Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Best Music Week EVER: KanYe West: Graduation

I meant to post about this yesterday, but believe or not, the man is not going anywhere, nor is debate over this album, so today should work. Last year, Nas, in a not-so-subtle-manner, proclaimed hip-hop dead. Essentially, he speaks the truth, as neither he nor Jay-Z can carry the game, nor Eminem, nor Wu-Tang, nor anyone still living that once ranked among the all-time rap greats.
______And here comes Kanye. Already with two of the decade's best records, West steps into the spotlight once more to pat himself on the back, shout-out to Jigga, and, on the sidelines, bitch about Britney performing at the VMAs. However, for as typical a star Kanye remains off-stage, in the studio he has cultivated a remarkably forward-thinking, even groundbreaking effort. He samples Krautrock, house, and a hell of a lot more in ways that other hip-hop producers have neither the skill nor balls to attempt. Graduation proves modern hip-hop can transcend "Huslin'" and "We Fly High" if it wants to, that rap can be sophisticated without being elitist.
______That's the good news. Unfortunately, the record has as many failures as successes, and contrary to Pitchfork's absurd overreaction to Graduation, inconsistencies plague the album. West hits his stride early with the excellent "Champion," matching an instantly memorable Steely Dan sample with Kanye's smoothest rhyme scheme. "Stronger" arrives immediately afterward, the extremely popular single that finds Kanye transforming Daft Punk's already superb track into a pop classic.
______However, K. West underestimates the importance of actually constructing rap songs, and many songs fail due to lazy, boring, or just plain stupid lines. He takes the record's most interesting sample, Can's "Sing Swan Song" on "Drunk and Hot Girls," and develops a ever-so-compelling track about, well, drunk and hot girls. "Barry Bonds" sports a decent backdrop but Lil Wayne shows up weakly on a album that so desperately needs strong guest rappers. "Homecoming" just kinda sucks, ranking drastically below Late Registration's great "Heard 'Em Say," and Kanye wastes "The Good Life"'s vibrant, futuristic beat by quoting 50 Cent and celebrating. Such celebrating succeeds when you rhyme "packagin'" with "practicin'" and "accident" in a perfectly executed rhyme scheme, but fails without any go-to one-liners.
______Thus, we arrive at the core problem: West's wit and linguistic agility has deserted him. "Through the Wire", "All Falls Down", "Gone", "Touch the Sky"...the pop rhyming and hilarious pop culture references always worked in perfect symbiosis with West's inventive production. Songs were not complete until he dropped lines about Anakin, the Ghost of Christmas Past, cutting your hair cut like Eve, groupies screwing Usher, etc. This time around, Kanye goes completely hook-crazy, providing memorable verses only on rare occassions. The wise-ass Kanye could be forgotten with ease if emotional Kanye showed to up to pick up the slack, but instead of "Jesus Walks" or "Roses", we get the melodramatic instrumentation and cheesy chorus of "Big Brother." No thoughtful commentary on AIDS, minimum wage, blood diamonds, or anything else worth talking about.
______Yeah, it is his worst yet, but also the most promising. Musically, he lands the deal; lyrically, Kanye needs to reel himself in, abandon arrogant-K and return to the more devoted confident-K, the rapper who realized he needed more than top-notch production to establish his legendary status. Maybe he has just exhausted his arsenal of clever quips, but Kanye will not be able to move forward unless he gets his mojo back and starts spitting lines "She got a light skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson/
Got a dark skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson".

Kanye West - Stronger

The Good Life (video)

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