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Music Review

Kanye West: 'Graduation'

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Kanye West: 'Graduation'
Released on Monday, Sep 10 2007

Never has a young artist been so obsessed with his legacy. The annual rants when he’s snubbed at the MTV awards, the relentless self-aggrandisement, the way he’s conceived his first three albums as an autobiographical trilogy (Graduation picks up the narrative, in rather self-explanatory fashion, from 2004’s The College Dropout and 2005’s Late Registration), they all point to one thing: Kanye West, 30 this year, is hell-bent on becoming a legend.

Unsurprisingly, he’s greedy too. Graduation’s job isn’t just to turn its auteur into a hip-hop demi-God, but also to position him at the pinnacle of pop culture right here, right now. As a result, it positively oozes 2007. Lead single 'Stronger' brilliantly rides its Daft Punk sample to the point where hip-hop and noughties electro collide, while its staccato synth washes suggest that Timbaland’s “additional programming” credit might be a tad stingy. But West drops names as often as he drops beats: Kate Moss, Beyoncé, Gnarls Barkley, Queen Latifah, Snakes on a Plane and will.i.am are all name-checked, presumably because West wants to stand alongside them in the class of 2007. West also continues hip-hop's slightly inexplicable infatuation with wet English soft-rockers by roping in Chris Martin, the Sting of our times, to tinkle the ivories and croon the chorus on 'Homecoming', an impressive slow jam.

Predictably, West’s infatuation with modernity, with hipness and with himself has a flip-side. Graduation is imbued with as much depth as an excerpt from Jodie Marsh's autobiography. West’s incessant bragging about his material possessions soon becomes wearing, reaching saturation point when he boasts about owning “clothes with logos” over a super-sped Laura Nyro sample on 'The Glory'. He’s pretty sure of his talents, too: on 'Barry Bonds', a song which isn't, as its title suggests, an ode to a forty-something window-cleaner from Grimsby, he claims: "I'm doing pretty well as far as geniuses go." We can't believe him, because when he attempts to address a more troubling issue - namely, that there were 600 gun-related deaths in Chicago last year – West is stumped. The best he can come up with? "Man, killing is some whack s**t." A date with Whitney Houston to discuss which is whacker, killing or taking crack, must surely follow.

When West takes a break from promoting himself like a page three girl at a film premiere, he's capable of fashioning some of the freshest, most memorable hip-hop tunes of the year. 'Champion' is an electro-infused old skool jam with a neat nod to a fallen idol ("Lauryn Hill say her heart was in Zion, I wish her heart still was in rhymin'), while 'Flashing Lights' pulls off the impressive trick of making a jittering synth sequence sound like a Wurlitzer organ. Just as remarkable is 'Drunk and Hot Girls', a dirge-like shuffle which captures the same sense of menace and desolation as The Specials' 'Ghost Town'. It also contains Graduation’s most revealing lyrics: West chastises a nightclub conquest for running up his bar bill, asking him to give her friend a lift home and, eventually, sobering up. Perhaps the life of a superstar playa isn't quite what it’s cracked up to be.

If this album really is Kanye West’s graduation, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s under-achieved. A handful of tracks - 'Stronger', 'Flashing Lights', the cock-rock swagger of 'Big Brother' - prove that the macho bragger is still one of hip-hop’s sharpest operators. But, until he learns to curb his narcissism, those first class honours will have to wait.

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