When I was 12, my best friend, a four-and-a-half foot tall, eighty-five pound boy with the same haircut Justin Bieber had when “Baby” was released but with a lot more highlights in it, came to me with a confession. I had no idea if he was going to confess to me that he was madly in love with me or if he was going to admit that he was actually into boys (a confession that would come much later), but what really came out was far more shocking.
We were sitting on the floor of our mutual friend’s bedroom when he admitted to needing to tell me something. He reached across the room and grabbed his backpack. I started sweating, thinking he was going to pull out a water bottle full of liquor that he’d stolen from his parents which was something I had heard that kids who were much cooler than us had been doing recently, but that wasn’t at all the case. What he pulled out of his backpack shocked me, and ultimately shaped the person I would become.
Kenton grabbed something and slowly removed it from his backpack. Even though my iTunes library at the time was composed solely of bands who would have played the 2010 Warped Tour, I immediately recognized what Kenton was showing me: Kanye West’s “Graduation” album. My mind was immediately filled with questions, but before I could get any out Kenton began to talk. “This is Kanye West’s album,” he said, “I carry it in my backpack because I can’t stand to be without it for the entirety of the school day”. I asked if he carried a CD player with him, he said no. I asked if he’d downloaded it on his iPod, the answer was yes. I was confused, but after a few more minutes of conversation I began to understand: Kenton was leaps and bounds ahead of me on his journey to discovering and understanding good music, and the genius of Yeezy was something he had discovered before he was even technically a teenager.
We slipped the album into a CD player on the opposite side of the room and let it play while Kenton further explained to me why this album was so important. Although it was plagued with the trash that is “Barry Bonds”, it was also home to “Homecoming”, “Good Life”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, and “Flashing Lights” which are indisputably great Kanye tracks, but it was truly far more than that to us. We talked for the duration of the 51 minute long album, and by the end I truly understood why Kenton loved Kanye so much: he was everything we weren’t, but everything we wanted to be. There was no doubt that Kanye was a well dressed bad ass who couldn’t care less what anyone said about him and we were two seventh grade dweebs who never quite fit in.
Although “Graduation” is no “808s and Hearbreak”, finding out my best friend carried it in his backpack every day changed my life. I began to unapologetically jam to “Stronger” every time it came on the radio, much to my mom’s dismay, and I began to delve deeper into the genius that Kanye had produced prior to “Graduation”. My life became a whirlwind of shutter shades and not giving a damn. As Kanye evolved, I remained a fan and noticed that I evolved too. I found myself immersed in high-end fashion, again to the dismay of my mom and her wallet, and being a more confident individual with a fine taste in music. (My mom is always pleased with my growing confidence, and has come to love Kanye, but another thing she really hated was the fact that I played the “Graduation” album on a constant loop for the majority of my graduation open house. She’s a good sport and deserves a little shout out for putting up with me listening to some of his more inappropriate songs too loudly in her car, scoring me an authentic shirt from the Yeezy tour, and listening to me bitch about how much I disliked Season 2. Thanks Lil’ Kim)
From time to time, Kenton and I will still listen to “Graduation” in our Jeeps and sing along or reminisce on the fact that he carried in his backpack and laugh, but we really should be grateful. I’m sure some other artist or celebrity or opportunity would have come around and taught us how to carry our awkward selves with a little more confidence and style, but it’s a really great story to be able to say that it was all because Kenton couldn’t stand to leave his “Graduation” CD unattended for 8 hours a day.
(Below, for your entertainment and the embarrassment of Kenton and I, I decided to include a photo of the two of us around the time of the Kanye epiphany. I am on the far left and Kenton is perhaps obviously on the right.)