Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Kanye West – Graduation

It’s back to school time, but Graduation’s in the air (okay, stop the groaning, we’ll stop the puns). You know hip-hop non-listeners haven’t paid this much attention to a rapper since, well, Kanye himself dissed George W. during that Hurricane Katrina telethon. As we’ve mentioned, ‘Ye knows how to pick his collaborators, especially when he’s on a quest to be cool.

At this point we all know what Mr. West has done to court your inner hipster, but still, big ups for presaging Daft Punk as this year’s hipster dance kings. We’re just surprised he didn’t hire Haruki Murakami (or, wait ? Dave Eggers?) to write liner notes complimenting the purple-y Takashi Murakami graphic design. And, dude, where’s the duet with Karen O (or, better yet, the Knife)?

Thing is, though, now that we have this baker’s dozen o’ new Kanye in front of us, the hipster brown-nosing feels less important. Like, now that we’re used to the Daft Punking, what’s with some of “Stronger”‘s lyrics? “You can be my black Kate Moss tonight”? Does that make Kanye the black Pete Doherty? Kanye, you’re inviting us to be your over-the-hill/looks-fading/cokehead girlfriend? Wonder if he’s just glancing at NME.com every day and not really reading the stories (still, a laugh out loud for rhyming “would do anything for a blonde dyke” with “Klondike” ? don’t think they teach that shit in NME.)

Granted, we’ve had only a handful of full listens, but Graduation seems weaker than Late Registration — “Diamonds” and “Gold Digger” are hard to top (even though Jamie Foxx is still hard to take). But that’s the past. The present? How’s about the future? “Good Morning” should be a sturdy graduation-day theme for years to come (and it name checks Rosie Perez). Lil Wayne, not spinning his best, still slices ‘n’ dices his way around Kanye on “Barry Bonds.” The graduate handles himself better with Mos Def on “Drunk And Hot Girls,” though despite the nice piano bridge and singing chorus, the rest of the song’s pretty tunelessly frat-y (thought you were out of school, dude?). “I Wonder” feels half-cooked with its choppy, echo-staccato flow. Nice sample on that one, but, what else is new?

We do like that “Good Life” samples “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)” and features T. Pain because we can easily make bad jokes like P.Y.T-Pain. (The robotic bootie shaker’s one of the album’s standouts) “Champion”‘s another personal favorite. It’s a tad awkward to cycle that vocal bit (“their eyes … their eyes … their eyes”) but leave it to Kanye to sample Donald Fagen instead of “Kid Charlmeagne”‘s thousand funky instrumental licks. And yet, he makes it work.

Not that ‘Ye’s always so innovative (last musician on earth to borrow “Move On Up”) but it’s sort of endearing how he embraces such bland, uncool pop singers (John Mayer, Adam Levine, Chris Martin) and yacht rock. And speaking of uncool pop singers: “Homecoming,” his tune with Martin, does indeed sound like a bouncy, pre-Stranger Billy Joel outtake. Key word being outtake … that’s not a hit Piano Man jam! So, Kayne, was placing the non-hep next to Daft, Bjorn, and friends a multitasking ploy to also make hip-hop accessible to soccer moms/VH1? If we knew a soccer mom we’d ask her what she felt.

For all the inevitable chatter of spotty rhymes, gotta admit the man can tell an arresting story. Graduation’s parting shot comes with a knock at West’s hero, getting into his up-and-down relationship with Jay-Z. Throughout he’s showing Jigga respect, but he isn’t scared to air his gripes at being left behind (“Only thing I wanna know is why I get looked over”). Plus, it comes packed with a practical lesson for you aspiring producers out there: Tell Jay you have a song with Coldplay, next thing you know he’ll have a song with Coldplay! Forget Beyoncé — Chris Martin is the new hip hop trophy.

The T-Pain/Timbaland/Lil Wayne cameos make it 2007-appropriate. But it’s not like 50 is gonna sample Can (“Drunk And Hot Girls”) and Laura Nyro (“The Glory”). Well, we assume … we haven’t listened to Curtis yet. In fact, let’s put our cards on the table: We had one night to listen to this thing, so all you downloaders who spend the Labor Day weekend with Kanye and 50 Cent please do the contrast/compare for us. It sucks to have homework over the holiday, but judging from the excellent critical chops you’ve been displaying re: Random Spirit Lover we know you’re more than up for the task.

Graduation is out on the greatest day in music 9/11 on Island Def Jam.