button on your CD player. But that isn’t to say that “Graduation” is without fault.

On the contrary, West is encumbered by his own limitations as a MC now more than ever. West’s delivery may be confident and emotive, but he all too often falls into stale, repetitive rhythms while rapping, often for measures on end.

This problem is compounded by his amateurish singing voice and the fact that Kanye decided to keep the contributions of his very famous, very talented friends to a minimum.

This isn’t a problem when his lyrics hit home. He still has a way of skewering society and himself with smart, funny barbs. In the mesmerizing album opener “Good Morning” West playfully boasts, “I’m like a fly Malcom X / Buy any jeans necessary.”

But his rhymes begin to wear thin and by the time West is telling you to, “reach for the stars so if you fall you land on a cloud,” it’s hard to take him as seriously as he takes himself.

Of course, West didn’t become famous for being a great rapper; it’s his status as an elite producer of hip-hop songs that has made him a household name.

You’ve probably already heard the album’s pair of singles. The first, the defiant and sure-footed “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” features impassioned lyrics and an undeniably cool soul hook.

“Stronger,” the album’s second single, leans heavily on a sample of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” The song suffers from a lack of variety and, at over five minutes in length, it should definitely be shorter. Nevertheless, the tune is invigorating and impossibly catchy.

The truth is, “Graduation” has plenty of songs with potential to be hit singles. However, clunkers such as “Champion” and “Barry Bonds” do little to validate West egomania.

Meanwhile, the unfortunately titled “Drunk Hot Girls” is burdened with an inadequate, repetitive hook. But just when you think the song is a lost cause, it breaks down into a chillingly beautiful piano-driven interlude featuring Mos Def and then the last verse includes surprising Arabian melodies.

By the time the song is over, West has turned what at first seemed like a grating and unbearably derivative song about having sex with inebriated women into an experimental, cerebral success.

Moments like these make you wonder: Maybe West really is a genius after all.


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