Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Kanye West,Jon Brion, Warryn Campbell, Mike Dean, DJ Toomp, Eric Hudson, Brian Miller, Nottz, Patrick Reynolds, Gee Robertson, Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua
Features: T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Mos Def, Dwele, DJ Premier, Al Be Back, A-Trak, John Mayer
The best word to describe Ye's third album 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, 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 person dreamed of being like Kanye, yet Kanye treated himself like a common person 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 is often described as inspirational, but Graduation's hugeness stand as a lesson in never settling at 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 any empty space.
The album's effect is best exemplified on the album closer and ode to Jay Z, “Big Brother.” But 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. 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. "Good Morning." —Insanul Ahmed