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Kanye West: Graduation

September 5, 2007

With Kanye’s latest album due out Tuesday, NYTimes John Pareles offers an insightful lyrical critique of Graduation. Pareles offers two main critiques of the album: 1) Kanye’s former sense of humor had dissipated in the 2) looming presence of his larger than life ego.

One has to wonder if the two are related. The ability to laugh in one’s art can often display a light-heartedness about oneself, not taking yourself too seriously. Perhaps Kanye has swung the opposite direction, but his lyrics from “Can’t Nobody Tell Me” offer personal reflections on his journey through wealth and fame and recollections of his religious roots.

On one hand he waxes self-absorbed: “let the man get cash, let the man get cash…excuse me was you sayin somethin? You can’t tell me nothin.” Critiquing the polished morality of the Cosby’s, he claims: “if the devil wears prada and adam and eve wear nada then im inbetween but way more fresher, wit way less effort…”

Despite Kanye’s self-absorption, I have to take issue with Pereles’ interpretion of, at least, “Can’t Nobody Tell Me.” To this non-hip-hop fan, the beats are strong and so are the lyrics. They chronicle a personal journey with honesty, perhaps even regret.

As for music, it sounds like we have a lot to look forward too, which will likely win the day despite ego-centric, materialist lyrics. Pareles writes: “Nearly every song on “Graduation” is memorable for both its hooks and its overall sound.”

Though Kanye’s music deserves attention, does he deserve this much applause? Again, Pareles: “Every rapper needs a strong ego, and Mr. West deserves his. But 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.”

Has Kanye graduated? Sure, but the question is how will he use his degree? Actions always speak louder than lyrics.

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