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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman



    Before the 2006 Grammy Awards, Kanye West is credited to have said, ‘I don’t care what I do, I don’t care how much I stunt – you can never take away from the amount of work I put into it.’

    We, as the listeners, watchers, and readers, know this only too well. The name Kanye West has become very much synonymous with wild braggadocio. The fronting, stunting, and going wild at shows. His proclaiming himself a rap and even a cultural icon well before his time is almost galling.

    Still, you have to give the man the respect. Why? Sincerity. Sincerity in a dream to push himself, the industry, fashion, and music itself in new directions. Sincerity that he sees is lacking in rap at large, even as he does precisely what has caused people to lose faith in mainstream hip-hop. This makes for a fascinating contradiction that informs much of what he says and makes. As if to say, ‘I do this because, if I don’t go hard in everything that comes out of me, I can’t even dream I’m the best.’ he wears his now-signature Jeremy Scott sunglasses, rhyming on ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’

    ‘Don’t ever fix your lips like collagen Then say something when you’re gon’ end up apologi’n’

    With honesty and no apologies, he brought us both ‘College Dropout’ and ‘Late Registration.’ And it is with sincerity and trust in his hip-hop education and very much himself that he releases ‘Graduation.’ Not the valedictorian in terms of musical or lyrical quality, but a well-rounded, if (putting it lightly) idiosyncratic student.

    West set the bar high with his previous efforts, and for the most part he hits that high watermark, faltering here and challenging there. From early on, the overarching theme of this album is clear: Celebration. True, West has been celebrating since he dropped ‘College’ in 2004, and perhaps that fact dilutes the overall quality of the album. Nevertheless, his celebrating his hip-hop honors and the achievement of the dream continues to resonate, despite and in spite of three years of musical progression.

    The need to celebrate is evident in songs like the runaway hit ‘Stronger,’ which utilizes Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ to great effect, and ‘The Glory,’ wherein he’s become the hero of the game not unlike legends Biggie Smalls and Big Pun. Feel free to disagree.

    Never without paradox, West on ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ juxtaposes introspection with self-validation – champagne-splashing with social commentary – as a present-day artist and personality. Hypocritical or not, it works, and it works for him. There is something to be said for most of the songs, and much to be liked. Like Will Smith in Men in Black after tying his Armani shoes, he might as well be telling other rappers ‘You know what’s this difference between you and me? I make this look good.’

    He stumbles, however, on the weaker songs of the album, ‘Barry Bonds’ and ‘Everything I Am,’ and for contrasting reasons. ‘Barry Bonds’ isn’t a home-run; its weak rhymes go too far in spreading the good news of West’s genius. Though not terrible musically, a hit this is not, and L’il Wayne’s presence does little to elevate it stylistically. ‘Everything I Am,’ on the other hand, falls short simply because ‘[He’ll] never be as laid back as this beat was.’ It’s a beat that would suit a rapper like Common (who passed on it), and it shows as his rhymes, though on point, clash with the sober rhythm.

    In terms of gems, ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’ was the most challenging song on this album. Challenging because I don’t care for the song and few people do. Songs like this shouldn’t be on albums. Having said that, I say this is one of the better tracks West’s come out with. Here, West and Mos Def, through a veil of vapid lyrics, are attacking the kind of song people love this year by, at least from my perspective, making us hate the kind of song ‘Buy You a Drank’ exactly is. The song is a layer cake of ironic social criticism. This may be West’s Revolution 9.

    Meanwhile, having penned a song like ‘Big Brother’ seems to justify the excesses of the album by showing West, for perhaps the first time, humble. With candor and without holding back, he remarks on a kind of sibling rivalry that, though rocky at times, has made him the rapper he is, making him truly grateful of his idol and mentor, Jay-Z. Beautiful.

    This is a great album. Imperfect, of course, but when compared to what the hip-hop community insists on releasing, it’s a breath of fresh air.’ West poses challenges as an artist by simultaneously pushing the envelope while still retaining relevant formula. Paying homage to the old while offering something remarkably new. The very same dualism found in his persona as both ‘social advocate’ and ‘trend-setter.’

    Even the cover, done by Japanese Super-flat artist Takashi Murakami, symbolizes a graduation from a strong hip-hop tradition into new heights for the genre. All this while still making some pretty good music. Filled with lush orchestration and skilled, sincere use of the pen, the album grows on you, going from a ‘I like this’ to a ‘Damn, I love this.’ As a hip-hop fan, I’m finding I enjoy it more and more, flaws and all, as time goes on. Ask anyone who’s taken the class; as much as the man can spout lines proclaiming himself the Louis Vuitton Don, you can’t lie that he’s pretty damn good at what he does.

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