Sound & Vision: Kanye West's "Graduation" by Takashi Murakami
Our weekly segment, Juxtapoz Sound and Vision, explores a piece of substantial album artwork every Sunday to look at one of the primary ways musicians and visual artists collaborate. Many popular album covers become iconic pieces of pop art, and they're a great excuse for us to share some favorites along with the visual components that make an album memorable.
August 23, 2019: Kanye West, Graduation (September 11, 2007)
Cover artwork by Takashi Murakami
It's amazing to think back to 2007 and what Kanye West meant to pop-culture and pop music, because so much has changed in the 12 years since. Sky-rocketing fame would come together with Graduation, for Kanye, already a Grammy-winning producer, artist, and budding cultural and style icon, fresh off 2005's highly acclaimed Late Registration. So Kanye enlisted another budding cultural icon who had already rattled the contemporary art world, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, to brand and recreate the image of Kanye West Megastar. Reading this through the lens of how famous both are in the cultural realm, from fashion to music to art to celebrity, it's important to underscore the enormity of this most important collaboration in both their careers.
The colorful, surreal, out-of-this-world artwork matched Kanye's stadium-sized hip-hop tracks. Everything about Graduation felt BIG. Kanye's "Dropout Bear" went from shy little mascot and blasted into hyper-color, hyper-surreal galaxy of superstardom. Right about this time, Murakami himself opened the landmark ©MURAKAMI show at MOCA in Los Angeles, which again felt like the perfect artistic star alignment. Both were to become larger-than-life after this. Murakami, at the time, via a Wikipedia entry, said "The cover is based on Kanye's theme of student life. School. It's a place of dreams, of righteousness, a place to have fun. It's also occasionally a place where you experience the rigid dogma of the human race. Kanye's music scrapes sentimentality and aggressiveness together like sandpaper, and he uses his grooves to unleash this tornado that spins with the zeitgeist of the times. I too wanted to be swept up and spun around in that tornado."
In July 2015, when interviewing Murakami for the cover of Juxtapoz, we remarked that the Graduation artwork was what really turned Kanye into an almost mega-alter-ego, that he took his artistry and bravado to a whole new level behind the guise of Takashi's art. Murakami answered, "Oh, really? Wow, I never thought of that. Mr. Kanye [laughs]. His style is very funny, I love him. But he is very intense, super intense, always looking at the way others are creating, wanting to learn. A powerful aura."