Kanye West, 'Graduation' (Roc-A-Fella)

8
Graduation
Critical Mass
Label: Roc-A-Fella

by Charles Aaron

According to the historical record, an English professor (Donda) and photojournalist (Ray) brought Kanye Omari West into this earthly cipher in Atlanta in 1977. But in actuality, the rapper/producer was born in the hip-hop ether in 1997 with the release of the orgiastic video for the No. 1 hit "Mo Money Mo Problems." The parents: the Notorious B.I.G., the larger-than-life, faux-Godfather martyr MC; Puff Daddy, the sample-happy, middle-class mama's-boy producer with preppy fashion envy, a rapping handicap, and "I'm rich, bitch" conceit; and Technicolor mythmaker Hype Williams, who also directed the recherché videos for the singles "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Stronger" from West's No. 1-selling landmark Graduation.

"Mo Money Mo Problems" coronated hip-hop as the world's most potent pop product, and Graduation's grandiose craftiness marks the ten-year anniversary of that double-edged African American exploit (50 Cent's gangsta cynicism was a mere sideshow). From the yacht-rockin' capitalist sun splash of "Good Life" to the giddy techno priapism of "Stronger" to the soulful double-unconsciousness of "Can't Tell Me Nothing" to the Steely Dan home-run trot of "Champion," West's third album is mesmerizing and alienating, like all the purest forms of pop culture. Its music is a rush of designer adrenaline, its personality insatiable self-justification. It's the paradigm ya love to hate: Diddy with skills.

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