Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to take on the age-old challenge of choosing one piece of music they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a deserted island. It’s an absurd notion, but also irresistible. See all the different approaches they took to the challenge right over here.
Kanye West is many things these days, and not all of them are good. Regardless the perception of the pop culture icon, West has built up an impressive discography. Over the past 15 years, no artist has been more polarizing and versatile within their music than West.
Because of his diverse stylistic choices, any of West’s albums could be considered a “desert island disc” without question. It’s 2007’s Graduation that takes the cake, though, especially when it comes to impact and timelessness. Objectively speaking, it’s a record that changed the landscape of hip hop for years to come.
Before Graduation’s release, rap encompassed a couple of different identities: gangster (50 Cent), and a lyrically-based style (Eminem). When West’s third studio album hit stores in early September of 2007, hip hop experienced a personality shift that still affects the genre today.
On Graduation, the Chicago native introduced a lighter side to rap music, incorporating more synthesized production (“Stronger”), and pop-style melodies (“Good Life”). He somehow assimilates Chris Martin into a song about his hometown (“Homecoming”), while also showing his appreciation for his longtime mentor Jay-Z (“Big Brother”).
This one of the first albums I’ve ever listened too. Even in the streaming age, my decision to buy the hard copy of the record in high school was justified. It’s an album worth having in your hands—because of its memorable cover art with the famous college dropout bear or the colorful posters that go along with the shiny disc inside its case.
In 14 short tracks, West is able to keep his vision of pop music exciting. Unlike many rappers who have attempted to cross the pop threshold (i.e. A Boogie, Drake), West adds a good deal of substance to his concepts.
Over glossy production on “Flashing Lights,” Kanye speaks on the paparazzi’s control on celebrities, and how that negatively impacts the culture.
He also communicates to fans of all ages, the complications of following one’s dream on “I Wonder.”
West doesn’t shy away from satire either, something he’s always been good at (check The College Dropout skits). Both “Barry Bonds” and “Drunk and Hot Girls” recall the debauchery-filled remnants of the bling era. While comical, West’s sarcastic songwriting fits the aesthetic of the album very well.
If I had to take this album to a deserted island, then hopefully I can take it somewhere warm, because that’s what Graduation is: a glistening record full of inspiring themes from an artist who always kept the children in mind.
I was one of those ambitious kids that looked up to West, and it’s heartbreaking to see him engrossed in the excess of fame and spotlight in 2019, all because of the depression he’s gone through since The Life of Pablo era.
I guess that’s one reason this album has always been so special to me. No matter what West does next in the media, Graduation will always be a reminder of once was. Like the rest of us, Kanye was a young adult looking to be recognized amongst a sea of other human beings. West’s message was refreshing for a genre struggling to find its own identity a decade ago.
Hopefully, if I ever do get stuck on a desert island, I’ll have this monumental record with me to remember the times where things weren’t complicated. Those times where following your dream was your only worry.
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