Have you heard of this one? We’re gonna wrap up our rap foray with an album that needs no introduction. Everyone knows Kanye. Everyone knows Stronger. Most purposed music listeners will know of Graduation. There isn’t much of an excuse for not having heard it by now. I’ll tack this up to a self-indulgent week on my part, but there’s a bit more to this album. There’s a reason that (almost) triple platinum #1 albums sell as well as they do. Why did this one?
I’m going to structure this a bit differently and look at some aspects and impacts of this album. I could go on about the production (typical pop excellency, but slightly hollow and lacking fullness at times) or the artist’s intention as I typically do, but I’m the underdog here. If you haven’t heard Graduation, I’d have recommended it before I even heard the album myself. Kanye’s bigger than life. I’m entirely opposed to celebrity glorification, but industry does as industry profits. When you can sell out of $120 blank white t-shirts, you’re doing something right.
Kanye’s ego is a direct result of our community embracing it. There’s a devil/angel dichotomy to Kanye’s impact on music. I don’t think any sane person would encourage award-show-mic-stealing shenanigans. There is a line that needs to be drawn, but before you reach that, there’s method to the madness. It’s not an unjustified madness, which is disturbing. Kanye west is bigger than Jesus. Well, maybe “more popular” would be more accurate. Once the statement is qualified, it loses its impact, but his cuckold of society has permeated pop culture at alarming levels. The statement has already become less true today than it was 5 years ago, but Kanye’s belief in himself creates an infinite ego feedback loop, and without that, his music would fall flat. Graduation is a solid album, but it’s only game-changing because Kanye said it was.
Graduation was mainstream’s answer to the gangster plague. The early-mid 2000s rap game was dominated by G-Unit, Eminem, Ludacris, and the likes (I recognize none of those artists really qualify as Gangster Rap, but the genre’s influence was felt throughout the poppier rap of the time). Graduation really took rap to the pop mainstream. I’d be more likely to classify Graduation as a pop album before a rap album. Kanye’s a master of his craft. No one’s here to argue that. More than anything, he carved out a unique style of phrasing and song structure that was more inventive than the typical common meter. I actually felt that the album began to get tiring towards the end, but I’ve heard its influence on modern music for the past 8 years now. For its time, it was not only fresh, but as refreshing as the first day of spring after a long winter: it reminds you that music (and life) need not be one-dimensional.
But I get Kanye. It makes sense to me now more than before I listened to Graduation. I chuckled the first time I heard the phrase “Kanye broke character,” but there’s definitely truth behind it. Kanye doesn’t need to be bigger than Jesus. He just needs everyone to think that he is (or at least consider the idea) for it to be true. That’s what Graduation turned into: an album balanced on the extremely fine knife-edge that separates pop and rap music. Graduation not only toes the line, but sprints across it as if Usain Bolt set his world records on a tightrope. Kanye wouldn’t be Kanye without Kanye, and I find solace in that.