This is the last installment of the first in a series of letters between myself and Matt Wood, proprietor of Wood-Tang.com. A discussion that began as a review of Kanye West’s Graduation has morphed into the question of Mr. West’s social responsibility. You can see part 1 at Matt’s site, part 2 here at OMIC and part 3 back at the W-T.
I’m with you in that I’m not looking for Kanye to be the next Public Enemy. And the most interested artists are those that revel in contradictions, so I’d have no problem with a song about social commentary juxtaposed with a song celebrating the trappings of money and fame (a song other that “Drunk and Hot Girls” which – I think we have both made clear – is the foulest thing unleashed on an unsuspecting person or persons since the time my friends and I were riding home in the car after I had consumed a large plate of jamabalaya at the House of Blues.
I think one of the reasons we ended up on this topic is because there’s little on the album to distract us from it. There’s nothing to get me fired up with anger or sputtering in disbelief, and there are no revelations about the man himself. So in exchange I’d expect some hot beats or stunning musicality, though it’s a much more efficient album that his previous works, stripped of the skits and pointless collabos (and I think the score on the ones that are here ends in a 2-2-1 decision with “Good Life” neither gaining nor losing him any fans).
So perhaps we can consider Graduation as Kanye’s rebuilding year. While it’s not taking things all the way to the big game, it’s certainly accomplishing something by highlighting the need for some change and put some distance between the “international asshole” and the man who wants to be the king of all music awards shows, even the shitty ones.
One of the aspects of the manufactured contest between Kanye and 50 Cent that’s been overlooked is how both men managed to steal a little of the other’s thunder to burnish their weak points. With Kanye’s success (and all the shout-outs he gives to white indie rockers), he’s got to know that the ludicrous criticism that he’s losing touch with real hip-hop will result. And since 50’s movie career was DOA, resulting in lackluster sales for his previous album, he needed to get back on the radar of those who just stick with the big releases. So it helps 50 to look like someone who is a viable candidate to sell as many albums as Kanye even though he isn’t, and Kanye looks more like a traditional hip-hop artist, rather than someone who seems to be leaving the trappings behind for a more mainstream career.
To me, it seems like the cat is still trying to figure out his own identity. Once he does, I think he’s going to end up producing the best album of his career.