In 2007, Kanye West trumped 50 Cent in an epic sales battle, in which his opus Graduation trounced Curtis by several hundred thousand copies. Ye’s emotive raps on Graduation, intertwined with his evolution on the production side, inspired a new wave of MCs to take notes.
While gangsta rap still has a seat in the ever-expanding classroom of hip-hop, vulnerability and experimentation now serve as the leading candidates in creating your prototypical MC. Because of songs like “I Wonder,” “Flashing Lights” and “Stronger’,” today’s hip-hop artists cling on to Kanye’s indomitable body of work like a go-to study guide.
With Graduation hitting a major milestone on Monday (Sept. 11), turning 10, Billboard spoke to some of hip-hop’s new crop of MCs — Vic Mensa, Nick Grant, KYLE, EarthGang, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie — and received their fondest memories of Kanye’s third full-length gift to music. Check out their responses below.
“I remember when that album came out — I bought the album, of course, and I remember the whole 50 battle — and he came out on [BET’s] 106 & Park and he did “Big Brother” for the first time. I thought that was like the most amazing shit ever. I thought that shit was dope. Then, he brought on Hov [JAY-Z] at the end. They did “Encore” at the end of that set. I just remember that in detail — I remember what he had on, I remember how everything went — so that was a big moment for me.”
“My fondest memory of the album Graduation is being at my homie’s house on New Year’s Eve and this was our first time getting kind of drunk. We were drinking wine coolers or some weak-ass shit. I remember we were sitting outside and it was nighttime. The stars were out and I heard “I Wonder.” That song put me in a vibe that I’ve never been able to catch again, a moment that I’ve been never able to recreate. It made me just think about what it feels like to really accomplish your dreams. When I was 14, I [already] wanted to be a rapper, but it made me [ask myself] what’s all the things you wanted to achieve if you wanted to. I’ll never get that feeling back. ”
“I used to listen “Everything I Am” and “I Wonder.” Those were our records every time we would go into a soccer game ’cause I played like varsity soccer in my first couple of years in high school. So we used to listen to “I Wonder” and “Everything I Am.” This was a year or two after it came out. My memory is spotty from those days, because I was smoking a lot of dope and I was 12, but I do remember listening to those songs heavily.”
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
“I was a big fan of Kanye back in the day. The Graduation album was fire. I got a new phone now, but I was really bumping this album just a few months ago. I had that in my ITunes joint. That was one of the albums I was listening to, along with that 50 Cent album, that Nas album [Hip Hop Is Dead], all around that time.”
“I think about the day it dropped almost everyday. It was the year we were graduating from high school, so it was our album, in my eyes. I left from school to buy it [and] played it non-stop for like two weeks. The first time I heard “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” I was in the barbershop in the West End Mall. Everybody was strictly off the Jeezy ad-libs alone. The whole shop was fixed to the radio. I literally have a memories of moments for each record off that album.
“Good Life” [and] “Barry Bonds.” My mom came in when Wayne was finishing his verse, “Suck my bat bitch.” [Laughs]. She was like, “OH GOD Olu, turn that off.” It was so inspiring. So musical, so hip-hop. So many features from down-south artists. Then Yasiin Bey with the singing…. I love that album.” – Johnny Venus
Graduation was crucial to my development as an artist. It compiled all of my favorite elements of music at the time into one completely satisfying project. Jeezy ad-libs, mixtape flow, Wayne… and each song was hella polished. Favorite song on the project is “Flashing Lights.” Kanye mastered short simple potent verses and the beat and hook were amazing. – Doctur Dot