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ALBUM PREVIEW: Kanye West’s Graduation

Kanye West has a big budget. Upon arrival at his album listening session, attendees were given a cheesy, plastic/vinyl version of those mini-blind sunglasses West has been seen rocking lately, along with a Playbill looking program that contained a tracklisting and lyrics to each song. Color no less; dropping a third album on Def Jam has it’s perks. Many a celeb, wannabe celeb, and the masquerading celeb’s +1’s were in the building, New World Stages, to peep the Louis Vuitton Don’s new jawn, Graduation. Real talk, once you got past all the groupie cheering, ‘Ye just might have outdone himself with this sonic treat. After the obligatory hour or so of industry schmoozing, those in attendance were instructed to enter an auditorium to finally here this album apparently a lot of people are checking for. The theater was quickly at capacity and then Kanye West himself stepped on stage to get the show started. West looked cool as a fan, though it should be noted he was rocking what looked like a down vest, in August. Anyway, after some intro commentary (he assured the audience this is one of the top 10 albums in Hip-Hop history), he asked everybody to “sit back and enjoy it.”GOOD MORNINGWhen the lights dimmed in the theater, some groupie like clapping started (this will be a recurring theme) before the spooky vocals and body numbing bass of this joint kicked. On the screen in the middle of the stage played imagery of what seemed like outtakes from 2001 A Space Odyssey, or something like that. The song though, banoodles. Dope song to set things off.  CHAMPION SOUNDThis sounds like some vintage, Kanye West staple soul sampling ish. It’s got a really party and celebratory vibe to it. Except now Kanye productions sound bigger than life itself. The Chi-town delegate is much improved and you can really tell so on this cut. There is no video accompaniment for this song but there is crazy lighting going on across the stage. This is some true champion sound ish. Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 9/10, it’s the second song and we’re just getting warm. STRONGERUnless you’ve been anticipating that new Wayne Newton album, you’ve surely heard this number already. Nevertheless, Ye’s handles must have planted some ringers in the audience because people proceed to clap like this is the new crack. Note to those who rock their music solely on tinny computer speakers or suspect headphones, a booming system, like the one in the theater, is the only way this song gets its true justice. It sounds like some Night at The Roxbury meets Akira for an apocalyptic battle of the the beats, or something. Caucasian Acceptance meter: 9/10, Daft Punk got plenty of fans. Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 8/10 I WONDERClips from the OG sci-fi film Tron are on the screen and the Atari devotees are geeked. As for the song, crashing rim shots and swelling synth drench this track. Note to would be and established producers, Kanye’s drum kit is ridiculous. The song has a bridge where things open for the slap ya momma snares, tumbling kick drums and winding synth to come front and center. Forgive the cliché, but—banger!GOOD LIFE f/ T-PainYeah, T-Pain.  Akon must have been busy. Really, what happens if the vocoder doesn’t make it to the venue by showtime? The beat is sick—more marauding synth with a celebratory vibe—and Ye’s rhyme are pretty good. T-Pain couldn’t blow this one. Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 10/10, T-Pain got a fanbase, score another one for West. Caucasian Acceptance meter: 3/10, all races should be weary of this T-Pain character.CAN’T TELL ME NOTHINGYes, another track that’s been getting burn for month. Doesn’t stop those pesky cheerleaders from hootin’ and hollerin’. Unlike “Stronger” the video isn’t played. That line; “Life is a, uh, depending on how you dress her/So if the devil wear Prada/Adam, Eve wear nada, I’m in between but way more fresher.” Get it. Pretty ill.Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 7/10, they spent most of their energy when the song started. BARRY BONDS f/ Lil WayneYa know, it used to be the case where Kanye stayed getting lyrically outdone on his own songs. Yeah, it’s true—think anything with Mos Def or Common. But on this Barry Bonds ish, he murks Weezy. Yeah, it’s true. On the video screen was what looked like a Sonny Chiba movie. The beat and song itself isn’t re-inventing the wheel, but it’s still better than 95% of the R&B masquerading as Hip-Hop music we hear today. Caucasian Acceptance meter: 10/10, Lil Wayne is the new Clipse.DRUNK AND HOT GIRLSNOTE: Mos Def is singing, not rapping. **sigh** Remember how you killed on “2 Words”,  Mos? We want you to rap, please.The track is a slow burner that sounds like it could fit in a Mad Max movie. There is some anime on the screen…whoa, naked cartoon chicks on the screen…girl on girl action! Maybe the lesbian porno was a ploy to distract listeners from this lull in the album. Eat your heart out Beanie Sigel, Kanye got naked (cartoon) chicks screening at his listening session, son! Nevertheless, “Drunk and Hot Girls” will bump if you smoke copious amounts of sour diesel along with it. Shout out to Washington Heights.FLASHING LIGHTSOn an album full of heatrock production this is one of its best beats. The drums clap hit like gunshota and the overall sound just feels tightly orchestrated.  There are more Asian chicks on the screen, these are alive. This songs sounds like some hyper advanced neo-soul.Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 10/10, one of the album’s bestEVERYTHING I AMThe tracks is built around somber chords and Kanye rocks a slow flow over it. There is nothing playing on the screen, likely meaning West wants heads to really pay attention. Verse 3, “I know people wouldn’t usually rap this/But I got the facts to back this/Just last year Chicago had over 600 caskets/Man killings some wack shit/Oh I forgot except when ni**as is rappin/Do you know what it feel like when people is passin/He got changed for his chain a block off of Ashland/I need to talk to somebody pastor/The church want tithe so I can’t afford to pay/Pink slip on my door cause I can’t afford to stay/My 15 seconds up but I got more to say/That’s enough Mr. West please no more today. DJ Premier adds some understated but effective scratches on the chorus too. This one will get plenty of rewinds. Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 6/10, I’m saying, we’re 10 songs in. THE GLORYThe song is only two verses and West delivers them with a mean swagger. It sounds like an orchestra of voices on the hook. Should be expected since the song is called “The Glory” Pretty much a safe album joint on first listen.HOMECOMINGWord, it’s about time John Legend appeared. Surely heads were wondering when this cat would pop up [pause]. Oh nah, it’s actually that cat from Coldplay (Chris Martin) doing all the crooning over a groove built around keys, thudding kicks and a mean bassline. Not sure if this is knocking over Big Brother Jiggas “Beach Chair,” though. Peace to Chi-town.Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 8/10, folks are getting riled up for the finale. Caucasian Acceptance meter: 10/10, it’s frikkin’ Coldplay.BIG BROTHERMuch has been made of this let’s say “homage” to Jay-Z. Playing on the video screen is images and footage of Jigga video. The song itself is definitely an emotional ride and West bares his soul on the track. It’s a monster. The crowd gets particularly amped when during the,“My big brother was B.I.G.’s, used to be Dame and Biggs brother,” part of the hook, images of the Roc-a-Fella trio flash on screen.  .Groupie Cheering at End of Song Level: 10/10, it’s Hova, baby.VERDICT:At the album’s conclusion West stepped on stage to a round of applause. Some of the super cool industry cats were inclined to give him a standing ovation. He proceeded to speak at length at everything from the process of creating the album, his influences (“My music is New York at the end of the day, I’m not gonna front.”), his favorite songs (“‘I Wonder’ is my version of [U2’s] ‘City of Blinding Lights’.”) to his own occasional fear (“I’m scared, then I prepare, and then I stunt.) to, of course, that good ol’ confidence (“”That’s why I got the #1 song in the hood with tight jeans on.”).Though his claims of Graduation  being one of the Top 10 rap albums of all time are a bit premature, this album is damn good. A lean lucky 13 tracks with no distracting skits and out of this world production, it’s easily one of the Top 5, even Top 3 albums of the year, and the summer ain’t even over yet. 50 Cent has got his work cut out for him. Oh yeah, Vitamin Water.

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