“Graduation” 10 years later
“Graduation”, of course, was not the first loud disc in Kanye’s discography. By 2007, the West had the hands of a full-fledged mainstream artist, who wasn’t playing a gangsta authenticity card and telling more close and comprehensible stories to a wide white audience with humor and to think about college, American materialism, faith, love and family. Which, of course, was not an absolute novelty (before Kanye, ATCQ and Outkast, for example, were engaged in such things), but considerably refreshed the hip-hop story space of that time. Even the risk of losing the status of “his” among the black audience was not real for him, because Kanye had the unshakable authority of his mentor Jay-Z, half-divine for black regions. Everyone who was approved by Jay was favored by black America, including generously confirming this with a long dollar.
Nevertheless, it was “Graduation” that became the key point in Kanye’s career, the beginning of its transformation from a fellow guy who entered into any house, into a full-fledged general cultural pop icon, which is scary to touch with a finger. It was the first album, after which the rap scene acquired the reflex habit that still exists today – to watch Kanye West do and repeat without a hint of it.
The most important contribution of the album with an anime bear on the cover can be briefly described as follows – he gave hip-hop ambitions to claim the status of art, the full-fledged high art of “white man”. Of course, successful negros and before the Kanye era could have exorbitant self-esteem and boast – but this was a petty bourgeois boast, ending on a starter-pack of trinkets / twists / wheelbarrows and the status of the hero of the native streets. Until 2007, to call oneself an artist or a rock star (as almost all rappers do now as part of a marketing strategy) and to draw inspiration from indie rock meant to raise a question for colleagues – are you a fagot? Maybe you and my mother walk by the hand? Of course, critics had earlier praised classical rap albums – but only with the release of “Graduation” the words “vision” and “concept” appeared in reviews of those, and now even children like Futcher or Young Tag will easily attribute “hedonistic nihilism” and “grim dichotomy in the tracks – just in case, although the guys themselves had nothing in mind.
It is noteworthy in this story that the actual music in this grand cultural shift played not the only role. Of course, the musical and conceptual decisions on “Graduation” were as bold as it was possible without losing radio rotations. There was a wonderful cartoon clip on “Good Morning” from Takashi Murakami, samples of progressive European music in the face of Daft Punk and Can, frank tracks of that emotional spectrum, about which the collective image of a blinkered masculine alpha male in the rap of that time was afraid to think. Before Graduation, rap hits couldn’t sound like “Stronger”, Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy didn’t share the scene with men in pink polo, and a popular rapper couldn’t sing a song, for example, how much he admires another popular rapper has fears and makes mistakes. In a word, it creates perfect blue.
Nevertheless, speaking of this small revolution, it is impossible not to mention that Kanye did it to the same extent in the field of public opinion, however, with less sophisticated methods. By 2007, he was already scandalous, as we used to, on news broadcasts and awards ceremonies – on the topic that he is ignored as an incomprehensible genius, and once, the most meticulous – about the fact that George W. Bush doesn’t care about blacks. The image of the non-filtering egomaniac is firmly entrenched, and to this day it evokes a far more ambiguous reaction than the work of Kanye, apart from the eternal fire generously watered with oil, public controversy. Egomaniac is actually the mildest epithet in the palette, where the asshole, the baboon and the traveler are more common, but, paradoxically, Kanye embodied roughly the same idea on television as in the musical field, creating new patterns for the representatives of the stereotyped genre and the most stereotyped racial community, which before him were unthinkable and were the privilege of white artists, whose outrage was written off to pieces of creative nature much more willingly.
Finally, the culmination of all this was the delicious symbolism of one of the most famous historical events in the genre – 50 Cent announced the competition for his album with Graduation in sales and lost. Immediately, many began to talk about this symbolism, seeing in it the decline of the conservative gangsta rap and the final victory of the good guys from outside the ghetto. These ten years have shown that in fact everything turned out a bit wrong – the gangsta rap and its classic paths have not gone away. He thrives and flourishes, and with it dozens of new sub-genres, images, themes and stories in hip-hop, which ceased to be a marginal scarecrow of musical culture at a time when the world first called a genius an ever machines.