“Wake up Mr. West, Mr. West, Mr. Fresh, Mr. by hisself, he so impressed…” -Kanye West on ‘Good Morning’
Those are the profound opening lyrics that are rather symphonic and set the entire tone for Kanye West’s third studio album, Graduation. Symphonic and synchronous to a well-known arc, West opens the album with the age-old tale of senoritis. That feeling all high school and college seniors experience as graduation nears. That unwavering desire to not do anything, because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. For four years, you’ve slaved and you’ve faced unforeseen challenges that have shaped you and shaped this moment. So when West continues: “I mean damn did you even see the test, you got D’s mother f*cker D’s, Rosie Perez” he speaks to the 1989 Do the Right Thing scene but using that scene to tell the tale of senioritis; which he follows with “and yes, barely passed. An E in every class. Lookin’ at every ass. Cheated on every test”. To which he summarizes this opening and profound stanza:
“I guess…this is my dissertation. Homie this shit is basic. Welcome to graduation”
Not only is this profound but it is the personification of a linear timeline that can only be described as finals week. The studying, the grind leading into those last exams you’ll take as a student – culminating with graduation.
Throughout the song, West touches on one overarching tone that comes with graduation. Specifically collegiate graduation. And that is the removal of the proverbial safety net. Now gone is the certainty of returning to school in the fall, that unsettling realization that sits in once you cross the stage with your degree in hand. Articulated by West: “Good morning, look at the valedictorian. Scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean. Scared to face the world, complacent career student”.
The real world is a scary place, those fears, those feelings are only human. The unknown that awaits ahead. Good Morning.
The fears of the wide world that awaits is enough to drive anyone insane and put legitimate unrest into someone. But the best means of attacking that period which can be tumultuous and trying is to uplift yourself. In the words of track no. 2 of Graduation, remind yourself that you are a champion.
“Did you realize, that you were a champion in their eyes?”
Ultimately positivity is the catalyst that could make the best out of even the worst of situations. West encourages himself, as a newfound graduate…that he is a champion and that we are champions.
“They used to feel invisible. Now they know they invincible”
Track no. 3 is an in-album sequel of track no. 2. An unprecedented extension. If Champion was an realization of one’s worth; Stronger is a bold awakening. A declarative statement. As evident by the chorus: “Na-na-na that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger”. Utilizing Daft Punk’s 1999 hit Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger…the sample maintains the chorus line throughout the song that is accentuated by a sped up track that feels as if you’re moving with the instrumental. One that West even played out slow with a progressive tempo into the full-on track during the Saint Pablo Tour.
But the chorus are certainly words to live by.
I Wonder x Good Life x Can’t Tell Me Nothin’
“I’ve been waiting on this my whole life. These dreams be waking me up at night”
During the stasis that is the period after graduation…life can become a proverbial roller coaster. The ups and the downs are aplenty, but one thing is certain, that in that state…you wonder. You dream, you cultivate, you project. You begin to look beyond yourself and see yourself in the third person. I Wonder is an lyrical out-of-body experience that is the definition of seeing yourself, seeing what it takes to make your dreams manifest themselves into reality – ultimately giving birth to the good life but there is an admission of one’s self worth.
“I’ma get on this TV mama, I’ma put sh*t down”
“La-la-la-la, wait till I get my money right. La-la-la-la, then you can’t tell me nothin’ right?!”
That admission’s of one’s self worth is indelible throughout the lyrics that is Can’t Tell Me Nothin’ in fact, the line is extremely Kanye. But it is the thought process of someone in his position, you cannot tell me anything once I reach my goal and the plateau I set for myself. That is the bold nature of Kanye Omari West, the brashness that we’ve seen over the last 14-15 years and we will continue to see from West until he bows out of the spotlight.
If I Wonder x Good Life x Can’t Tell Me Nothin’ was a transition in a visual stream of consciousness to a realization of one’s worth once you reach your ultimate goals…then Barry Bonds x Drunk & Hot Girls x Flashing Lights is the roller coaster of fame. Fame personified. From the bold statement: “Fresh off the plane, Konnichiwa b*tches. Turn around another plane, my passport on pivot” to the statement of “Coming in the club with that fresh sh*t on. With something crazy on my arm”, West lets us know that fame is fickle and that when you’re in his position, things tend to come easy. As Lil’ Wayne placed it: “I’m all about my Franklins, Lincolns and Reagans. Whenever they make, them I shall havye them”.
But just how Wayne places a focus on the materialism that comes with fame; Mos Def assists with the depiction of celebrity nightlife with his contribution to Drunk & Hot Girls. However, along the way…West begins to see the pitfalls of fame that are so persistent and prevalent. Articulated with the line:
“Ah, da, da, da, da. That’s how the f*ck you sound, you drunk and hot girl”
“We go through too much bullsh*t just to mess with these drunk and hot girls”
Those lines, that chorus is an epiphany one that stems from the fatigue of fame and maintaining a public image. An epiphany that comes perhaps just a moment too late because we then find Rita G in a full length mink coat and lingerie who struts toward a helpless West bound in the trunk of a Ford Mustang who has fear in his eyes. No longer fear of the real world but fear of death…someone who sees his life playing out before his eyes. The ultimate pitfall of fame; losing your self to it. Moments before she then bludgeons West with a shovel from the trunk of the vehicle. Just for the slate to appear: FLASHING LIGHTS
Everything I Am x The Glory x Homecoming
The previous three tracks are a coming of age tale that manifests itself and ultimately ends with the ‘death’ of West. Lending itself for a rebirth in the form of the next three tracks. Because just like I Wonder, West sees himself from the third person, an out-of-body experience when he speaks on Everything I Am. He begins the track by saying one word, that is as profound as the opening line of the album. “Damn”. To which he pauses and states “Here we go again” later to come to realization “Everything I’m not made me everything I am”. As the song serves as a coming-of-age, a venture back through West’s childhood and adolescence.
As the track gives itself up to The Glory, West pivots now finding a harmony between the innocent soon-to-be graduate to the dreamer of I Wonder and the Kanye West of the limelight with Barry Bonds x Drunk & Hot Girls x Flashing Lights. The Glory is West boasting but he’s somewhat less tamed from the lifestyle that lead to his demise in the end of Flashing Lights but instead he’s once again focused. He then boasts about himself in a return to what can only be described as the good life. A life he is thankful for…one that does not happen without the support of a certain person. However just before he reaches his soliloquy for that person; he takes a trip back home. Where he thanks his mom, and the city of Chicago which helped raise him.
Essentially West turns the boastful nature of The Glory into a touching homage of Chicago and to his mother, Donda West. It is essentially his Grammy’s acceptance speech come to life all in the matter of two tracks. While his mother supported his dreams, there was one person West credits with bringing his dreams into reality:
“My big brother was BIG’s brother. Used to be Dame and BIG’s brother. Who was hip hop brother, who was No I.D Friend. No I.D my mentor, now let the story begin”
Riddled with lines and allusions that is that of Shawn Corey Carter, better known to the world as Jay-Z…Big Brother is a thank you. A thank you to Jay for embracing him and giving him the shot no one else would. Albeit, the song is a track dedicated to Jay, West places him on a pedestal one higher than himself as an artist. And we all are aware of West’s thoughts of himself as an artist. But to place Jay above himself is the ultimate sign of respect to consider him the constant throughout the modern age of hip hop. Recalling all Jay allowed West to accomplish just off one shot:
“J.A.Y., and ‘Ye so shy, now he won’t even step to his idol to say hi”
“Standing there like a mime and let the chance pass by. Back of my mind, ‘he could change your life’. With all these beats I did, at least let him hear. At least you can brag to your friends back at the gig. But he got me out my mama crib. Then he helped me get my mama a crib”
West extremely coy recalls his internal conflict to step to his idol who could help him manifest the dreams of I Wonder or return him to the fears of Good Morning. Not knowing how the real world would treat West or if he would indeed become a “complacent career student”. The paradox he endures, the ride West takes the listener on throughout the album are all things you feel if you’ve completed school and are stand of the bluff of life. Looking out to the horizon and only seeing empty space, the ocean which carries on forever and forever it would appear to the naked eye. Graduation is a coming of age, from a young man who was a college dropout an decided to take his dreams head on. Overcoming his fears of the real world and the uncertainty that came with it to even stepping to his idol knowing that in that faithful moment, his life could change forever.
Graduation is a 13-track sonnet, an eloquent masterpiece depicting maturity through a series of events that makes you realize, you are who you are. Not defined by your fears – but defined by your dreams and what you do to bring those dreams into reality. The ability to be positive, to realize you are a champion and take the world head on and make it your oyster.