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Kanye West Week Part Three: ‘Good Morning’

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Many were thankful that ‘Graduation’ has no skits; I’d have to agree. Beginning the album with an introductory-sounding track that lyrically, contains the self-deprecation found in the Track One skits of ‘College Dropout’ and ‘Late Registration’ works just as well.

‘Late Registration’ was mired in predictable skits that strung along an already inconsistent album. Many would say the same for ‘College Dropout’ but I disagree. I see ‘College Dropout’ as some kind of post-Golden Age masterpiece. That is to say, all of the filler and junk of post-1998 rap albums (too many skits and guests, bloated length) pops-up on ‘College Dropout’ but comes out as a strength. I actually find the skits funny and efficient in linking the album’s songs and the guests are used wisely, almost always against what you expect, so it’s constantly bumping around never doing what you expect, somehow still being consistent in its chaos.

‘Graduation’ has a lot less of that kind of chaos or flat-out inconsistency, as skits and interludes are totally absent and the guests minimal but the result is an album equally complicated as ‘College Dropout’, only the complication is all interior instead of exterior. There’s nobody here to compare or contrast himself with, it’s just Kanye and his lyrics.

An introduction this slow-paced would seem counterintuitive, but it sounds like what it feels to get a day started: full of potential but aware of the routine that surronds or even chokes that potential. Kanye constantly dances around it, which is sort of annoying- but ‘Graduation’s theme is getting used to how things work, be it fame, girls, award shows, the industry, or fellow rappers. In this sense, the ease of ‘Good Morning’ sounds like what it feels to wake up for a normal day and drive to work or school or whatever. The feeling is heard in the “Elevators (Me and You)’-esque sound of the beat and the forlorn but still triumphant “ooh-e-ooh…” voices throughout the chorus. Good morning, your day begins, see what good you can glean from it. ‘Everything I Am’, has a similar mix of indignation and resignation, when Kanye says “and I’m back to tear it up/Haters start your engines, I hear em’ gearin’ up” because by this point he knows the drill and embraces the predictability of those around him and even (surprisingly) his own. He sounds less in-transition than he did on ‘College Dropout’ and not out of his mind as he did on ‘Late Registration’. He knows how things work and what to expect and what he’s supposed to do, but tries to find new ways of doing and saying.

Even the college criticism returns when he delivers one more really cutting critique of the college-going crowd. He does it with plenty of fervor but he sounds like it’s what is to be expected (and it is), like he’s no longer in-shock or pissed off about it: “Some people graduate but they still stupid/They tell you ‘read this, ‘eat this’, ‘don’t look around-”. I particularly like the line “eat this” because it shows that his frustration comes from experience and not some general anti-intellectualism (the kind often found by angry blog commenters). The equal amount of apathy and self-righteousness of the college educated can be mind-boggling. Pointing towards their ability to comment upon even one’s eating habits perfectly encapsulates any thinking person’s frustration with so many holding a degree.

Kanye also has a habit of taking and adapting hilarious, time-specific cliches of rap and putting a new spin on them. He does it a few times on ‘Graduation’ and his use of Jay’s voice on ‘Good Morning’ invokes ‘Bring Em’ Out’ and ‘I’m a Hustla’. While those songs jacked the line/voice for a catchy chorus, Kanye uses Jay-Z as a production trick and aural mission statement to rappers like T.I, Cassidy, and others. You hustlers, will you still be alive after you hear this weird-ass but apparently really successful album? Can your played-out and arguably socially irresponsible style really last? There’s that line in this song “they stole your streetness” which speaks to the continued co-opting of rap culture but also to the very-real fact that Kanye has taken some of that “streetness” in terms of appeal and popularity without being very “street”. If a rapper can take your beats, improve upon them, and your appeal is hot beats, you’re own your way to being extinct.

When the Jay-Z sample “Hustlas, that’s if you’re still living” comes in, late in the track, it’s one of the many truly transcendent moments on ‘Graduation’. Kanye is at his best when he is mixing and matching ideas, particularly when they build towards something that would be a mess on paper but somehow works when you hear it. Jay’s line too, is used to subtly suggest the impending death of the crack-rappers which, when framed in this absurd but interesting “50 vs. Kanye for rap’s well-being” hype has added weight.

Of course, he’s not a “concious” rapper, so he has as much with fun serious, political rap as he does with those crack rappers; he obviously has an affinity for both. The line “I’m like a fly Malcolm X/ Buy any jeans necessary” is just one of many lines that if you unpack it, is just trying to define himself through contrast. He’s a guy no doubt informed by Malcolm X (Poppa West was a Panther) but also a guy really into hot clothes and also okay with sort of mocking Malcolm’s words. If you’ve read Tom Breihan’s essay on Brand Nubian from this book, Breihan talks about the group’s ability to be informed by such politics but not above using it for a punchline. The line is also a companion or reference to Jay-Z’s “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on/I’m complex”. Between that line-adapting and the sampled voice and the ending song ‘Big Brother’, Jay-Z’s influence and presence on ‘Graduation’ is palpable even though he never pops in for a guest verse. Kanye as a rap fan as much as a rapper also must know, deep down just how quickly and strangely Jay-Z’s fall has been. He’s now the rapper whose voice you sample and whom you write tribute songs for not one someone as popular as Kanye wants on a song.

Written by Brandon

September 12th, 2007 at 3:18 am

Posted in Kanye West

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