Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Jon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Mike Dean, DJ Toomp, Eric Hudson, Brian Miller, Nottz, Patrick Reynolds, Gee Robertson, Kanye West (also exec.), Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua (also exec.)
Features: T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Mos Def, Dwele, DJ Premier, Al Be Back, A-Trak, John Mayer
Sales: 2.7 million copies
If Ye's third album can be best described in one word it would be "aspirational." What makes it so special is that here was an artist who was on top of his game and on top of the game, an artist who, by any measure, was peaking in his artistic prowess, an artist who had by all means "arrived," yet he dreamed of more. It wasn't "Look at me, I've got my money right." It was, "Wait till I get my money right." The common man dreamed of being like Kanye, yet Kanye treated himself like a common man striving for perfection.
"Stronger" gave him another Billboard smash, "Can't Tell Me Nothing" was a sorely needed street anthem, and the release-day showdown with 50 Cent was the promotional spotlight to highlight his achievement. Kanye's career can often be described as inspirational, but Graduation's stadium-status hugeness stand as a lesson in never settling with good—because it's simply not good enough. The album's sound was inspired by Kanye touring with stadium-rock acts like U2, which helped him realize that intricate lyrics don't translate well to crowds of ten thousand, so he adjusted his lyrical style and added synthesizers to the production fill up the space.
The album's effect was best exemplified on the album closer "Big Brother." The song served as an ode to Jay-Z, one that cast Hov in the highest light. In truth, at that point, Kanye wasn't Jay's underachieving underling anymore, he was his peer—accomplishing in three albums what it took Jay six to do. But placing Jay on a mantle made perfect sense for Kanye; he's always needed something to strive for, a greater goal to achieve. The day Graduation was released was the day Kanye had been waiting on his whole life: It was the day he became legendary. But it wasn't a victory lap, it was the dawn of a new day where Kanye would shine on a whole new level. It was, "Good Morning." —Insanul Ahmed