It’s Yeezy season.
I didn’t go long without a Kanye album, did I? But it’s pretty funny actually; I used to hate Kanye.
Around the time I entered high school, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out, and it was the talk of the music world. I, on the other hand, was doing everything possible to talk down on an album I never listened to. My friends would always tell me my music opinions didn’t matter because who cares for 14-year-old who doesn’t even listen to Kanye. So what did I do?
I downloaded all five Kanye albums and listened to them all constantly over the course of a couple of weeks.
And now Kanye is my second favorite artist.
Kanye released “Graduation” back in 2007; I was only 11, and I probably listened to more rock and pop music than rap at the time, but I found myself following this album carefully. I was so interested because of the drama surrounding the album’s release, more specifically, the rap beef.
Kanye West vs. 50 Cent.
I didn’t know much about rap, but I knew 50.
Who didn’t? In ’07, 50 Cent was the biggest out. He was undeniably the hottest rapper out at the time, if not the hottest artist in music altogether. 50 had everything; He had the hits, he had the awards, and he had the fame. Heck, he was even a star actor, and now his latest album, “Curtis” was set to release on 9/11.
But Kanye was up next.
Kanye was rap’s next star, and everyone knew it. He had the confidence that you either loved or hated. He had the swag, displaying the beginning stages of the trendsetter he is now. His music was unquestionable. His first two albums, “College Dropout” and “Late Registration,” both went platinum. And to top it all off, he had the boldness. He moved the release date of “Graduation” a week earlier, despite the fact that 50 was also dropping that day, setting up a duel on the sixth anniversary of 9/11.
The battle was set.
Kanye West had the audacity to not only take on the then King of Hip-Hop but to take him on and win. When the first week numbers arrived, 50 had another remarkable outing as “Curtis” sold 691,000 copies. Kanye smashed 50 Cent, “Graduation” almost went platinum in its opening week with 957,000 copies sold. With a win over 50 Cent and the best-selling album in America, “Graduation” was the album that crowned Kanye West as hip-hop’s new King.
“Graduation” is an iconic album for many reasons. Along with changing the landscape of rap music, the album musically is some of Ye’s best. The album is filled with heavy bars, radio hits, and a couple of the most successful singles in rap history.
“Graduation” opens up with the perfect college themed song “Good Morning.” “Good Morning” finds Kanye taking us through stages of his makeshift college career with each verse. One of my favorite Kanye songs follows up in “Champion.” Everything we love about Kanye’s rapping style is in this song. Whether that is bars about his past, “And I ain’t saying we was from the projects/ But anytime I wanna layaway or deposit/ My Dad say when you see clothes, close ya eyelids” or the typical brag-rap of Yeezus, ” You don’t see just how fly my style is/ I don’t see why I need a stylist/ when I shop so much I could speak Italian,” the lines are there.
As I stated earlier, “Graduation” is filled with smash hits, and the next track, “Stronger” is the biggest of them all, if not of Kanye’s career. Stronger is the song that catapulted Kanye to mainstream success, and it’s easy to see why. He brought a new element to rap by fusing a Daft-Punk sample and an electronic-pop beat, ensuring a crossover appeal. Oh and lyrically, it was some of Kanye’s best work.
“Stronger” is the biggest hit, but the album has plenty more. “Good Life,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Homecoming,” and “Flashing Lights” all had big-time commercial success. Tracks like “Everything I am” and “Big Brother” wasn’t as big on the charts, but were stand out songs in their own right.
“Good Life” became a radio banger. The track featured T-Pain, a song he fit perfectly on; T-Pain killed his part of the hook, and he added a beautiful outro on the song to top it off. Kanye wasn’t any slouch either as he added two solid verses and name-checked 50 Cent on his part of the chorus.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is a top five Kanye song of all time. No debate. Ye’ snaps from start to finish. ” I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven when I awoke, I spent that on a necklace/ I told God I’d be back in a second, man it’s so hard not to act reckless,” is one of the most legendary opening bars in rap history. Lines about materialism are plenty, whether it’s warnings from his mother “Bought more jewelry, more Louis V, my momma couldn’t get through to me, ” or just him bragging about his toys, “Let up the suicide doors, this is my life, homie you decide yours.” One of Kanye’s greatest songs ever, and he even believes so.
“Homecoming” is my personal favorite Kanye song off this album.
On “Homecoming,” Kanye takes us through his love affair with his city. “I met this girl when I was three years old/ what I loved most she had so much soul/ she said excuse me lil homie, I know you don’t know me/ but name is Windy and I love to blow trees” Kanye paints the picture with beautiful metaphors and slick Chicago references. The first verse Kanye introduces us to Chicago, but on the second the tone becomes a more somber one, at least at the beginning. Kanye starts the verse out lamenting about not being in Chicago that much anymore, and now Chicago has grown to resent Kanye for it. “You see, you left your kids, and they just like you/ they wanna rap and make soul beats, just like you/ but they just not you,” Chicago expresses to Kanye in anger, and Kanye is remorseful Kanye is sorry, but he states it’s something that just had to be done. The song showcases Kanye’s storytelling prowess, and it featured Coldplay member, Chris Martin, who provided an excellent chorus.
“Everything I am” might be the realest song Kanye ever wrote. He admits his faults, but also acknowledges those very faults make him who is, ” So say goodbye to the N-double-A-C-P award/Goodbye to the India Arie award/ They’d rather give me the n*gga-please award/ But I’ll just take the I-got-a-lot a-cheese award.”
Big Brother” is another must listen. “Big Brother” is Kanye’s almost ten-minute long ode to his biggest inspiration, Jay- Z, “On that “Diamonds” remix I swore I spazzed ,then my big brother came through and kicked my ass/ Sibling rivalry, only I could see, it was the pride in me that was drivin’ me/ At the Grammys I said I inspired me, but my big brother who I always tried to be.”
“Graduation” was an iconic album. It might not be the best in Kanye’s catalog, but it arguably did the most for his career. It had the hits that not only brought Kanye rap recognition but also gave him crossover appeal. The crossover appeal brought him the mainstream success he hadn’t seen before, which made him one of the biggest names in music. The album also anointed him the new Hip-Hop King, as it was the album that ended 50 Cent’s reign at the top and opened doors for a new sound in rap to take over. “Graduation” graduated Kanye West from budding rap star to music royalty, a place Kanye always knew he would one day be.