I read it earlier this week, but it just hit me for real that Graduation dropped 10 years ago. I still remember a few days after the album dropped, my friends and I were all outside of my old house where I grew up. I remember I couldn’t wait to play the album for everyone. Of note, for the kids reading this….CD’s or compact discs, were still a thing 10 years ago and there was a place called HMV where people went to buy their music. Anyways, after getting back from HMV, I swear we played the song “I Wonder” for about an hour straight. And whenever the beat broke down right around the last 45 seconds of the song, someone would jump in and start freestyling (shouts to Trins btw #BARS). Again this continued for a solid hour, people would walk by and ask if we were ok because we seemed so “haunted” and in the moment. But we were just having fun. Some people won’t understand this and trust me I get it. But that was a moment in time for me. I can remember exactly who was there, what we were wearing and just the amazing vibe that we were all on.
Here’s the thing, Graduation was one more step in Kanye’s role in taking hip hop to the mainstream and beyond. It wasn’t gonna be boxed in by a genre. The album was smashing into popular music and culture. If “Stronger” dominated top 40 stations, then “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was the club banger. The album had hits for every situation. Heck, there still might not be a better alarm clock than “Good Morning”. And in fact a few weeks after the album dropped, I remember using “Flashing Lights” and “I Wonder” for a Terrell Owens vs Randy Moss feature that I was producing at the time. It was one of my early hits (if I do say so myself) and I’ll never forget that feeling of having a concept, following through and seeing the finished product on national television. I wish I could fully explain the feeling of “oh shit, I can do this and not only that….but I can do this really REALLY WELL”. I hadn’t really seen something like that on Canadian television and it made me feel good to know that “I did that”.
To be honest Graduation was more than just an album. I felt it. We felt it. It was culture. Now our culture, was popular culture. This is peak Kanye, but also peak culture. He was still hungry and we were still hungry to show that we can’t be boxed in, but also, that we belong. This album didn’t sound like other hip hop albums at the time, but it also didn’t sound like other pop music either. It was just Kanye. And with each and every passing song, what you were listening to changed. The beats always banged, but it seemed to soothe another part of your ear drum. The way that he was able to flip a soulful sample and “Talk My Shit Again…” on “The Glory” and then follow that up with Chris Martin just killing it on a piano for “Homecoming”, is nothing short of musical genius. This album has multiple levels of hits. And I didn’t even mention his shout out to Jay on “Big Brother”. I mean, I’m not sure if this is Kanye’s best work, but to me its importance to the culture can’t be denied. Because every time you were going to try and define him, Ye’ was already flipping the script to break new ground. We related to the chip on his shoulder (or as Jay said “more like a brick or a boulder”) and it felt like ‘Ye was proving that hip hop was more than just music. Again, it was culture. He was speaking to a generation and telling them to find their dreams at the exact same time that I was ready to prove that I belonged in my career as well. This might sound cliche to you and that’s ok…because I know there’s generation like me that knows exactly what its like to scream out “WAIT TILL I GET MY MONEY RIGHT” while you’re still in public housing and then “YOU CAN’T TELL ME NOTHING RIGHT” after you busted your ass to get to places that few thought were possible. And looking back and laughing with that same Jeezy ad lib that so cleverly punctuates that song. That brash, in your face attitude, that deep down you know is drenched in insecurity, is what a lot of us are forced to use as a shield when you “graduate” into rooms where few look like you, sound like you or come from where you come from. And that’s what made the album so real. The whole way through it feels as if Kanye is taking you on a journey to success. By the time you get to song 5 (YES, only song 5) and T-Pain absolutely murders the hook on “Good Life”, the sounds of success blasting through your speakers no longer sound aspirational, but more celebratory. No longer are you hoping or dreaming, but you know, whether it’s foolish pride or not, you know that you will make it….regardless of your circumstances. Graduation wasn’t the first or last album to tell us that we can do anything, but it was the first one for me anyways, that was unapologetically different in doing so. There were so many different sounds on the album that it was unfair to just look at it as a hip hop album. Having Daft Punk and the lead singer of Coldplay is going to force the mainstream to pay attention. But to hold and then dominate that attention span on every other track (minus Drunken Hot Girls) ….is a whole different ballgame. And that’s what Kanye did with Graduation. It would still be a few more years before Ye boasted to Zane Lowe “We culture. Rap is the new rock ‘n roll.” and to me Graduation was the beginning of that culture shift.
For those of you not old enough to remember, Kanye’s backpack and pink polos were the opposite of hip hop culture at the time. But without Ye, do we get Cam’s pink fur or Lil Wayne’s skater chains or whatever the heck Migos/Lil Uzi/Travis Scott and them young boys are wearing these days? I don’t think so. Without the soulful sounds of Kanye melding rap and r&b and soul and trap and dance and you get the point….does Drake have the same superstar career he has now? I don’t think so. To me Graduation’s affect on culture is undeniable. But maybe more important 10 years later, is the Kanye effect on a generation of kids who grew up to realize that its ok to not fit in, especially when dealing with “a room full of no’s”. To follow your passion and know that above all, great content will always win.
I started writing this earlier this week, but didn’t know if I would finish it. Then I got on a plane for a friend’s wedding and now I’m sitting here at this super BALLIN resort. And it hit me, we made it. For the last 10 years I’ve gotten to interview and produce features on the biggest names in sports for a national television station. I’ve gotten to travel and see things that I still can’t really even believe. But more importantly, I moved my family out of that same public housing unit where we first sat there bumping:
“And I wonder, if you know what it means to find your dreams.”
Trust me I don’t say any of this to brag, because there’s really nothing to brag about. My money is definitely not “Right”, but I do ok. I guess more so figuring out that “having money’s not everything, not having it is” and so I’m good #TPainVoice. Overall, I’m still the same kid from unit 43, with my same crew cracking the same stupid jokes, but now in different locations. My only goal in this is to pass along a story of being inspired by someone creatively and then believing in yourself to do the same in your own individual way. Am I exactly where I wanna be, no not at all. As I said, I’ve been doing features behind the scenes for 10 years and so I know there’s so many more levels to get to and I know I can do it. But, I didn’t always think that way….and every time I hear one of the songs off of Graduation, it takes me back to that moment in time of sitting outside my old house and hearing “You could still be who you wish you is/It ain’t happened yet and that’s what intuition is”. Hopefully at least one of the 5 people that end up reading this, understands where I’m coming from and if not that’s cool but in the meantime I’m gonna head back to the beach to enjoy some more of this “Good Life”….
As always, just my thoughts. Right or wrong, just how I’m feeling at the time.
Don’t worry, I know I promised NFL Picks (HOME TEAM IN CAPS)
Texans +6 over BENGALS (#OnBlast Instagram pick)
May we never see Macho Man Tom Savage ever again. Also is Deshaun Watson really dating Mia Khalifah? Don’t forget to check my instagram page for all of my Thursday night football picks (https://www.instagram.com/sheldonalexander/)
COLTS +7.5 over Cardinals
PANTHERS -7 over Bills
BUCS -5.5 over BEARS
RAVENS -7.5 over Browns
Vikings +7 over STEELERS
Patriots -6 over SAINTS
CHIEFS -5.5 over Eagles
Titans -1.5 over JAGS
CHARGERS -3.5 over Dolphins
RAIDERS -13 over Jets
Cowboys -2.5 over BRONCOS
Niners +14 over SEAHAWKS
RAMS -2.5 over Washington
FALCONS -2.5 over Packers
Lions +3 over GIANTS
LAST WEEK: 4-11
THIS WEEK: 1-0