Kanye West - Graduation  
Kanye West Graduation album cover

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written by Henrick A. Karoliszyn    
Kanye Establishes himself as Champion on New Record

What else can be said about Kanye West's third record? Graduation is spiked with corny lyrics, jacked up on hubris and charged with a self-loving zeal that is borderline psychotic. Yet the latest West creation is also one of the most transcending productions of the year and easily his most fluid to date.

With crisp studio waxing ringing from the opening "Good Morning," where an Elton John sample meets a Jay-Z verse, we see the creative bar set high. As the record cranks expected strings, booming bass and ballooned vocals glow along with affectionate soul throwbacks. But this time Kanye flaunts his third try with different (audio) strokes.

Avoiding exhaustive skits that halted Late Registration, West fuels the production fire with fresh techniques. Adding electro-house funk to explosive synths to robotic grunts, he's supplied his repertoire with more ammo. And with songs like the Daft Punk sampler, "Stronger," West proves this arsenal runs on a continuum that ventures to new places.

Like the subsequent hazy and striking "I Wonder." Blending a piano intro (by Labi Siffre), West fuses a wavy chorus with rumbling echoes that shifts into a parade of strings. The result straps you along for the ride like a story you can't get enough of. Even without songs as arresting as Touch the Sky or Jesus Walks, the album holds its weight with such jams and speeds up by pairing unlikely beats.

Where many producers failed linking juxtaposed frequencies, West and co-producer DJ Toomp avoid static. Making contrasts feel innate on songs like "Champion" (Steely Dan), the experimentation accents Kanye's audible alchemy on sequencing the 13 shot track list. Still, many of the songs hold up by themselves and there are many highlights.

"Flashing Lights," with its magnetic cord section along with "Homecoming" that features Chris Martin drilling the keys and belting the chorus are just two that stand out. Like any classic your favorites can shift though and there is always something to go back to.

There are also spaces to find rhyme and reason throughout. Even with all the lyrical word play, Louie V. shouts and pop culture references, it's not hard to tell that Kanye is making a point here: sky's the limit. At least for West it is. After booting 50 Cent to become the record sales champ and having the highest selling record on Itunes, it seems West came to prove something once again.

In "Everything I Am," he continues to address the harsh reality of murder vs. countless fictional rap songs about it and how he was crowned king of the hip-hop world without any street cred. It seems like he's taking aim here or maybe he's just being controversial. Like posing as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone or saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on live television. Either way he does what great performers do and that's to get people talking – about him.

Though with all the hype and hyperbole Graduation isn't perfect. (What kind of review would that be?). There are songs that dampen the record's blaze like "Barry Bonds" that features an uncharacteristically lazy Lil Wayne verse. The song seems like an angry mutt in a room full of trained pure breeds. The swinging "Drunk and Hot Girls" also makes bad use of the talented Mos Def and aims much higher than it actually gets.

Otherwise, there is a clear sense that Kanye is making a big record and that he's trying to sell out stadiums with it. It's aimed at universality and in that vein it's much less personal, avoiding any inner crisis that makes superstars real. Despite the fact that West may want to become a myth in this way, he does give a short glimpse of his internal conflicts on the closing number.

On the last track entitled "Big Brother," West finally cracks open his psyche to talk about one of his heroes. The song pays homage to Jay-Z and alludes to post-Dropout turmoil between the two. In referencing their dynamic he continues to make it known that Hova embodies the spirit of rap and the model of success. More importantly, he says he's inspired by Jay and on this record Kanye shows it.

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