If I could think of a word to describe Kanye West, it would be “creator.” From music, to art, to fashion, to controversy: the man has spent quite literally his entire career creating one thing or another. While West is certainly not a perfect man (and honestly, no one is) I personally think of him as an inspiring figure. Like him, I also like making things, from articles of writing to articles of clothing to anything in between. With this in mind, I wanted to go back about fifteen years to write about Ye’s third album: 2007’s “Graduation.”
“Graduation” marks the conclusion of a trilogy of studio releases made up of this project and his previous two records: “The College Dropout” from 2004 and 2005’s “Late Registration.” These albums, all following an educational theme, also happen to be West’s first three studio albums. Despite the connection to the first two projects, “Graduation” is definitely not just a rehash of Ye’s previous works. Songs like “Stronger” and “Flashing Lights” feature heavy electronic influences, contrasting with the more soulful samplings of previous albums. That isn’t to say that all the soul is gone from this album, though, as in the same tracklist Ye freely samples from artists like Labi Siffre.
“Good Morning” is the opener of “Graduation” and makes it very clear that this album is not like the one that came before. Sampling Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” this track outlines Ye’s “graduation” as a rapper, allowing the artist to move into the big leagues. While the song does reference “Wake Up Mr. West,” the intro off “Late Registration,” this is the first opening track of West’s to actually contain musical elements.
“Stronger,” one of five singles from “Graduation,” is arguably the highlight of the album. Pulling from the Daft Punk hit “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the track slows things down and marks one of West’s earlier forays into electronic music. While not his first song to use the technique, “Stronger” was an early step towards the sonic style that would become the trademark of his next project, “808s & Heartbreak,” and would push West ever closer to the stadium superstardom he dreamed of.
Even his more soulful songs screamed of stadium visions, with “I Wonder,” the song with the Labi Siffre sample I mentioned earlier, seamlessly blending soul and electronic stylings. In fact, the blend is so seamless, that when I heard the song that “I Wonder” samples, “My Song” off Siffre’s 1972 album “Crying Laughing Loving Lying,” I was blown away by just how different the Siffre sample is from the West song. “My Song” is an acoustically orchestrated piece with beautifully flowing lines about Siffre’s love for music while “I Wonder” is a synth-driven hip-hop song with vocals that can only be described as choppy.
As the name of the album implies, this album is West’s “Graduation,” making it a fitting project to review as I prepare for my own graduation in May, and in natural Ye style, I’m going to turn something that very much isn’t about me into something self-centered. As West used his time in proverbial rap college to prove himself as an artist, I feel I’ve been able to prove myself as a creator in my own right and I’m grateful for the opportunities not just within The Vector, but all over the university to try to make change and build something new. Thank you, NJIT, for giving me a place where I could — to quote Labi Siffre — “find [my] dreams come true.”