A New Video Shows Why Kanye Was Hip-Hop’s Most Promising Student Upon His Graduation
Marking a dramatic shift in his career from successful producer to stadium star, Kanye West’s third album Graduation celebrates its 10th anniversary this coming Monday (September 11). Proven with time, the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records LP with the upcoming birthday ushered in a new era in Hip-Hop.
With Graduation, ‘Ye positioned himself as a true innovator able to cut through the “radio-friendly Gangster Rap” that had become the norm on the radio airwaves at the time.
West’s third #1 hit, “Stronger” leaned on “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by the French House duo, Daft Punk, while paraphrasing the German philosopher Nietzsche. When Hip-House seemed left in the ’80s, ‘Ye called out a sound and style that would signal so much to come of the next decade. It also included the classic lines: “You know how long I’ve been on ya? / Since Prince was on Apollonia / Since O.J. had Isotoners / Don’t act like I never told ya.”
“Stronger” was recorded in three different locations, using eight audio engineers and 11 mix engineers, and took a reported 75 takes until West was satisfied. Apparently, West couldn’t get the kick drum to sound the way he wanted it, so he brought in Timbaland to work some D&B magic with the drum programming.
But as a new Pitchfork “Liner Notes” video makes clear, Kanye West’s Graduation was not only fresh because of its sampling of ‘70s legends like Steely Dan and “Krautrock” pioneers, Can, but also in its playing around with aspects of electronic music. With its spacey vibe, “Flashing Lights” gestured towards the future Electro-Pop success of Kid Cudi and Lorde.
In hindsight, Graduation reflected West’s monumental ambition. Inspired by his experience of opening for U2, Kanye West was aiming for a record of hit songs equal to the output of the Irish megastars.
But the closing to Kanye’s college-related trilogy also provided the new template for mainstream Rap albums in the future where high-end production values were of equal value as the MC’s lyricism or life story, no matter how vulnerable or dark the themes.
#BonusBeat: This nicely edited video celebrates the samples and songs Kanye West used in making Graduation:
This published earlier this year.