July 2007: This fall Kanye West will release his third album, Graduation. On it, the synths are the size of alien warcrafts, the boasts are as tall as skyscrapers and the creative risks are gargantuan. Since the release of College Dropout in 2005, West has been served a heaping stack of shit along with his even bigger stack of shine. He’s been blasted about his credibility, his character, his personal life, his history and the number of shirt buttons he leaves open in public. West’s extreme self-confidence has always been tempered with a tendency to take critique harshly, but instead of defending himself on Graduation, he responds with the daring of an artist who has something to prove. Surprisingly, it’s Chicago, the city that raised him, that takes on the symbolic role of everything he wants to win back.
Another geographic inspiration for Graduation is Tokyo. West sees similarities between his own personality and that of the Japanese people—ranging from their tendency to speak with emotional bluntness to their habit of pushing fashion to its farthest extreme. West commissioned ultra pop artist Takashi Murakami to create the images for Graduation (as well the video for album opener “Good Morning”) and filmed the Akira-referencing clip for the single “Stronger” with director Hype Williams on location in Japan.
To preview Graduation, we commissioned artist Vania Zouravliov to illustrate the dominant themes in West’s new work in a similarly bold and culturally-clashing manner: one that references hyperstylized Japanese visual art but keeps its feet firmly rooted in the darkness of modern day.