Time and time again, I’ve brought up the point of how hard it is to stay consistently relevant for so many years within the music industry. Really only a handful have the ability to be significant for over five years. This is especially true with regards to hip hop and the rap game. Everyone in the new generation wants to develop that one hit for the radio so they can stay on people’s radars. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not many artists have that specific talent of staying relevant through quality meaningful projects.
Kanye West has created a certain blueprint on how to create albums that will be remembered ten or twenty years from now. His third record (a classic) Graduation, is a perfect representation of that blueprint for multiple reasons.
People need to recognize that when your talking about the impact of this album, you have to look at the events that occurred leading up too, and on its release date. The battle between Kanye’s Graduation and 50 Cent’s Curtis record will forever be remembered as the “day rap changed.”
When Graduation obliterated Curtis as far as first week sales go, both 50 Cent and Kanye took totally different trajectories for the rest of their career immediately following that. Kanye was on the rise, while 50 Cent was sadly on the decline. Besides that, this was Kanye’s official introduction to the mainstream, and while there were a bevy of radio hits, all of them were quality produced and written.
It seems like everything Kanye does changes the landscape of something whether it’s music, fashion, or just through his crazy/genius interviews. Graduation was the transition from “gangster” rap to a more pop/synth style of hip hop, thus the reason why 50 Cent struggled so bad to recover from his underwhelming sales.
Just going through the track-list, its no wonder why Kanye’s third installment in his discography is probably one of his most popular and critically acclaimed project. His continuous school/anti-school theme stayed consistent on this album as a metaphor for Kanye finally believing that he has officially broken into the scene as one of the best out there.
Unlike on The College Dropout, Kanye sounds a lot more positive and content on his third project. He shows off his full capabilities on the beginning track, “Good Morning,” where he gives himself a wake-up call to enter the real world over a simple but beautiful beat sampled from Jay-Z’s “The Ruler’s Back.” It was the perfect introduction tonally for the rest of the album, especially leading into “Champion” and “Stronger;” songs that have lived on to be classics in the pop/rap genre. After the high-key confidence booster on the former song “Champion”, “Stronger” is a track that has actually aged surprisingly well. One of Daft Punk’s most famous samples has lived on to be a hit even ten years later. It was the perfect representation of where hip hop was heading at the time. Also, the “n- n- now that don’t kill me can only make me stronger” hook is one of the most famous choruses ever (I’ve used that phrase a lot) and has been used in other songs in different variations.
Meanwhile, “I Wonder” was one of the more underrated singles on the project, and still is. I love the sampling and the inspiring lyrics. On songs like this, Kanye was able to find the perfect balance of finding himself through his music while inspiring his fans at the same time. I will always defend Kanye especially when it comes to moments like these where he’s clearly at his best. “Good Life” has always been my go-to for just having a good time. I still hear this song ringing through the halls of my college dorm.
There’s barely any skippable tracks here, and songs like “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Barry Bonds” show Kanye’s versatility when it comes to making beats. Even though he rarely used trap drums, especially early on in his career, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” portrayed Kanye’s diversity in his music.
“Flashing Lights” gives me goosebumps even to this day, and is by far one of my favorite songs from him of all time (there’s that phrase again). The base is gorgeous and Kanye spits memorable lyrics such as, “she don’t believe in shooting stars, but she believe in shoes and cars,” and “try to hit you with the ol-wu-wopte, ’till I got flashed by the paparazzi.” He creates an almost perfect pop song.
Looking back ten years ago, it’s amazing to see how heartening Kanye was on “Everything I Am,” especially since he’s probably at his most humble. He basically made loving yourself cool and mainstream with this track.
We also can’t forget about the fantastic Chris Martin feature on “Homecoming,” where Kanye and Martin reminisce about the good times at their respective homes, especially with Ye’s two verses about Chicago specifically. It’s great how successful this track was, especially considering the risk of a rapper and an alternative singer pairing up for a song. Kanye has that same thankfulness on the final single, “Big Brother,” where he talks about how much Jay-Z has meant to him being his role model. This is definitely a very uplifting finale, and has this incredible message embedded within the lyrics.
I really can’t express how much Graduation has meant to me personally. It’s the first album I ever bought physically, and it’ probably one of the most re-listeneable rap albums ever in my opinion. Kanye’s ability to create a short, concise, and inspirational project is something that was uncanny compared to his contemporaries at the time. He made pop music with a purpose and that can’t be forgotten amongst his distinct discography.