The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

CLASSIC ’00s: Kanye West – ‘Graduation’

Has there ever been a more aptly-titled album than Kanye West’s Graduation? The rap megastar’s third studio album marked the culmination of the three-LP ‘education’ series (following 2004’s The College Dropout and 2005’s Late Registration) and is, undoubtedly, the cornerstone (and end) of the early Kanye era.

This was the Kanye before the mass-media decided to turn Kanye West into one of the most controversial – and headline grabbing – artists of all time. Yes, there had been the infamous claim of “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, but that was tame in what was to come in the coming months with the Taylor Swift vs. Beyonce fiasco about to take flight with THAT legendary interruption.

Musically, Graduation builds on what had come before it, but holds a distinct influence of stadium rock; having supported U2 on their Vertigo tour, West found himself using more ambitious sounds with the collaboration with Chris Martin on ‘Homecoming’ perhaps highlighting this most. Sure, there was still room for the Motown and soul sounds of The College Dropout and Late Registration in the gorgeous ‘Good Life’ and the minimalistic ‘Everything I Am’. 808s and faux-soul appears in droves during ‘The Glory’. But it is the monster hits in ‘Stronger’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ which took Graduation and Kanye West’s popularity to new levels.

Both tracks show a clear influence from Euro-pop and European House, the heavy use of synths in the latter and the elements of Balearic pop – all the while throwing in elements of Chicago house – create a wondrously hazy single. ‘Stronger’, on the other hand, is the best example of Kanye West’s incredible vision musically; choosing the perfect sample for the right song is something West has shown to do like no other and on the Daft Punk-sampled track this was certainly no different. The French duo’s influence can still be seen on the work of West – namely on 2013’s Yeezus where Daft Punk lent their hands to the production on four tracks – including lead single ‘Black Skinhead’.

The debate as to what is Mr. West’s best record is still very much an unanswered quandary, but Graduation is certainly one of them, and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, here are 10 fun facts about the record’s release:

  • The album killed gangsta-rap: In the weeks leading up to Graduation’s release 50 Cent and Kanye got into a very public feud. 50 Cent was releasing Curtis on the same day and when West moved his release to match the release of the album, Fiddy claimed that West was “no rival” to the rapper, whilst simultaneously promising to retire from the game if Graduation outsold Curtis. Graduation outsold Curtis by 956,000 copies to 691,000 in its first week and thus the long-overdue decline in gangsta-rap began.
  • Graduation outsold every album that year in first week sales: Not only did West outsell 50 Cent, he outsold everyone in 2007; Graduation’s near one million sales trounced all competition selling over 50% more than the next biggest release in Linkin Park’s Minutes To Midnight which sold 625,000 in its first week.
  • ‘Stronger’ was mixed 75 times: Kanye is known for his meticulous ways in the studio and there is no better example of this than during ‘Stronger’s production; the track is said to have been mixed 75 times before its release.
  • The album sold more than any other West record in its first week: The aforementioned 956,000 copies the record sold in its first week was, and with the rise of streaming will probably always remain, Kanye’s best opening week for sales. The preceding Late Registration and The College Dropout have both outsold Graduation in total numbers – but that takes nothing away from the fact that, initially at least, Graduation was West’s most popular album.
  • ‘Stronger’ is Kanye West’s biggest selling single: The previous fact should come as no surprise given just how popular ‘Stronger’ was; the track has gone platinum seven times in America and while Kanye has three songs which have gone platinum five times (‘Gold Digger’, ‘Heartless’ and ‘Niggas In Paris’), ‘Stronger’ remains the pinnacle on the top of the mountain of sales in the West discography.
  • The beat for ‘The Glory’ was originally made for Common: As if West wasn’t busy enough with Graduation, he was also simultaneously producing fellow Chicago rapper Common’s LP Finding Forever. Common rejected the beat and with that became ‘The Glory’. West also used a rejected Common beat on ‘Everything I Am’ – something West acknowledges during the track.
  • ‘Big Brother’ was the only track that Kanye didn’t produce: Originally envisioned in an elevator, Big Brother bring Graduation to a rapturous close, but interestingly it’s the only track on the chart-friendly record which West doesn’t have a production credit on. The track was produced by Atlanta beat-maker DJ Toomp.
  • Jay Z was “emotional” after hearing ‘Big Brother’: It’s no secret that Big Brother is about Jay Z and when Nova was first played the track by West he was said to be rather emotional. Stating that West had captured the essence of what it takes to be a little brother, he claimed the track to be West’s best written track since ‘Jesus Walks’.
  • The album cover was designed by Takashi Murakami: The name Takashi Murakami may not be overly familiar to many Westerners, but in Japan, Murakami is seen as one of the leading contemporary artists with many comparisons made to Andy Warhol.
  • ‘Flashing Lights’ was premiered over 2004 Hong Kong film ‘2046’: Before Graduation’s release, West previewed the album with a live listening party on August 27th. During the preview Kanye accompanied each song with a video experience to match, and for the grandiose ‘Flashing Lights’, that was a scene during Hong Kong romantic comedy ‘2046’, continuing the world conquering themes of the record.

Listen to Graduation here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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