However much of an asshole this guy can be, he produced one hell of an album here. This really solidified the influence of indie music samples and catches along with french-pop synths into mainstream hip hop.
Kanye was smart and collaborated with many different artists that would eventually breed curiosity and expand his fan base. Jon Brion coproduced a good number of the tracks. Jon Brion is one of my musical heroes. He plays every Friday night at the Largo on La Cienega, used to play with Elliott Smith, and has composed the scores for a number of my favorite films. Guest appearances on Graduation include Daft Punk, Lil Wayne, Chris Martin from Coldplay, Mos Def, and T. Pain.
Aside from working with Brion, I thought the most distinct collaboration was signing Takashi Murakami to do the album artwork. Murakami is a dynamite pop artist in Japan who has the commercial golden touch. His keychains sell for more than my hour's rate. Marc Jacobs signed him on a few years ago to design a line of Louis Vuitton bags (watch this interview with Jacobs). The album had very memorable images. While most hip hop artists go for a tuff-town look, West and Murakami created a stylish cute-yet-quirky hot hip hop image.
West also signed Spike Jonze to direct the 1970s-esque music video for "Flashing Lights"... one of my favorites. West's other videos also included help from Daft Punk and Murakami.
Between a catchy set of songs that are good for the club, car, or house party, West brought in some incredible artists, directors, and musicians that are all renowned in the art world (both commercial and indie). This album and everything tied to it packed a heavy punch in the music scene.
Go get your shutter shades on.