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West crosses genres with wilful and speedy abandon, taking the listener on an epic quest where the journey is just as enjoyable and unpredictable as the destination.

Rating: 9 / 10

John Walshe, 20 Sep 2007

The savviest producer/rapper on the planet at the moment bar none, Kanye West’s third album, Graduation, is a masterpiece and certainly a contender for album of the year. Sampling everybody from Elton John to Can, Steely Dan to Michael Jackson, West succeeds in creating a rich melting pot of genres, delivered with a style that’s all his own.

Eschewing the ghetto politics, misogynism and gangsta schtick of many of his peers, this middle-class boy (West’s mother chaired the English Department at Chicago State University) has never been afraid to say what’s on his mind: West controversially spoke out against the homophobia inherent in hip-hop and railed against George Dubya in the wake of Katrina.

While his production talents have long been evident, Graduation sees West displaying his street-smart lyrical dexterity in spades, effortlessly combining pop-culture references with more astute insights, mostly into the life of a millionaire celebrity, admittedly. There’s the usual array of chest-beating bravado, where our boy professes to being the best lover/rapper/human being on earth, but it’s served up with enough wry humour and irony that you can get past the narcissism.

Doubtless, you’ve heard the single ‘Stronger’, which borrows liberally from Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’, turning the French duo’s electopop single into a ferociously affirming hip-hop masterclass. What’s astounding is that ‘Stronger’ is far from the best track here. Indeed, the only dud is the forgettable and puerile ‘Drunk And Hot Girls’.

The opening ‘Good Morning’ is glorious: dark, neurotic beats may form the backdrop, but the deliciously cheesy sampling lifts the song firmly into the pop spectrum. The confessional gospel-tinged ‘Everything I Am’ is another highlight, with Kanye waxing philosphically on 2007-era Chicago, referencing everything from the MTV Awards to gang murders, displaying a fine line in self-deprecating humour into the bargain.

The rest of the album varies from full-on soul-r’n’b (‘I Wonder’) to shimmering summertime pop (‘Good Life’, ‘The Glory’). Then there’s the danker, sleazier scuzz-hop of ‘Barry Bonds’, the austere majesty of ‘Big Brother’ and the highly ambitious ‘Homecoming’, which bizarrely features Coldplay’s Chris Martin on co-vocal duty, a more unlikely collaboration you couldn’t have imagined.

It’s this kind of fearlessness that makes Graduation so astounding. There are enough magical musical diversions to warrant an entire tome of references, as West crosses genres with wilful and speedy abandon, taking the listener on an epic quest where the journey is just as enjoyable and unpredictable as the destination.

Rating: 9 / 10
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