Finding The GOAT Album: Kanye West’s Graduation vs. Common’s Be. Which Is Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.

In the mid-2000s, Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music imprint became one of the most exciting labels in music. In 2005, ‘Ye would executive produce Common’s Be. The sixth album from the Chicago, Illinois veteran was a redefining moment in his zigzagging career. Comm’ rediscovered his ruggedness and sharpened his pen over grabbing beats by West and J Dilla. Two and a half years later, Kanye West’s Graduation reached a new level for him, as well. The MC/producer closed out his collegiate series with a new knowledge of himself—with his ego playing valedictorian. Although officially a Roc affair, the LP further cemented G.O.O.D.’s Midas touch. Both efforts would grab awards, receive plaques, and maintain esteemed status in the years that followed. Teacher and student, label honcho and star acquisition, this crosstown battle raises a number of questions (click one then click “vote”).


Graduation by Kanye West

After 2005’s Late Registration, Kanye West’s fame, personality, and musical respect started to orbit. The new face of Roc-A-Fella Records began to take on the public persona of a frowning outspoken celebrity who shunned media, and wanted a legacy that eclipsed Rap’s confines. With that, his move into the second half of the decade dismissed the Soul samples that helped introduce him. ‘Ye was also at a reported distance from mentor Jay Z, and being tested to hold the wall himself. Graduation furthered the academic-themed series, with Kanye West stepping out into the world, diploma in hand, with only the contents of his imagination to hold him together.

Graduation splashed neon on Kanye’s wild world. The album had an Electro undertone, from the fuzziness of the bassline on “Big Brother” to the charged Daft Punk backbone of “Stronger.” Once crisp and soulful, ‘Ye entered a cosmos of stadium-sounds, and booming bass hits. This album was part New Wave, part European strip club, and part orchestra on acid. Lyrically, Kanye’s themes became grandiose and personal. “Everything I Am” was unapologetic, and yet universal. “Homecoming” was West’s update on his curious relationship with Chicago, at a time when he was globetrotting with models and moguls. However, for all of the self-awareness, Kanye West was moving ahead with his own joyride. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” created a rags-to-riches anthem, while “Stronger” celebrated life’s bumps on the head with pure stuntery. “Good Life” bottled ecstasy, with a T-Pain Auto-Tune and a minced Michael Jackson sample. Graduation is unquestionably Kanye’s happiest, most hopeful album. In many ways, the “wait-til’-I-show-you” theme of the third album casts the widest net of accessibility. With DJ Toomp, Nottz, Mike Dean, and Jon Brion on hand, ‘Ye successfully transitioned into a new era of his production and album-making. Although the “school daze” nostalgia of “Chipmunk Soul” gave way to thumping, elaborate arrangements, nobody was complaining. Kanye’s artistic manifestation reached a deeper level on Graduation. It contends as not only his most cohesive work, but a testament to what makes West’s albums so satisfying, no matter the tone or theme.

Album Number: 3
Released: September 11, 2007
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, October 2007; certified platinum, October 2007; certified 2x platinum, October 2007)
Song Guests: Mos Def, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Dwele, DJ Premier, Chris Martin, Connie Mitchell, Tanya Herron, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Jalil Williams, Jehireh Williams, Daphne Chen, Eric Gorfain, Luigi Mazzocchi, Charles Parker, Igor Szwec, Emma Kummrow, Olga Konopelsky, Gloria Justen, Peter Nocella, Leah Katz, Alexandra Leem, Alma Fernandez, Mike Dean, Darryl Beaton, Andy Chatterly, Chris Rob, Richard Dodd, John Krovoza, Jennie Lorenzo, Tim Ressler, Omar Edwards, Eric Hudson
Song Producers: (self), Nottz, DJ Toomp, Mike Dean, Plain Pat, Gee Roberson, Jon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Brian Miller, Tommy D


Be by Common

Common is a proven master of reinvention. After reaching a new plateau with Like Water For Chocolate, Common trusted his hot artistic hand. The MC enveloped his bohemian lyrics with a live band for the Electric Circus. While the daring album produced hits, Comm’s status as a purist Hip-Hop hero was challenged. More than two years later, Common returned with Be. Without much warning (only a Chappelle’s Show shot in the air), Rashid Lynn reappeared in the midst of the Kanye West meteoric rise. However, the album simply did not attach Common’s wagon to ‘Ye’s horsepower. Instead, Be allowed Common to step out of his own corner, and project his artistry on the mid-2000s populist problems, his own city’s vibe, and flip some mean street narratives. With a Grammy nomination, a new plaque, plus the restored trust and faith of a culture, this may be the most important pivot between Common the B-boy and Common the Oscar winner.

“The Corner” would return Common to the concrete. Although the South Side MC had never been a gangsta rapper, he was always able to rap about hanging out, swilling beer, and being relatable to the figures of the block. Having watched that change a bit in the early 2000s, this song—assisted by Rap pioneers The Last Poets, delivered Comm’ to his turf. Kanye West made that drop-off sound nothing short of incredible, with his chirped-up Soul, and sharp arrangements. Throughout Common’s career, the MC had the ability to command attention in long-form, story-driven songs. “Testify” would reach new terrain. With a femme fatale, suspense, and the art of the reverse, the soulful record was Film Noir-meets-a Dateline crime special. Common basked in the opportunity, and could artfully and unabashedly rhyme about things beyond his wheel-house. With Kanye on the mic, “The Food” somehow was a 2005 rendition of a record that sounded like it could have belonged to One Day It’ll All Make Sense. With a revamped sound, and refreshed demeanor, Common was making a pilgrimage back to the place where he was his best. But Common had hardly dropped his MCA years sound. The J Dilla-produced “Love Is…” not only retooled the perceived sonic misfires of Circus, it forecast where the MC would go through the rest of the 2000s. Be reassessed. It refined. The album restored Common to one of Hip-Hop’s most human, gifted voices. With Kanye, Dilla, James Poyser, and Karriem Riggins at the table, Common made an album that seemingly nobody saw coming. When Hip-Hop was especially unforgiving, Be was a reminder that art is a series of advances, experiments, and retreats. No 15-year veteran seemed to be using the opportunity more righteously than Comm’ Sense.

Album Number: 6
Released: May 24, 2005
Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, July 2005)
Song Guests: Kanye West, The Last Poets (Abiodun Oyewole & Umar Bin Hassan), Bilal, John Mayer, John Legend, James Poyser, DJ Dummy, DJ A-Trak, Derrick Hodge, Karriem Riggins, Luna E, K. Lewis
Song Producers: Kanye West, J Dilla, James Poyser, Karriem Riggins

Related: Finding The GOAT Album: Jay Z’s The Blueprint vs. Scarface’s The Fix. Which Is Better?