The Design Evolution of Kanye West's Album Artwork

Graduation (2007)

Singles: "Can't Tell Me Nothing," "Stronger," "Good Life," "Flashing Lights," "Homecoming"
Art Direction: Takashi Murakami
Illustrator: Takashi Murakami

Kanye recruited Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami to art direct and design the artwork for Graduation, kicking off a new era for him musically and aesthetically. Kanye visited Murakami's Tokyo studio in 2006, and at that point, he knew he wanted to work with the "Japanese Andy Warhol."

The cover of Graduation continued Kanye's collegiate themes from Get Well Soon..., The College Dropout, and Late Registration, but this time he introduced the conceptual metropolis, "Universe City," which he also mapped on his animated website (at the time) and used to name his blog, KanyeUniverseCity. Of the cover image (that took weeks to design), Murakami says,

"The cover is based on Kanye's theme of student life. School. It's a place of dreams, of righteousness, a place to have fun. It's also occasionally a place where you experience the rigid dogma of the human race. Kanye's music scrapes sentimentality and aggressiveness together like sandpaper, and he uses his grooves to unleash this tornado that spins with the zeitgeist of the times. I too wanted to be swept up and spun around in that tornado."

The album booklet tells the story of Dropout Bear struggling to make his college graduation ceremony on time after being awoken by his alarm clock, hopping in a DeLorean that dies, trying to catch a cab, and walking (after being chased by a rainstorm) to his ceremony. He then gets shot back into the sky, which is depicted on the back cover (similar to the narrative progression and front/back cover layout of Late Registration).

Murakami also created the animated music video for "Good Morning."

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