So I got a copy of Kanye’s soon to be released album, Graduation. I wasn’t really a big fan of Late Registration. I thought Touch the Sky and Home were truly inspiring. Heard Em Say was a nice, simple, cool out joint. Crack Music was hot. Uh… wait a sec… I kinda liked We Major and of course everybody dug Diamonds. Perhaps I wasn’t so down on the album. But I just felt like there were too many “filler tracks.” There were a bunch of songs that I just didn’t dig, and I know I’ve been told I have the strangest taste, but Golddigger just got on my nerves every time I heard it.
By no means is Graduation perfect. Of the 15 or 16 songs that are on the album, there are about 6 gems — which is par for the course in this day and age. But the difference here is that the good songs are so good that they approach — in my humble opinion — Jesus Walks in their ability to inspire. No, I didn’t say that they’ll reach the commercial success that Jesus Walks enjoyed, but certainly these songs have a lot to say. And this is such a welcome effort considering the current state of the industry. I agree with Nas. Hip Hop is dead. It’s this commercialized whore that used to be fine but now she talks to every guy she sees. She was wonderful when you first laid eyes on her. Then after you heard her speak enough you wondered what you ever saw in her. But enough with the metaphors. With this album, Kanye is doing something that apparently few others have the courage or perhaps the artistic freedom to do — he’s being himself.
Aside from a few appearances by other artists like T-Pain and Mos Def, this album has absolutely no resemblance to anything that a modern day “rap star” would release. And that’s a good thing. The album kicks off with an easy intro — Good Morning — with a few hard hitting facts to try and “wake us up”. This isn’t anything really to write home about. But this helps us ease into the album.
It’s funny — Kanye’s albums seems to have a formula all to their own. Yeah, we all know there’s the “school theme” (College Dropout, Late Registration and now, Graduation). But more than this, I am always ready for an inspiring song to kick the album off. All Falls Down, despite a message that was meant to bring us down to Earth, was an incredibly uplifting beat. Touch the Sky was even more inspiring in beat and in message. With Graduation Kanye kicks off the album with a song called Champion and it’s just golden. It’s a love letter to a few folks who don’t hit 50 home runs a year and who don’t win the NBA Championship but who are more important to us than we realize. Just a snippet of the inspiration….
….but everytime I wanted to lay-a-way or deposit,
My dad would say, ‘When you see clothes, close your eyelids’,
He was sorta like Will Smith and his son,
In the movie (I ain’t talkin’ bout the rich ones,)
Cause every summer, he’d get some brand new hair-brained scheme to get rich from,
And I don’t know what he did for dough,
But he’s send me back to school with a new wardrobe…. (Hey…hey…hey…)
Did you realize…..that you were a champion? Yeah, right.
When you think back to all of those school years when you wonder how you always had enough for clothes, school supplies, and more….. this is the real tribute to that person who made sure that you always ‘had enough’. Incredible song. And at under three minutes, it’s probably a minute and a half too short. (When was the last time that a song had you wanting more?)
I hear a lot of people bumping to Stronger right now….and usually I don’t care for the commercially appealing joints. This song is o.k. It’s something for the club crowds. Sounds like you could snatch up a shorty and really dance to this one. But not one of my favorite tracks.
The album does have a few slow spots. I wasn’t a big fan of Can’t Tell Me Nothing. I think he should have release another song to try to generate hype for the upcoming album.
When I first heard he had a song called Barry Bonds, I thought it was a silly idea… or that it would be a preachy joint about what’s going on with Bonds right now. But it’s just an ill song….the beat is sick. Just a simple, hard, classic Hip-Hop beat. Sounds like the baseline was taken from a Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids baseline from in between the cartoon scenes.
There are a few other joints that are cool. There’s a joint with Chris Martin from Coldplay that’s cool. (When is Coldplay in anything that isn’t cool?) But I can’t wrap up this little mini-review without talking about my favorite track on the album: Big Brother.
On the surface, the song is about Kanye’s relationship with Jay-Z. It’s honest. And I’m sure it will generate controversy. It’s a blunt account of the ups and downs about their relationship. But for those that aren’t try to turn the song into a National Enquirer headline, there’s so much more to it. Honestly, as much as it critiques Jay-Z’s treatment and overlooking occasionally of his “Little Brother” Kanye, you can’t walk away with anything but a full heart of respect for Kanye. Like any relationship, it has it’s problems. But for someone who has always appeared to be incredibly egotistical, Kanye comes off so humble here. You can tell that he truly loves his “Big Brother.” It’s the kind of love where you don’t have to always be under someone or to buy them three foot tall birthday cards for them to know. I can’t say enough about this song. The beat is more than cool — the guitar baseline gives it almost an emotional feel to it. The lyrics are brilliant…
“My big brother was B.I.G.’s brother,
Used to be Dame and Biggs’ brother….”
Just brilliant. And you have to know the story to appreciate the play on words with Biggie and Kareem Burke (a.k.a. Biggs).
This song just fills me with so many emotions about mentoring relationships that I’ve had with older men — you always wonder why they were hard on you. And then when you reflect back on their influence, like any great teacher, you realize that whatever they did helped to motivate you. I think back to the relationship that I share with my sister and how hard it sometimes is to be the younger sibling in the shadow of another. This is one song where I’m truly looking forward to the video.
Without question, I’ll be supporting the album when it releases. But for now, I’ll just leave another lyric from this brilliant mind. It’d be so easy to leave this Hip Hop thing to the kids down south and just dig back through some of the albums I might have missed from the late 80s/early 90s when I think Hip Hop was at it’s crest. But then artists like Kanye keep dropping joints that remind me of why I’ve been a fan since I picked up that 12″ single of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in the music department of T.S.S. back in 1978 and handed it to my “Champion” (that being my mom, of course) and said, “Ken you git this fer me?…..Pleeeze?” Thanks for another gem, Kanye.
I get goosebumps thinking about what a Big Brother video would look like.
“…my big brother was B.I.G.’s brother,
So here’s a few words from your kid brother,
If you admire somebody you should gon ‘head and tell ’em,
People never get the flowers while they can still smell ’em,
An idol in my eyes,
God of the game,
Heart of the city,
Never be the same,
Never be another,
Number one Young Hov,
Also my big brother.
My big brother was B.I.G.’s brother,
Used to be Dame and Biggs’ brother,
Who was Hip Hop’s brother,
Who was No I.D.’s friend,
No I.D. my mentor and that’s where the story ends.”