To the class of 2007,
There is more out there than this. You may think that it is noble to struggle, you make think it is honest to be true to where you started. But believe me when I say that letting go will let you fly. Remove your baggage and jump weightless into the clouds and don't look down until you have reached the top. You may think that it is crude to simplify all you have to say but believe me when I say that there are millions waiting if you are willing to speak their language. You may find it reductive to speak to the heart of the masses but believe me when I say there is nothing stronger than the unity of one crowd. Forget the rules, break the box, leave education. Believe George Clinton when he says "free your mind and your ass will follow".
It's time for my victory lap.
“I got to shine, Now throw your hands up in the sky.”
Graduating from what, to where?
Kanye West supported U2 on tour – a rap star in a pop stars world – and found conducting the emotions of thousands irresistible. Found power in symphonising euphoria; nothing was more alluring than a packed arena moving in clustered waves, blooming into dance at the pound of the drums beneath their feet and then drowning out their roars with your own music.
For Kanye, a man who had defied all expectations and found himself still unsatisfied, he had had a taste of the good life; for an hour of mingled expression and ego in front of the largest crowds of his life, he had seen his desires crystallised. And he understood that a new paradigm of hip-hop needed to be uncovered if he wanted to make home these arenas and make monuments out of these building-high speakers.
GRADUATION is Kanye’s diploma to fame. Having begun his career by dropping out of the producer role laid stiflingly out for him, he now decides to leave the traditional lyricism of hip-hop behind to build anthems for the masses. GRADUATION’S string of hook-heavy bangers are motor-pushed by trance beats with a club scope and overlooked by lightning synths. They sound better the higher the volume is and the volume will never crank high enough.
He graduates from soul. It is not a complete departure from the sample decked spins of West’s previous efforts, but GRADUATION samples Steely Dan on Champion, Daft Punk on the now iconic Stronger and isn’t afraid to lace guitar and rock into its hip-pop brew and any soul remaining is still run through liquor and electric, dripping in UV paint. His vision is a futurist utopia: to sing alone from stratospheric storm clouds hanging above the great coming together of neon stadiums. Heaven is a party and Mr. West’s set is next.
“I’ve been waiting on this my whole life.
These dreams be waking me up at night. You say
I think I’m never wrong,
You know what maybe you’re right.”
He graduates from the grind. Tired of playing in the sand with the petty rap game, numbers race and list debates (of which he never truly felt a part of from the start), he aims for the stars, launched by the thrust of a subwoofer. His crosshairs centre on the top and takes on 50 Cent in a sales battle and demolishes him, easily. Perfection possesses and Stronger takes on 75 different iterations before release. Its abundance in popular culture proves his efforts worth it.
He graduates this life and flies to the next, embraces celebrity in a sky where the stars are LED’s and you can lounge on a crescent moon. GRADUATION marks the first collaboration with Takashi Murakami, who concludes the trilogy by transforming the dropout bear into psychedelic anime, an inhabitant of a fantasy world that we no longer recognise. From all the way up there, Kanye becomes determinedly populist. Tricks of the trade learnt, he no longer will be called a “rapper” or a “producer”. Now, instead, a “musician”. He prophesises that one day hip-hop will be the new pop - perhaps in Kanye’s head it always was.