Kanye played his Graduation album for a packed, SRO, auditorium tonite….and before I even speak on the album itself, let’s first talk details. I’ve already heard what hell it is to work with ‘Ye, lol….smart ppl are usually pretty demanding. And anal retentive…and neurotic…and did I mention demanding, lol. So its no surprise that Kanye had everything planned to a T. There were the Kanye West Graduation programs, featuring all the lyrics to the whole album, plus a few back pages for “notes.” There were the plastic 2-D versions of his signature DEVO shades. There were fog machines, and a light show, and even medleys of Kanye’s favorite visual cues (Anime porn, 2046, etc). I think I saw DJ A-trak’s set up in the lobby. But the crowning touch for me were the huge bags of cheese, caramel and buttered popcorn sitting on the bar.

Maybe the other folks there just thought, “Ok, cool. Movie theater seating. Popcorn. I get it. But no thanks, I’m good.” Me? That popcorn moved me. It was Garrett’s Popcorn. And if you’re from Chicago, you have vivid sense memories of the smell of Garrett’s wafting down Michigan Avenue. The only smell I know of that can cut through Lake Michigan wind in deep winter. And when Kanye arrived at the theater at 6:30 and saw there was only the buttered flavor there….someone had to rush out to get the cheese and caramel kinds before the party could start. Sounds anal, but trust me when I tell you, that cheese and caramel really were key: ) Those are my mom’s favorite flavors too, lol.

Anyways, so much for my rambling….the album. Really good. I remember liking the last album but having these brief moments where I felt like Kanye was rapping at me, and it was getting in the way of enjoying the music. Not so with this album. I liked everything I heard, but especially the three songs Kanye said he did at the very last moment, down in Atlanta, with DJ Toomp and others. (“Barry Bonds,” “Flashing Lights,” and one other, I cant remember which) And of course, “Big Brother” was very poignant, and definitely the best rap song ever made about another rapper : ) Some folks said “Good Life” sounded slower than in earlier listening sessions. And an audience member questioned why “Home” had changed beats and become “Homecoming.” (Kanye’s answer? Because “Home”‘s beat wouldnt rock stadiums, and its lyrics were too good to go to waste. LOL) But again….I really liked “Flashing Lights.”

So that was the music portion….but as Valedictorian of this ceremony, Kanye had to give his Graduation speech. And that’s what I really came for. (I go to album listening sessions but honestly, I prefer to enjoy my rap music in private. Much like my porn. Just keeding.) As different as Kanye and 50 are….I always maintain that they also have many similarities. One of them being that both men are very magnetic public speakers. Kevin Smith, the guy who directed Clerks and Chasing Amy and Dogma, has this documentary of him just doing speaking tours at colleges, where he packs these huge auditoriums and folks watch him for like four hours, just talking out his thoughts, telling hilarious anecdotes about Prince and George Lucas….its genius. Well, my point is, I think Kanye would spit pure fiyah behind a lecturn : )

He revisited his love/loathing of blogs. He decided that music reviews are often full of shit (‘Ye listened to the last Killers album for hours just to get some critic’s ridiculous 2-star Killers review out of his head, lol). And he explained that “making classic albums provides a service,” i.e. “Spaceships” helped people get through their daily grind. And “Stronger” helped one fan deal with death in the family. “Its not all about being the #1 download on iTunes. Or who’s gonna sell more.” (zing!) Kanye was funny and sharing and, dare I say, motivational?

Here were two of my favorite moments from Kanye’s Q&A….

Kanye says he makes song to inspire. And makes interesting point about Jay-Z’s name being a universal word…

Kanye’s brilliant Sept.11 scheme…let the media do the dirty work!

Big up to everyone that I got to talk to after the show. MTV fam (Sha, Rah, Sway, Jrod, Tim), Hillary, Leah, Miatta, Rik Cordero and Cons, Allhiphop fam (Chuck and Steve), UMusic fam (Yvette Davila, Gabe T, my new As-Am sisters Christine Moon and Inur Manoor), King Mag fam (Datwon, Jermaine, with Skyzoo), 88Keys (who’s going on tour with Common and Qtip), and more.

And of course, much love to Al Branch, and the Chicago boys, Kanye, John Monopoly, and Don C. (DemDare was the future)

(ps: no, I have no clips of the album. Nor would I post them if I did.)

Kanye with his fiancee Alexis and a friend. The future Mrs. West is stunning.

Ok, now I’ll shut up. This was even wordier than the “Stronger” screening post : )