September 20, 2007


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Kanye West, Graduation
Rock-a-Fella Records, Sept. 11
With more teddy bears, more school-of-life metaphors and more stunt sampling, Kanye West has returned to the hip-hop scene with Graduation. Unfortunately Kanye’s clever lyrics didn’t get the memo to also show up for his third album along with everything else in the accomplished artist’s repertoire.

When Kanye is good, he is very, very good. “Stronger” takes a Daft Punk beat from five years ago and reshapes it into a track that will be used pre-game in locker rooms across the country as music to get hyped to. It’s a radio-friendly track that’s as good as anything West has released. “Homecoming” features Coldplay’s Chris Martin with a piano hook that instantly stacks to the back of your brain. However, even with the memorable beats in place, the lyrics never manage to catch up. In previous albums, Kanye has talked about everything from the Africa diamond trade to an ode to his mother. Here, he wastes most of the album defending his success against those who say he’s not hardcore enough for hip-hop. As a result, Kanye starts to sound less like the second coming of Marvin Gaye and more like a Will Smith knock-off. This is not a good thing.

Kanye even goes so far as to devote entire tracks to self-promotion. Seriously, why bother? What made West different was both his sound and his topics of choice. Here, when we get a great beat like the gravely, hypnotic one in “Barry Bonds,” Kanye uses it to explain how, like Bonds, he keeps delivering hits. Three years ago, a track titled “Bonds” would have been about steroids in baseball.

We miss the old Kanye. There’s enough going on in the album to suggest that the talent that made West one of the top beat-makers in the industry is still razor sharp, but Ye’s use of the beats has always been the weak link on his records. Here, those skills on the mike keep a good album from becoming a great one. B-Xander Scott