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Friday, September 24, 2021

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Music Notes: West’s sound gradually better


When Kanye West emerged several years ago, his staple sound was sped-up samples. West sampled everybody, from Frank Sinatra to Marvin Gaye. More obscure artists were also borrowed from to create West’s production. Early on, when he was only producing for other artists and when he released his successful debut College Dropout, West relied on this sound, but he expanded and tried new techniques afterward.

Jon Brion, who previously produced albums for artists such as Fionna Apple, co-executively produced West’s somewhat groundbreaking sophomore effort, Late Registration. West chose to work with Brion because he was a fan of Brion’s work on Apple’s albums. Brion’s influence on West’s second album was definitely notable, thanks in part to his string playing which gave the album a more orchestral feel than West’s debut.

On West’s previous albums, the guest appearances were just as important as the lyrics from West himself. After having produced hit songs for so many artists, it was easy for West to call on these elite artists to contribute to his albums. College Dropout featured some of the best verses from elites Jay-Z, Mos Def and Common, to name a few. Late Registration highlighted Jay and Common with unforgettable verses again, and West even managed to snag a guest appearance from another legend: Nas. So with all these artists on West’s songs, there was less pressure for him to perform well lyrically.

Seemingly cognizant of that, West severely reduced the number of guest appearances on Graduation because he wanted the focus of the album to be on him. While singers such as Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, Dwele and even Mos Def, provide vocals on the album, there is only one other guest verse appearance from a rapper. Coincidentally, (or maybe not) West has improved lyrically in the last year or so, and that improvement was heard on Graduation’s first single, "Can’t Tell Me Nothing."

The song’s introspective lyrics make it appealing, but the vocals sung throughout the song by Connie Mitchell of Australian band Sneaky Sound System hook listeners into the song, climaxing in the last seconds of the song, which feature Mitchell’s vocals solely. This, and the sampling of house music icons Daft Punk on the hit "Stronger" are examples of West reaching out to a wide array of music for inspiration on this album. Jon Brion is co-executive producer again, but Graduation looks to be even more adventurous sonically than Late Registration. So, how will Graduation turn out? Read tomorrow’s review of the album to find out.


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