Kanye has lost it. Well, sort of. I don't know. Shit, I'm sorry. Believe me, I am. I didn't want this to happen. Unlike most of the intelligent people in the world, I had convinced myself that his absurd behavior was justified, that he really was as good as all that. Apparently, I was wrong - Graduation doesn't hold a candle to either of his previous two albums.
The problem is that this is a good album. Well, a decent album. I want to love it or hate it, but it's kind of...meh. Of course, Kanye is still the best producer working. And when his verses match his musicianship, he's pretty unstoppable. Here and there, we see flashes of the old Kanye. You remember - crazy sample choices, justified self-references, and the second funniest lines in hip-hop (forget it - Luda is untouchable.) "Good Morning", the first track, pulls all of these levers. No one is going to write a doper line this year than, I'm like the fly Malcolm X / Buy any jeans necessary.
"Good Morning" is, I'll say it, the best album-opener since Dre's "The Watcher." But it works this well because it is ONLY an intro, so West's decision to follow it with "Champion," the easy choice for best song on the album, is smart. He builds a tight clap-track beat out of a really silly sample and then runs all over it lyrically. Unfortunately, the rest of the album can't maintain this pace. "Stronger," an admittedly slick single, goes on WAY. TOO. LONG. here. It's followed by "I Wonder," which is basically unlistenable. I don't think I've heard anyone rap this badly since I saw a pair of private-school teenagers battling drunk about who was drunker.
After that, the good songs pretty much abuse the old soul-beat formula and the bad ones don't even measure up to that standard. When I saw that there was a track co-starring Lil' Wayne called Barry Bonds, I flipped out. Just imagine the possibilities! But it turns out to be one of the album's weakest. Kanye. Pal. How the fuck did you convince Weezy to suck so much? My God. Whatever energy that took should have been used improving the beat. And "Drunk and Hot Girls" wastes the best verse I've ever heard Mos Def sing.
It's like he stuck the fucker on cruise control. There's the chill, humble song ("Everything I Am"), the gospel-based feel-good track ("The Glory") and the awkwardly personal closer ("Big Brother"). We've been here before. The second album was a huge expansion after the first, and it cleverly used some of the same devices. This one continues to beat those same dead horses, but fails almost entirely to innovate. This is his third album - who's ever heard of a JUNIOR slump? Or, even worse, a slump that happens to someone who announces that he's graduating?
To be fair, "Can't Tell Me Nothing" has a sick beat, if uninteresting lyrics. Same for "Flashing Lights." And "Homecoming" is a good time, if a little off (possibly because of the CHRIS MARTIN!!-sung hook). But none of these songs are going to have me putting the album on repeat.
I'd like to think that this is only a silly, often fun pop record. One, maybe, that Kanye didn't worry too much about. But Jay-Z has claimed that West produced seventy-five versions of "Stronger" before settling on the one here. So is this Kanye's chosen new direction? I sure hope not. I miss the days of twenty plus tracks, obnoxious Cedric the Entertainer guest-spots, the cleanest production I'd ever heard, and thoughtful, over-the-top rhymes. Most of all, I miss how much heart Kanye put into his songs. But, hoping against hope for the next one, I guess I can make do with a little thoughtless (even, curiously, soulless) fun.
My dreams crashing down in this kind of slow-motion shoulda-better known-better way.
6.5 / 10
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