On a day, September 11, when we should’ve been united in solemn commemoration of the six-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we were divided into two camps. Not pro- and anti-war, Democrats vs. Republicans or even less filling and tastes great. No, two musical polemicists, Kanye West and 50 Cent, hip-hop icons who hail from opposite ends of multiple spectrums, separated us.
While each possesses an abiding confidence in their abilities to influence culture—convincing people what to wear (West in Louis Vuitton, 50 in bulletproof vests) and say (West shearing off words to make them rhyme like “asshole” and “fast fo-“ for fast forward; 50 shouting, “Go shorty, it’s ya birthday”)—Chicago’s finest producer has always been more musically creative, more socially relevant. So expectations for Graduation, his third in a series of albums with educational names, following College Dropout and Late Registration, were high—perhaps impossibly so. By now, his innovative-but-formulaic style of sampling from such eclectic sources as Thom Yorke and Peter Bjorn and John, is no longer novel. And it only works in spurts on the Graduation, the best example being “Stronger,” which borrows from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”
You keep listening for a “Jesus Walks”-type opus, for something comically incisive like “Workout Plan” or “Gold Digger,” but nothing. “Barry Bonds” is as disappointing as the Nas-Jay-Z collabo “Black Republicans,” in that the song itself never matches the promise hinted at by the title. From start to the finish, the beats, West’s forte, are generally good. His maturation as an emcee is where Graduation barely makes the grade. His flow often sounds forced, and he appears more content with turns of phrase—“I’m a fly Malcolm X/I buy any jeans necessary” on the track “Good Morning”—than cogent talking points.