6. Graduation (2007)
Graduation is typically seen as a minor entry in Kanye's catalog, a transitional step between the world-beating grandeur of Late Registration and the bummed-out cyborg bloodletting of 808s & Heartbreak. And there's some truth to that. Kanye's howlers seem less endearing and more desperate ("I'm like the fly Malcolm X / Buy any jeans necessary"), and some of his few genuine songwriting missteps (particularly "Drunk And Hot Girls," which casts him and Mos Def as fatalistic creepers) appear here. But, this being Kanye, there's still thematic unity at work and pop appeal at play. Mood-wise, it's almost entirely club tracks for darkened corners and melancholic after-hours music, all of which sounds infinitely better late at night. In the light of day, the deep cuts start to feel like a downer, but the singles still shine. It's easy to forget how prescient the Daft Punk-sampling "Stronger" was, or what an exuberant romp "Good Life" is, or how dramatically the strings and synths of "Flashing Lights" evoke the tailspin Kanye's life was becoming. When it works, it works; abundant lyrical clunkers can't stop centerpiece/lead single "Can't Tell Me Nothing" from fulfilling its purpose as anthem-cum-confession. Ultimately, though, something feels missing. The last two tracks -- "Homecoming," Kanye's Chris Martin-assisted Chicago tribute, and "Big Brother," his fraternal love letter to Jay-Z -- work well as shorthand for Graduation as a whole: appealing, but stuck in the awkward gap between intimate and grandiose that Kanye usually manages to bridge.