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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Kanye West returns harder, better, faster, stronger

By Jules Ouanes

Believe it or not, Kanye West has grown up. Ever since he went from semi-known producer to rap superstar with two incredible albums, he’s been probably the most arrogant and ridiculous persona in the music industry. Whether it was his award show tantrums or outrageous political “statements”, Kanye never bit his tongue once. So it’s a little strange that in the weeks leading up to the release of his third album, he stayed relatively quiet. He’s even been the silent one in the whole 50 Cent vs. Kanye thing, which reeks of publicity stunt since both albums are being released under the same company. This maturation is displayed on “Graduation,” a masterfully produced record that is his most impressive and cohesive piece of work to date. This album is completely different from his previous efforts, and shows Kanye honing his craft as both an emcee and a producer. He’s traded in his signature helium samples and orchestral strings for glitzy synthesizers and an overtone of electronic influence, making for an original and unique style consistent throughout the album. This is interesting because in the years prior to Kanye’s success, he was an excellent but one-dimensional producer, rarely leaving his comfort zone. Musically, his evolution over his three albums is undeniable, and he continues to show why he is one of the most talented artists in rap.
Take the looped sample that kick-starts “Champion,” a brilliantly simple production that combines all the staples of a vintage Kanye track with a reappearing synth and soft handclaps. From this song alone it’s clear that West’s delivery and breath control, two things that have always plagued him as an emcee, are much improved. This blends into the robotic, computerized single “Stronger,” which fuses the familiar Daft Punk sample and some of the most addictive drum patterns of the year. I liked this song a lot when it came out this summer, and it only sounds better after seeing how perfectly it fits with the rest of the album.

Kanye turns each beat he makes into an event, from the swerving, warped club sound of “Drunk and Hot Girls” to the celebratory “Good Life,” which features a vocal sample drowning under layers of synths. “The Glory” follows a similar trend, but with rising strings and a subtle drum pattern that leaves space for Kanye to explore more complex inflections and rhyme schemes.

It’s clear that he intended this album to showcase his ability on the mic, and while he still pulls out the occasional embarrassing line (“I’m like Gnarls Barkley meets Charles Barkley”), he is a much better rapper than he’s given credit for. “Homecoming,” which features Chris Martin from Coldplay, is a perfect example. The song’s been around for years, but this one has a different beat and Kanye’s flow sounds infinitely better even though he’s rapping the same lyrics he wrote in 2003. He sounds more comfortable than ever and matches up his multi-syllable rhymes with the changing piano loop flawlessly.

While “Graduation” is an incredibly consistent album, it reaches its peak shortly before the end of its 13 tracks. “Everything I Am” is a beautifully made production, as West takes two completely different piano loops and merges them brilliantly to the point that their contrasting patterns sound completely natural. Perhaps the album’s best song is the luminous “Flashing Lights,” which has Kanye at the top of his game lyrically over one of the most accomplished beats he’s ever come up with. The song’s slow, relaxed strings are accompanied by echoing handclaps, setting the stage for an explosion of stuttering synths into the speakers.

With “Graduation,” Kanye has made an album for the masses without sacrificing any artistic credibility at all. He does this by stepping outside the basic construct of hip-hop productions and combining elements from different genres, especially electronic, to form a truly original sound. Kanye has always been respected, but I feel he has reached a new level with this album, solidifying his place among the rap elite, which is something he obsesses over much more than his album sales. All three of his records are borderline classics, and considering how fast he’s achieved that, there’s really no more consistent artist in the industry right now. He could have so easily played it safe with this one, but he took a huge risk which paid off and created what is easily the best rap album of 2007.

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