There is no bigger lie on Graduation than when Kanye West claims he doesn’t “try hard,” as he does on the single “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” West tries extremely hard at everything he does. And unlike his hip-hop and rock peers – most of whom want Grammys and good reviews as much as he does – he’s unafraid to tell you.
On Graduation, West tries hard to address the problems on his first two albums, and succeeds: The new disc is tighter than Late Registration (fifty-one minutes long), with no skits (thank heavens) and less ornate production. None of the beats clobber you as immediately as “Jesus Walks” or “Gold Digger,” but most of them improve on every listen: This is an album that you first like, then love. “Good Morning” elevates from a gentle hook to a perfectly chosen Jay-Z sample; “Barry Bonds” is a mix-tape song with a moaning groove that you could listen to for weeks; and on “Flashing Lights” and “Stronger,” West single-handedly takes hip-hop back to its pre-Run-DMC disco days.
As a lyricist, West will never possess the pure cool or formal mastery of his mentor Jay-Z, but he’s grown as a writer. (See the off-kilter, dreamlike “I Wonder.”)And given the lousy year hip-hop has had, the music needs his spazzed-out, neurotic creativity more than ever. As for the rest of you rappers: Try harder.