Last week saw 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attack (& the release of Jay Z’s The Blueprint). Although, it is also the 10th Anniversary of Kanye West’s third major label studio album, Graduation. While many would dub My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as his greatest album (hands down), Graduation captures an atmosphere within it’s near-hour long playlength that Kanye has yet to replicate. The album lacks skits and interludes (prevalent in College Dropout & Late Registration). West had many hands involved in the project & at the time, it was his shortest album. But what made Graduation such a success is the growth portrayed in Kanye West’s artistry from the features he chose, the manner in which it is arranged and his production choices.
Graduation boasts features from Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Dwele, Mos Def, Chris Martin & DJ Premier. A beautiful lineup of features considering the time-period (Lil Wayne was nearing the release of Tha Carter 3 and Mos Def & DJ Premier are indisputed legends in Hip Hop). And it isn’t excessive. Lil Wayne’s freestyled verse in “Barry Bonds” could stand as a testament to the level of fame and success he had acquired and DJ Premier’s hand styles on “Everything I Am” was a touch that further proved West’s grounding in Hip-Hop culture. Though one could claim that the instrumentation takes the album in another direction (And that isn’t a bad thing whatsoever).
The production that was chosen stood outside of the conventional sped-up soul sample instrumentals that Kanye was so recognized for and drew towards a more electronic soundscape that was innovative in mainstream Hip Hop at the time. The Daft Punk sampled single “Stronger” propelled West to a new direction in his identity in music, and that is especially evident in the vividly bright and colorful music video for said single. While this was the single that arguably defined his artistic direction, the production on “Graduation” was varied enough to make the album coherrent, yet unexpected. From the opener “Good Morning” to the closer “Big Brother”, “Graduation” starts off with outstanding momentum, begins to settle into “I Wonder” where the rhythm continuously picks up and slows down until the last minute of the album.
For the new generation and older generations alike, Kanye West provided a soundtrack to just what the title entails (a graduation). Even though this record went toe to toe with the release of an already established Hip Hop artist at the peak of his music career (50 Cent’s “Curtis“), “Graduation” peaked at #2 on the charts and stands as the masterpiece that followed “Late Registration” & preceded “808s & Heartbreak“…