Rhythm & Views

Kanye West

Kanye West may not have single-handedly saved hip-hop, but his mixalicious meanderings are keeping it accessible and fresh.

On his third disc, Graduation, West is working in the same general groove. He refines and redefines the art of sampling, blending and interweaving fragments of lyrics and melodies with his own raps and compositions.

West began as a producer, and his sound was born from his knob-twirling talents. You can argue whether sampling is pure musicianship, but artists always use new instruments and "borrow" from the past to create new works. West's bold invention of style, coupled with his thoughtful and considered rap philosophy that decries the gangster ethos, sets him apart.

Not every track on Graduation is gold, and the disc may not be as musical as Kanye's Late Registration. Still, there are some great tracks and several good ones.

West refuses to be limited by hip-hop, creating hybrids that often go in exciting directions. A propulsive, disco-hip-hop beat drives "Stronger." The heavy use of vocoder (via Daft Punk) and synthesizer would be cheesy in lesser hands, but West pulls it off. "Flashing Lights" is another dazzling danceteria special, featuring some deliciously suave production.

"Good Morning" is a tight opener with the beats butting up against the refrain from Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." "Everything I Am" works an old-school ballad against the scratches of DJ Premier.

A few tracks could be Late retreads, but on the plus side, West ditched the "scenes" in between songs. All in all, Graduation is an infectious confection from a self-aggrandizing rap star so far deserving of the love.

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