Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Kanye Review, My Take, That's Take Two

(Ben D. Schuman-Stoler)

First of all, I’m not sure I agree with most reviewers’ first statement when they take on Kanye’s Graduation. They say that Graduation has salvaged 2007 from an otherwise miserable hip-hop year. I have three words: None Shall Pass.

Ok, to business.

Graduation is good. Really good. Rarely do I hear an album whose first play makes it stick. Every song has something catchy. “Even Drunk And Hot Girls,” the most meaningless, repetitive, and annoying song on the album, has something in it that has me repeating the chorus under my breathe—at least until I catch myself.

None of the other songs, however, produce such embarrassment. The musicality of the album is universally appealing: danceable (“Stronger”), meditative (“Everything I Am”), galvanizing (“Homecoming”), and sometimes all of that in a single song (“Good Life”). The album is so dynamic it fits almost any mood, almost any get-together.

The lyrics and message of the album are more complicated and varied. Take the final song of the album, “Big Brother.” We see Kanye try and sneak one past us with some rhythmically pleasing lines that match the beat and impress the masses with vague unspecified lyrics that don’t make any sense—like his big punchline “people never get the flowers, while they can still smell em”…what the hell does that mean?. But he also tantalizingly gives us a rare view into the machinations of his relationship with Jay-Z (“but to be number one, I’ma beat my brother”).

There has been much talk as to the cockiness and egocentricity of Kanye on the album. But that every song on the album has some kind of over inflated, self-aggrandizing proclamation doesn’t add up to compromised morals, as some critics would claim. Instead, it’s part of something bigger: Kanye isn’t only talking about how great he is (which is, along with competition, a fundamental characteristic of hip-hop lyrics), he is talking about the fulfillment of dreams.

It just so happens that his dream is to dominate the hip-hop world and live a lush pampered life.

Take the song “Champion.” The hook (“Did you realize that you’re a champion in they’re eyes”) and the title are completely self-promoting, and the song is filled with the kind of upper class snobbery that fills the rest of the album (“I shop so much I can speak Italian”). But these statements are built on other ones, not more modest, but more constructive. So Kanye mentions his father’s aversion to buying him the clothes he wanted. What Kanye is really saying is, "I worked my butt off to get what I wanted."

I have no problem with that; it was Thoreau, after all, who said, "I will not through humility become the devil's attorney."

Critics have also talked about Kanye’s rhyme style and debated about his place in the lyrical hierarchy. I don’t think there’s much argument here. He is a smart rapper and a good performer (he definitely falls under KRS’s definition as a true MC) but he has average flow (see “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” it’s gross, most of its rhymes have conspicuous clunky pauses in them just to make them fit…he sounds like Young Joc) and too often the points he makes are diluted by the same dumb-it-down-for-the-people attitude mainstream hip-hop has had since the beginning of time.

So, whether or not this album is one of the greatest of all time is not for me to decide—we’ll leave that for future critics. What I do know is that there are 12 good songs on this album in which Kanye’s brilliant production and witty creativity combine to overshadow and supercede any and all of his weaknesses.