Graduation (album)

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Graduation
Studio album by Kanye West
ReleasedSeptember 11, 2007 (2007-09-11)
Recorded2005–07
Chung King Studios, Sony Music Studios
(New York, New York)
Chalice Studios, The Record Plant
(Los Angeles, California)
GenreHip hop
Length51:12
LabelRoc-A-Fella, Def Jam
ProducerJon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Mike Dean, DJ Toomp, Eric Hudson, Brian Miller, Nottz, Patrick Reynolds, Gee Robertson, Kanye West (also exec.), Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua (also exec.)
Kanye West chronology
Late Orchestration
(2006)
Graduation
(2007)
808s & Heartbreak
(2008)
Singles from Graduation
  1. "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
    Released: May 15, 2007
  2. "Stronger"
    Released: July 31, 2007
  3. "Good Life"
    Released: October 2, 2007
  4. "Flashing Lights"
    Released: November 12, 2007
  5. "Homecoming"
    Released: February 18, 2008
 
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Graduation
Studio album by Kanye West
ReleasedSeptember 11, 2007 (2007-09-11)
Recorded2005–07
Chung King Studios, Sony Music Studios
(New York, New York)
Chalice Studios, The Record Plant
(Los Angeles, California)
GenreHip hop
Length51:12
LabelRoc-A-Fella, Def Jam
ProducerJon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Mike Dean, DJ Toomp, Eric Hudson, Brian Miller, Nottz, Patrick Reynolds, Gee Robertson, Kanye West (also exec.), Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua (also exec.)
Kanye West chronology
Late Orchestration
(2006)
Graduation
(2007)
808s & Heartbreak
(2008)
Singles from Graduation
  1. "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
    Released: May 15, 2007
  2. "Stronger"
    Released: July 31, 2007
  3. "Good Life"
    Released: October 2, 2007
  4. "Flashing Lights"
    Released: November 12, 2007
  5. "Homecoming"
    Released: February 18, 2008

Graduation is the third studio album by American hip hop artist Kanye West, released September 11, 2007 on Roc-A-Fella Records. Recording sessions for the album took place during 2005 to 2007 at Chung King Studios and Sony Music Studios in New York City and at Chalice Studios and The Record Plant in Los Angeles. It was primarily produced by West and DJ Toomp, and features guest contributions from artists including Mos Def, Dwele, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, and Chris Martin of Coldplay. The album's cover artwork was designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

Inspired by Irish rock band U2 and other musical groups to make more inspirational, anthemic hip hop music, West incorporated synthesizer sounds into his production and dabbled with electronic music, while sampling a wider spectrum of musical genres. Lyrically, Graduation is more introspective in comparison to its predecessors, as West dedicated much of the album towards analyzing himself and conveying his ambivalent outlook on his newfound fame. It continues the education theme of West's previous two studio albums, The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005).

The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 957,000 copies in its first week. It produced five singles, including international hits like "Can't Tell Me Nothing", "Stronger" and "Good Life". The coinciding release dates of Graduation and rapper 50 Cent's Curtis generated much publicity over the idea of a sales competition, resulting in record-breaking sales performances by both albums. Graduation received mostly positive reviews from most music critics and earned West several accolades, including a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. The album has sold 2,166,000 copies in the US and has been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Contents

Background

Graduation is the third installment of Kanye West's planned tetralogy of education-themed studio albums, which West subsequently deviated from due to the events surrounding the conception of his fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak.[1] The album demonstrates yet another distinctive evolution in West's musical style and approach to production. After spending the previous year touring the world with U2 on their Vertigo Tour, West felt inspired to compose anthemic rap songs that could operate more efficiently in large arenas.[2] To accomplish this "stadium-status" endeavor, West incorporated synthesizer into his hip hop production, which also finds him utilizing slower tempos, experimenting with electronic music and influenced by music of the 1980s.[3][4] In addition to U2, West drew musical inspiration from arena rock bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin in terms of melody and chord progression.[4]

West further expanded his musical palette by not limiting himself to his customary R&B and soul samples, and instead sampled from a more eclectic variety of musical genres, including pop rock, Euro-disco, electronica, progressive rock, house, and dub.[5] For much of the album, West adopted a dilatory, exuberant rap delivery in emulation of Bono's operatic vocal stylings.[2] In terms of his lyricism, West wanted to simplify some of his rhymes after touring with U2 and finding that he could not electrify the audience as well with his more complex lyrics.[2]

Recording

West's experiences on arena rock tours such as U2's Vertigo Tour (pictured) inspired his direction for the album.

West began working on Graduation immediately after the release of his second studio album Late Registration. By late September 2005, he had already completed three songs for the album, which he intended to contain a total of twelve tracks.[6] Around the time of the recording of the studio album, West listened to songs by folk singer-songwriters Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash in hopes of developing methods to augment his wordplay and storytelling ability. The former had been recommended to him by multiple friends, including English disc jockey Samantha Ronson, who all claimed that the way West dealt with the press reminded them of Dylan.[7] West also listened to his favorite alternative rock bands, including The Killers, Radiohead, Modest Mouse, and Keane for ideas on making his music more stadium-friendly.[7] In comparison to previous albums, Graduation includes fewer guest appearances. T-Pain, Detroit R&B singer Dwele, and New York rapper Mos Def are featured within individual tracks to sing hooks and choruses. Multiple songs on the album contain background vocals provided by Connie Mitchell of the Australian electronic group Sneaky Sound System.[8] The collaboration came about when West met Mitchell's bandmates Angus McDonald and Daimon Downey at a diner in Sydney, Australia.[9] Seeking musical inspiration, West asked McDonald for ideas, who suggested that he be introduced to Mitchell. Mitchell later admitted that while she previously didn't know who West was and never really cared for hip-hop, the collaboration had changed her views.[9]

In January 2007 interview with Billboard, West revealed that he had collaborated with Coldplay lead vocalist Chris Martin on "Homecoming", and that the song might possibly be released as lead single of Graduation.[10] The collaboration came about the year before when the two met during an impromptu jam session at Abbey Road Studios.[11] The song itself is a revamping of the song “Home” taken from West’s Freshmen Adjustment mixtape.[12] Though he originally intended Graduation to be completely devoid of guest rap verses, West later invited New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne on the track "Barry Bonds."[13] At the time, the two had been collaborating, with West working on the production of Tha Carter III.[14]

The album started taking definite form around the time of the filming of the music video for "Stronger", whereas prior West had been "aimlessly making songs."[15] The sci-fi imagery of the Hype Williams-directed video inspired West to take his music in a more futuristic direction.[15] After the filming of the video, which begun before West had even written the song's second verse, he went back to redo and re-record various portions of "Stronger", watching films like Total Recall for ideas.[15] West cites "I Wonder" as one of his three favorite tracks from the album.[16] The album sees the return of multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion—who had played a key role as co-execute producer on Late Registration—for the track "Drunk and Hot Girls."[10]

The beat for "The Glory" was originally conceived for West's G.O.O.D. Music associate, close friend, a fellow Chicagoan MC Common, whose seventh studio album Finding Forever was being produced and recorded by West simultaneously with Graduation.[14][17] As was the case with their previous albums, certain tracks West originally crafted for Finding Forever that Common passed on subsequently ended up on his own album.[18] "Everything I Am" was yet another song made for Common that he passed on, a fact which West addresses within the song's intro.[14] Though "Bittersweet Poetry" appears as a bonus track on the album, the recording had actually been one of the very first tracks made for Late Registration.[19] After seeing the 2004 biographical film Ray together, West and John Mayer decided to collaborate on a recording and immediately went back to the studio to compose the song "Bittersweet". The two had previously worked on Common's "Go!", which had come about when Mayer went to visit West at The Record Plant in Los Angeles.[20][14]

Composition

Music and style

With Graduation, West departed from the warm soul samples of The College Dropout and the lush chamber pop orchestration of Late Registration and moved towards a more atmospheric, rock-tinged, electronic soundscape. The musical evolution arose from him listening to musical genres encompassing European Britpop and Euro-disco, American alternative/indie rock, and his native Chicago house.[21] Towards this end, West retracted the live instrumentation that characterized his previous album and had it replaced with heavy, gothic synths.[22] West injected distorted synth-riffs, rave stabs, house beats, electro-disco rhythms, and an array of modulated electronic sound effects into his hip hop production.[3][21]

Despite the dominant synthetic attributes, the emphasis on organic string arrangements that accentuated Late Registration remained a significant factor on Graduation.[7] Also, similar to its predecessor, the album didn't relegate itself to simplistic looping techniques typical of conventional hip hop and instead continued to implement sudden musical shifts within its multi-layered song structures and express intricately composed introductions, bridges, and codas.[23] Under the belief that his previous album had been too indulgent and poorly arranged, West fashioned Graduation to contain less ornate production, made the album completely devoid of skits, and sequenced it in such a way that it produced a more cohesive package.[7][24]

Production

The album opens on a sparse note with "Good Morning", retaining metallic percussion and a simplistic chorus in which West recites "Good Morning" backed by a melody laced with synthesizer and a nonverbal vocal sample of "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John.[8][25] The anthemic "Champion" contains slight jazz-pop influence, eschewing trumpets in favour of bright synthesizers and featuring breezy hooks provided by a chopped up vocal sample of "Kid Charlemagne" by Steely Dan. It also contains a reggae-flavored bridge delivered by Connie Mitchell of the Australian electronic group Sneaky Sound System.[8] More than any other song on the entire album, "I Wonder" was most influenced by U2, as West elaborated that he had sought out to make a hip-hop equivalent to the band's "City of Blinding Lights" with the track.[2] It begins with a piano-led introduction that contains a hook provided by a vocal sample of "My Song" by British jazz-folk poet Labi Siffre, before transforming into a convoluted synthesizer riff punctuated by a distorted beat and ethereal electronic keyboards. During the song's bridge, the chord progression alternates, its organic piano keys return, and it adopts a string section which replicates the melody of its synths. The composition then enters a coda where its instrumental plays alongside a sweeping string arrangement before finally drawing itself to a close.[21]

"Good Life" utilizes multi-tracked, interlocking vocals that harmonize with guest singer T-Pain's auto-tuned voice. The song's melody is based on sampled keyboards from P.Y.T. by Michael Jackson, with the tempo slightly decreased and the pitch raised to the point its sound resembles squealing shrieks.[26] "Barry Bonds" is built on a moaning bass line and Gothic organ, while punctuated by wailing sampled from "Long Red" by Mountain.[24][27] "Drunk and Hot Girls" exhibits a sluggish waltz pitched with the rhythm of an Eastern European drinking song.[28] It contains a mix of dark orchestration and detuned electronics with elements of "Sing Swan Song" by German progressive rock band Can.[21] West claimed that while listening to the song, he heard the line "drunk and hot girls" in place of the actual "drunky hot bowls" lyrics.[7] Rather than rap, West and guest artist Mos Def sing along to the song's melody.[27] Opening with a gradual, rising crescendo of symphonic strings, "Flashing Lights" emits synth twinklings before transforming into a moderately-paced, synth-driven beat. After the introduction, in which Mitchell's processed vocals repeat the titular hook four times, West raps the two verses, each one followed by the chorus sung by Dwele coupled with the hook. Following a break, the song enters a passage where its heavily manipulated hook echoes in and out before the coda draws the composition to a close.[8] "Stronger" is built around a sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk.[8]

The tracks "Everything I Am" and "The Glory" experience an ephemeral, nostalgic return of West's past production techniques.[29] "Everything I Am" gradually alternates between two piano loops accentuated by soulful cooing, coupled with a scratched hook formed with a vocal sample containing the line, "Damn, here we go again" from "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy provided by DJ Premier.[8] The uptempo "The Glory" revisits the "chipmunk soul" that once defined West's early production, displaying a defiant, sped-up vocal sample of "Save The Country" by Laura Nyro backed by uplifting string arrangements and a gospel choir symphony.[29] Chris Martin sings choruses and provides gospel-style piano tapping on "Homecoming", where the chatter of a noisy crowd can inexplicably be heard in the background.[7] "Big Brother" expresses slow, rock-tinged production, featuring mid-tempo drum programming embellished with melodic synthesizer and backed by rhythmic, distorted guitar chords. The album's final track "Good Night" expresses production characteristics that would be the foundation of West's next musical evolution. Within the minimalistic song, West juxtaposes the crude, mechanical sounds of 8-bit music with the elegant, traditional sound of a classical piano.[28]

Lyrical content

West wrote lyrics expressing an ambivalence towards his newfound wealth and fame.

In comparison to previous albums, which were largely driven by observational commentary on matters pertaining to social welfare, Graduation is more introspective in nature and addresses personal themes.[30][31] West stated that he wanted to make inspirational music and placed more focus on individual perspective and experience that listeners could connect with in an attempt to create "people's theme songs."[2] Dismayed that the messages behind his complex lyricism were frequently lost on listeners and didn't carry well during live performances, West made an attempt to simplify his lyrics and use more skeletal rhyme schemes for more straightforward verses while concentrating on speaking volumes with sparser wording on Graduation.[2] Having committed a significant amount of time towards elevating his storytelling ability time by listening to folk musicians, West manages to form a lyrical narrative within nearly every song on the album.[7] West dedicated a majority of the album towards conducting an analysis himself and conveying his ambivalent outlook on his newfound wealth and fame. As such, West's subversive songwriting fluctuates between playful self-aggrandizement and critical self-doubt.[27] While confident, extroverted and celebratory at face value, many songs contained on Graduation were thematically distanced and retained melancholic subtext.[29] Some music critics remarked that compounded with West's urgent, emotional rap delivery, the record sounded as if he were experiencing an existential crisis.[32]

The free-associative "Champion" is primarily composed of motivational lyrics, but West also briefly touches on the strained relationship he had with his father–who divorced from his mother when he was just three-years-old–eventually reaching the conclusion that even with their ups and downs, in the end, his father was a champion in his eyes.[33] West described "Stronger" as an "emancipation", as he uses the song to vent his frustration over mistakes he has made in the past.[15] "I Wonder" carries an introspective tone, retaining a chorus about finding one's dreams, while West uses the verses to describe the struggle a person experiences in determining the meaning behind their life and achieving those dreams.[27] Inspired by watching Bono open stadium tours, West concentrated on speaking volumes without using too many words on the song and delivers his raps in an exuberant, staccato manner.[2] Using the same vocal stylings, "Flashing Lights" tells the operatic narrative of man contemplating the complexities of a tragic relationship. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" serves as West's reflection on his fame and is characterized by bitter remorse and defiant self-awareness. West begins the song by expounding his conflicted feelings regarding wealth and desire, describing a compulsion to spend that overwhelms any and all other objectives in life.[27] He ties this into his perceived overall inability to keep himself together even as he grows into an increasingly prominent figure in the public eye.[25]

West regains his lyrical dexterity on "Barry Bonds", a competitive, though friendly battle with Lil Wayne in which the two MCs exchange braggadocios rhymes.[13] The song uses Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds as a metaphor for West’s ability to create music hits.[34] "Drunk and Hot Girls" is a first-person narrative that illustrates a man courting an intoxicated woman in a club but gets more than what he bargained for.[2] "Everything I Am" is a song of self-examination, in which West attempts to confront his fallacies by surveying the consequences of his outspokeness ruminating over various ways people expect him to conduct himself. In the track, West addresses his indifference towards constructing a gangster persona, his refusal to dress and act like every other rapper, his inclination towards socio-political commentary, and his lack of self-restraint.[26] West comes to the conclusion that while he will never be able to live up to people's expectations and will always be disadvantageously flawed; it's all these imperfections and more that serve to make up who he is.[27] When writing the song, West thought of a young girl in high school dealing with people coming down on her.[7]

"Homecoming" serves as a tribute to West's hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Using an extended metaphor that personified the city as a childhood sweetheart named Wendy, West rhymes about his guilt over leaving Chicago to pursue stardom.[26] The song's opening lines lyrically reference "I Used to Love H.E.R.", a similarly metaphoric hip hop song made by West's close friend and labelmate Common, who later appeared in the single's music video.[28] West dedicated "Big Brother" to Jay-Z, whom he feels so close to that he sees him as a brother. Within the song, West dually details his love and admiration as well as his envy and antagonism towards Jay-Z, metaphorically equating their relationship to that of a sibling rivalry.[7] West also uses the song's chorus as a subsidiary dedication to his mentor No I.D., who first taught him how to produce music.[35] Similar to its musicality, the songwriting characteristics of the album-closing track, "Good Night" alludes to West's next musical evolution. The majority of song is composed of repetitive recitations of its choruses and bridges by Mos Def and Al Be Back. West melodically raps only one single verse in which he nostalgically reminisces over taking trips to the museum with his grandparents. As his verse draws to a close, West chastises that a person can't dwell on the past, and charges himself with living his life like he has no tomorrow. In retrospect, with the death of his mother Donda West less than two months after the album was released in addition to the dissolution of his engagement with fiancée Alexis Phifer, the trace amounts of melancholy found scattered throughout Graduation would all but envelop West's next studio album, 808s & Heartbreak.[36][37][38]

Artwork

Dropout Bear being pursued by a monstrous cloud within the interior artwork of Graduation

West collaborated with Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami to oversee the art direction of Graduation as well as design the cover art for the album's accompanying singles.[39] Often called "the Warhol of Japan," Murakami's surrealistic visual art is characterized by cartoonish creatures that appear friendly and cheerful at first glance, but possess dark, twisted undertones.[40][41] The collaboration between the two came about when West visited Murakami's Kaikai Kiki studio in Roppongi Hills during a brief trip to Tokyo, Japan in the midst of touring the year before.[42] The album artwork expresses colorful, pastel imagery influenced by Murakami's affiliation with superflat, a postmodern art movement influenced by manga and anime.[43] Its production process took place over the course of several weeks, with West constantly visualizing new images and emailing the ideas to Murakami and his team.[44] Bringing the educational theme expressed by West's previous albums to a close, the visual plotline of the images contained within the liner notes lead up to a graduation ceremony that takes places within a fictional college institution situated within a futuristic metropolis called Universe City.[14] Murakami explained the metaphor behind the artwork saying:

The cover is based on Kanye's theme of student life. School. It's a place of dreams, of righteousness, a place to have fun. It's also occasionally a place where you experience the rigid dogma of the human race. Kanye's music scrapes sentimentality and aggressiveness together like sandpaper, and he uses his grooves to unleash this tornado that spins with the zeitgeist of the times. I too wanted to be swept up and spun around in that tornado.[45]
—Takashi Murakami

The artwork's storyline centers around "Dropout Bear," West's anthropomorphic teddy bear mascot.[46] The illustrations chronicle Dropout Bear overcoming various obstacles in an effort to reach his college campus in time for his ceremony.[47] The story begins on a rainy day with Dropout running out of his apartment to his car, modeled after a DeLorean. When the car's engine dies, he is forced to find an alternative method of transportation.[40] Dropout attempts to hail a cab but it speeds right past him, soaking him with puddle water, he then tries to get onto a metro rail but just misses it as it pulls away. With no other options, he is reduced to pursuing his goal on foot. As Dropout races down sidewalks populated with multi-eyed, living mushrooms, he is pursued by a monstrous rain cloud that attempts to swallow him whole.[48] Eventually, Dropout Bear arrives at the university and makes it to his graduation ceremony to stand before his colleagues, a variety of anthropomorphic creatures like himself. The visual story concludes with Dropout Bear being catapulted from the university into the sky on the back cover.[8] The cover art for Graduation was cited as the fifth best album cover of the year by Rolling Stone.[49] The designs of the album artwork were later brought to life by Murakami through the use of cel-shaded animation within a three-minute animated music video for "Good Morning".[48]

Release and promotion

Publicity over the album's release date pitted West in a sales competition against rapper 50 Cent (pictured).

On May 11, 2007, it was announced that the release date for Graduation was set to be September 18, 2007.[14] Following the release of the album's lead single "Can't Tell Me Nothing", West released a free mixtape under the same name onto the internet in promotion of the album on May 27.[50] The mixtape featured preview clips of certain songs that would later appear on Graduation and showcased various artists signed onto West's G.O.O.D. Music label as well as collaborations with other unaffiliated musicians.[51] It also contained the debut song "Us Placers", the first song made by Child Rebel Soldier, a new supergroup that West had formed with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell Williams.[50]

At the end of May, Island Def Jam pushed the album's release date up to an unspecified late August date, a decision West first announced on the introductory track of his Can't Tell Me Nothing mixtape.[52] On July 19, it was changed once more and moved to September 11, 2007, the same US release date as rapper 50 Cent's Curtis.[53] When first presented with the proposal of his label moving Graduation's release date yet again as well as the idea of a sales race between him and 50 Cent, West initially expressed his indifference towards the thought, saying, "When I heard that thing about the debate, I thought that was the stupidest thing. When my album drops and 50's album drops, you're gonna get a lot of good music at the same time."[54] However, then Def Jam president and CEO Jay-Z welcomed the competition, feeling that it would be prosperous for hip hop and the date became permanent.[55]

The album's release generated much publicity over a sales competition with 50 Cent's Curtis.[56][57] Three months prior to the September 11 release date, West extended his gratitude towards 50 Cent for the enthusiasm and excitement that the friendly competition produced. Though confident that he would emerge victorious, West stated that he would be perfectly fine with losing to 50 Cent, saying that he'd rather, "be #2 on that day rather than come out and be #1 on a day nobody cares about."[58] In an interview for USA Today, 50 Cent expressed his view on the idea of a sales competition, stating "It's great marketing — for Kanye West. But I sell way more records than Kanye West, and I generate way more interest than Kanye West. They think they can match us up, but they'll find out when that week goes by and the sales come back. This is no rivalry."[59] A month later, on August 10, 50 Cent stated during an interview with SOHH that he would end his career as a solo artist if Graduation sold more copies than Curtis in the United States.[60] However, he later retracted his statement within an MTV interview due to contract agreements with Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records.[61] Incidentally, West and 50 Cent later joined each other onstage to provide a surprise performance before an audience of over 20,000 people for a show held on August 22 in Madison Square Garden during Ciara and T.I.'s Screamfest '07 tour.[62]

On August 28, 2007, West hosted an album listening session for Graduation at New World Stages in New York City, where he explained his influences and aspirations for the album and played songs over clips from a variety of futuristic sci-fi films, including Tron, Akira, 2046 and 2001: A Space Odyssey.[2] In a survey conducted by Billboard, results displayed that an estimated 44% of readers predicted that Graduation would sell more units over 50 Cent and Kenny Chesney.[63] Sales projections for first week scans based on early store sales reports indicated towards the 575,000–700,000 range for Graduation, while Curtis was projected in the 500,000–600,000 range.[64]

Reception

Commercial performance

It's a great promotional tool. To me, it's the greatest thing ever. I think people should do it more often. I'm a fan of both albums. Hip-hop needs this right now.

Timbaland, on the coinciding release dates of Graduation and Curtis.[56]

On the first day of its release, Graduation sold over 437,000 copies.[65] The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart,[66] grossing a total of over 957,000 copies in its first week in the United States alone.[65] Graduation became West's second consecutive studio album to top the Billboard 200 and also debuted at number one on the album charts in the United Kingdom and Canada.[67][68] It was within the very same week that "Stronger" topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving West his third number-one single.[69] Upon its release, Graduation achieved the highest first week sales week for any album in 2007, topping Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight, which sold 625,000 units. The album was also West's highest first sales week to date, surpassing the 860,000 opening week of his previous album Late Registration. It registered the best first-week sales totals of any record released within the last two years, with the last being West's own Late Registration.[70]

Additionally, Graduation became ranked as the fifteenth highest sales week for an album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991, as well as the highest sales week at the time of its release for an album since 50 Cent's The Massacre (2005).[71] It also set the record for the largest week of an album digitally downloaded, registering over 133,000 paid downloads, beating Maroon 5's previous set record of 102,000 for It Won't Be Soon Before Long.[72] Graduation's first week sales of 957,000 and Curtis's first week sales of 691,000 marked only the second time ever since the inception of Nielsen SoundScan that two albums debuted within the same week with totals surpassing 600,000 copies in the United States. The first occurrence of such an event was in September 1991, when Guns N' Roses conjunctively released Use Your Illusion I, which sold 685,000 copies, and Use Your Illusion II, which sold 770,000 copies. The first week sales totals of Graduation and Curtis have outsold the first week sales totals of Guns N' Roses' two albums.[71] After years of slumping sales, the album competition between the two releases and the resulting record breaking performances both albums displayed was considered to be a "fantastic day for hip-hop."[57]

In its second week on the Billboard 200, Graduation slid to number two with the release of Reba McEntire's Reba: Duets, selling 226,000 copies while maintaining its dominance over Curtis, which sold 143,000.[73] The next week, with the releases of over 40 new albums, Graduation dropped three spaces to number five and registered 133,300, reaching a cumulative total of 1.3 million copies by October 3.[74] Selling 92,400 units, the album descended two spots the following week to reach number seven.[75] During its fourth week on the chart, Graduation experienced a slight rebound and rose from number seven to six on October 17, selling 71,000 copies.[76] The following week, the album began to descend once more, selling an estimated 54,000 copies and dropping three places to reach the ninth position on October 24.[77] By year's end, Graduation was the third most-downloaded and best-selling album of 2007 on iTunes Store.[78] Graduation became West's third consecutive studio album to sell over two million units in the United States, and it was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on October 18, 2007.[79] Exactly one year after the fact, as of September 12, 2008, Nielsen Soundscan reported that Graduation had grossed over 2,166,000 copies in the United States.[79]

Critical response

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Allmusic4/5 stars[29]
Robert ChristgauA−[80]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[30]
The Guardian4/5 stars[22]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[81]
NME6/10[28]
Pitchfork Media8.7/10[21]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[24]
Slant Magazine3/5 stars[31]
Spin8/10[82]

Graduation received mostly positive reviews from music critics.[83] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 79, based on 32 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[83] Allmusic editor Andy Kellman stated, "Those who have admired Kanye as a sharp producer while detesting him as an inept MC might find the gleaming synth sprites [...] to be one of the most glaring deal-breakers in hip-hop history. Though the synthesizer use marks a clear, conscious diversion from Kanye's past productions, highlights [...] are deeply rooted in the Kanye of old, using nostalgia-inducing samples, elegant pianos and strings, and gospel choirs [...] He's being his shrewd, occasionally foolish, and adventurous self."[29] Pitchfork Media's Mark Pytlik complimented the accessibility of West's sonic experimentation, noting his visionary proficiency with interweaving seeminly disparate elements and bridging musical gaps.[21] Greg Tate of The Village Voice dubbed him "the most genuinely confessional MC in hiphop today" and stated, "bouts of narcissism aside, Graduation contains killer pieces of production".[84] Spin called the album "mesmerizing and alienating, like all the purest forms of pop culture."[82]

Rolling Stone's Nathan Brackett complimented the continuously evolving and increasingly experimental, genre-bending sonancy of West's production and wrote that, "As a lyricist, West will never possess the pure cool or formal mastery of his mentor Jay-Z, but he's grown as a writer [...] And given the lousy year hip-hop has had, the music needs his spazzed-out, neurotic creativity more than ever."[24][85] Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian gave the album four out of five stars and stated, "the music is never timid or conventional. Only as a lyricist does West sometimes disappoint [...] More often, though, he undercuts rap cliches with wit and ambivalence".[22] In his consumer guide for MSN Music, critic Robert Christgau commented that "every single track offers up its momentary pleasures—choruses that make you say yeah on songs you've already found wanting, confessional details and emotional aperçus on an album that still reduces to quality product when they're over."[80] Los Angeles Times critic Ann Powers interpreted the subtle, nearly undetectable dark tone of the album to be the byproduct of West enduring the inevitable psychological toil that comes with paving the way for the progression of his genre as a whole:

Graduation's intricate musical environments take a while to comprehend, and at times they seem at odds with West's confrontational lyrics. But this contradictory music makes sense when heard as an attempt to express an internal struggle – between the Kanye West hip-hop made and the West who can't be contained by it or any other genre. It's hard to stop running with the crowd, even for a trendsetter. But West is on the verge, and moving forward [...] a joker who couldn't be more serious, displaced and mobile because of race instead of class and an innovator in a genre that he must at least partially destroy to renew.[81]
—Ann Powers

Dave Heaton of PopMatters called the album "a simpler affair than the previous two albums, less attention-grabbing" and stated, "The songs aren’t as richly dressed, and he doesn’t seem to be trying as hard. He sounds less like he’s pushing to create something epic, and at that he succeeds—as good as Graduation is, it doesn’t have the larger-than-life presence of Late Registration. It’s more manageable, more everyday."[27] Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson wrote that "the lyrics are only transparently expressive and the hooks grab your ear on the first listen (notably bypassing your brain), your balls on the second, and your soul from there on out [...] the double-spaced sampling choices... remain basically citational, even as his production has adopted a beefy, synth-glam sheen."[31] Entertainment Weekly's Neil Drumming found its music "uninspiring" and commented that "West's vocal mediocrity wouldn't be so glaring if the production were more of a diversion".[30] Jon Pareles of The New York Times observed "some clever rhymes" and "nearly ever song ... memorable for both its hooks and its overall sound", but felt that "West can’t see beyond his own fame" and stated, "where he used to identify with everyday dreamers and strivers, now he seems happy to stay in his V.I.P. zone: all dressed up and behind that velvet rope."[86] Stylus Magazine's Jayson Greene stated, "the music still overflows with West’s trademark generosity, but there are fewer moments of bloat than on the caloric Late Registration [...] In some ways, Graduation serves as a document of West’s maturation. Musically, at least, it’s the most accomplished thing he’s ever done."[26]

Accolades

West took home 3 Grammy Awards for Graduation in 2008.

Rolling Stone placed the album at number five on its list of their Top 50 Albums of 2007."[87] Graduation was listed at number nine on the Billboard Critics' Poll.[88] Time listed Graduation as the tenth best album of the year.[89] A year-end poll conducted by Entertainment Weekly cited Graduation as the best album of 2007.[90] It was also hailed as the best album of the year by ‘’USA Today’’, which wrote, “The Louis Vuitton Don may major in rap, but he liberally borrows from other music schools to create a much broader soundscape”.[91] The album was listed as the fourth and eighteenth best record of the year by Spin magazine and Pitchfork Media respectively.[92][93] PopMatters also listed Graduation as the fourth best album of the year."[94] Graduation was listed at number thirty-five by The Observer on its best fifty albums of the year.[95] The Daily Telegraph ranked it number fifteen on its list of "Pop CDs of the Year," writing, "Kanye West finally grew up on this album, delivering more inventive, precision-tooled hip-hop but wearing a much more furrowed brow as he explored his existential anxieties. Dark and addictive."[32] Pitchfork Media placed Graduation at number 87 on their list of top 200 albums of the 2000s.[96] Graduation was cited as the second best album of the entire decade by Complex magazine.[97]

At the 50th Grammy Awards, West led the field with a total of eight nominations, including Album of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Good Life", and Best Rap Song for "Can't Tell Me Nothing".[98] He won the Grammy awards for Best Rap Solo Performance for "Stronger", Best Rap Song for "Good Life", and finally Graduation received the award for Best Rap Album.[99] At the 34th annual American Music Awards, West received the awards for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Male Artist as well as Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album for Graduation.[100] However, West offered the former to Lil Wayne, who he felt was more deserving of the award due to his musical efforts in 2008.[101] Praising the artistry expressed by Graduation, the success of its singles, and the imagination of its accompanying international tour, MTV crowned West as the year's #1 Hottest MC in the Game on May 16, 2008.[102]

Legacy and influence

West performing at the United Center in Chicago on the supporting tour for Graduation

Rock band U2 has asserted that touring with West on their Vertigo Tour had a significant effect on their own music as well in regards to No Line on the Horizon. Bono elaborated that West's rapping inspired him to utilize more percussive consonants for his songwriting and vocal performance.[103] The album, particularly with the singles "Stronger" and "Flashing Lights", has been accredited to not only encouraging hip hop artists to incorporate house and electronica elements into their music, but also for playing a part in the revival of disco and electro-infused music in the late 2000s.[104] West also received praise for his ability to appeal to diverse audiences such as indie rock listeners and rave enthusiasts without alienating hip hop audiences.[105]

Ben Detrick of XXL cited the outcome of the sales competition with 50 Cent as being responsible for altering the direction of hip hop and paving the way for new rappers who didn't follow the hardcore-gangster mold, writing, "If there was ever a watershed moment to indicate hip hop's changing direction, it may have come when 50 Cent competed with Kanye in 2007 to see whose album would claim superior sales. 50 lost handily, and it was made clear that excellent songcrafting trumped a lack of street-life experience. Kanye led a wave of new artists—Kid Cudi, Wale, Lupe Fiasco, Kidz in the Hall, Drake—who lacked the interest or ability to create narratives about any past gunplay or drug-dealing.[106] Similarly, in a retrospective article, Rosie Swash of The Guardian viewed the album's sales competition with 50 Cent's Curtis as a historical moment in hip hop, writing that it "highlighted the diverging facets of hip-hop in the last decade; the former was gangsta rap for the noughties, while West was the thinking man's alternative.[107]

Track listing

No.TitleProducer(s)Length
1."Good Morning"  Kanye West3:15
2."Champion"  Kanye West, Brian Miller2:47
3."Stronger"  Kanye West, Mike Dean*5:11
4."I Wonder"  Kanye West4:03
5."Good Life" (featuring T-Pain)Kanye West, DJ Toomp, Mike Dean**3:27
6."Can't Tell Me Nothing"  Kanye West, DJ Toomp4:30
7."Barry Bonds" (featuring Lil Wayne)Nottz, Kanye West*3:24
8."Drunk and Hot Girls" (featuring Mos Def)Kanye West, Jon Brion**5:13
9."Flashing Lights" (featuring Dwele)Kanye West, Eric Hudson3:57
10."Everything I Am" (featuring DJ Premier)Kanye West3:47
11."The Glory"  Kanye West, Gee Robertson*, Plain Pat*3:32
12."Homecoming"  Kanye West, Warryn Campbell3:23
13."Big Brother"  DJ Toomp4:47

 • (*) designates co-producer
 • (**) designates additional production

Notes:[8]

Personnel

Information taken from Graduation liner notes.[108][8]

  • Kanye West – composer, executive producer, primary artist, producer
  • Lil Wayne - primary artist
  • Mos Def – primary artist
  • T-Pain – primary artist
  • Dwele – primary artist
  • DJ Premier – primary artist
  • Jay-Z – vocals
  • Chris Martin – vocals
  • Connie Mitchell – vocals
  • Tanya Herron – vocals
  • John Legend – backing vocals
  • Ne-Yo – backing vocals
  • Jamaal Stanford Williams – backing vocals
  • Jehireh Williams – backing vocals
  • Daphne Chen – violins
  • Eric Gorfain – violins
  • Luigi Mazzocchi – violins
  • Charles Parker – violins
  • Igor Szwec – violins
  • Emma Kummrow – violins
  • Olga Konopelsky – violins
  • Gloria Justen – violins
  • Peter Nocella – viola
  • Leah Katz – viola
  • Alexandra Leem – viola
  • Alma Fernandez – viola
  • Mike Dean – keyboards, arranger, engineer, guitar, mixing, producer, strings
  • Jon Brion – keyboards, percussion, producer
  • Darryl Beaton – keyboards
  • Andy Chatterly – keyboards
  • Chris Rob – keyboards
  • Richard Dodd – cello
  • John Krovoza – cello
  • Jennie Lorenzo – cello
  • Quincy Jones – composer
  • G. Clinton, Jr. – composer
  • Walter Becker – composer
  • Edwin Birdsong – composer
  • Donald Fagen – composer
  • James Ingram – composer
  • Labi Siffre – composer
  • Vlado Meller – mastering
  • Nottz Raw – engineer
  • Tony Rey – engineer
  • Seiji Sekine – engineer
  • Greg Koller – engineer
  • Bruce Buechner – engineer
  • Andrew Dawson – engineer, mixing
  • Anthony Kilhoffer – engineer, mixing
  • Anthony Palazzole – assistant engineer
  • Andy Marcinkowski – assistant engineer
  • Richard Reitz – assistant engineer
  • Jared Robbins – assistant engineer
  • Kengo Sakura – assistant engineer
  • Bram Tobey – assistant engineer
  • Matty Green – assistant engineer
  • Nate Hertweck – assistant engineer
  • Jason Agel – assistant engineer
  • Tracey Waples – marketing
  • Al Brancch – marketing
  • Takashi Murakami – artwork
  • Carol Corless – package production
  • Eric Hudson – musician, Producer
  • Warryn Campbell – producer
  • Larry Gold – string arrangements, string conductor
  • Rosie Danvers – string arrangements
  • Sandra Campbell - project coordinator
  • Sean Cooper – sound Design
  • Tommy D – producer
  • Omar Edwards – piano, synthesizer, synthesizer bass
  • Terese Joseph – A&R
  • Kyambo Joshua – executive producer
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing
  • Kazuhiro Mizuno – design
  • Tim Resler – bass
  • Patrick "Plain Pat" Reynolds – A&R, producer
  • Timbaland – drum Programming, programming

Charts history

Charts positions

Charts (2007)Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart[109]2
Austrian Albums Chart[109]26
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[109]11
Canadian Albums Chart[68]1
Danish Albums Chart[109]10
Dutch Albums Chart[109]11
European Top 100 Albums[110]3
Finnish Albums Chart[109]16
French Albums Chart[109]9
German Albums Chart[109]10
Hungarian Albums Chart (2012)[111]37
Irish Albums Chart[109]2
Italian Albums Chart[109]33
Japanese Oricon Albums Chart[112]13
New Zealand Albums Chart[109]2
Norwegian Albums Chart[109]2
Portuguese Albums Chart[109]30
Swedish Albums Chart[109]6
Swiss Albums Chart[109]3
UK Albums Chart[109]1
US Billboard 200[110]1
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[110]1
US Billboard Top Rap Albums[110]1

Sales and certifications

CountryProviderCertificationSales
AustraliaARIAGold[113]35,000+
CanadaCRIA2x Platinum[114]200,000+
IrelandIRMAPlatinum[115]15,000+
JapanRIAJGold[116]100,000+
New ZealandRIANZGold[117]7,500+
RussiaNFPPGold[118]10,000+
SwitzerlandIFPIGold[119]15,000+
United KingdomBPIPlatinum[120]300,000+
United StatesRIAA2x Platinum[79]2,166,000

Chart procession and succession

Preceded by
Once Upon a Time in the West by Hard-Fi
UK Albums Chart number-one album
September 16, 2007 – September 22, 2007
Succeeded by
All The Lost Souls by James Blunt
Preceded by
High School Musical 2 Soundtrack
Canadian Albums Chart number-one album
September 29, 2007 – October 5, 2007
Succeeded by
All The Lost Souls by James Blunt
Preceded by
High School Musical 2 Soundtrack
US Billboard 200 number-one album
September 29, 2007 – October 5, 2007
Succeeded by
Reba: Duets by Reba McEntire
Preceded by
Hustlenomics by Yung Joc
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums number-one album
September 29, 2007 – October 12, 2007
Succeeded by
Just Like You by Keyshia Cole
Preceded by
Hustlenomics by Yung Joc
US Billboard Top Rap Albums number-one album
September 29, 2007 – October 19, 2007
Succeeded by
souljaboytellem.com by Soulja Boy Tell'em

See also

References

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