[Music] Late Registration – Kanye West (2005)


lateAlbum: Late Registration

Artist: Kanye West

Released: August 30, 2005

Rating: 8.8/10

Right from its very first track, it’s clear that Kanye West’s sophomore album, Late Registration is very much a spiritual successor to his debut, The College Dropout. The similarities between the two seem intuitive – they can be sensed in the album’s emotion and in the energy that their creator brings. Yet despite these similarities, it is the differences between the two that seem so much more obvious and noteworthy. The soul samples and the raw horns from The College Dropout are still very much in evidence on Late Registration but have been tempered with live orchestration and creative experimentation to create a sound that is more complex and layered. Likewise, West himself continues to display the flashes of anger, humour and sentiment that set his debut apart but his flow and wordplay now have a confidence and swagger in them that was previously lacking. Simply put, Late Registration is the work of a more complete artist who is making an active effort in addressing the deficiencies in his debut while continuing to grow and explore the various avenues of his craft.

In Late Registration, Kanye’s focus has shifted away from college and proving himself; his lyrical eye rests now on society itself as he tackles issues as large and disparate as drug abuse (‘Crack Music’) and blood diamonds (‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’). Make no mistake though, this is not an album lamenting society’s state – for every track that deals with the aforementioned issues, there are several more that are just classic Kanye, whether it’s him bragging about how far he’s come, or how much money he has or even something a little more sombre like the death of a family member, his sharp wit and unique charm shine through and gives the album a sense of authenticity that more than compensate for any lapses in his delivery. These lapses themselves are few and far in between; where Kanye sounded awkward and inexperienced on The College Dropout, there is a battle-hardened confidence in him throughout this project as he shows off his often humorous way with words, often almost unconsciously falling into incredible flows that match the tracks dazzling production. Yet, no one who listens to this album will think of comparing him to the industry’s real heavy-hitters – how can they, when those very giants strut their stuff right next to West on some of the albums strongest joints? With guest appearances from the likes of both Nas and Jay-Z (at the tail-end of their legendary feud), as well as Cam’rom, Common and Lupe Fiasco, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for West as he gets easily out-classed on most tracks by his guests, though to his credit, he acquits himself well with some strong verses of his own. The guests’ presence on the album enriches it greatly and provides a technical soundness that West himself might not have been able to provide adequately.

Despite that, neither West nor his small legion of guests, can stand in the way of the album’s true star – its production. The production’s evolution between The College Dropout and Late Registration is due mostly to the latter’s co-producer Jon Brion. Brion, a film score composer, had no hip-hop experience until embarking on this project and that lack of experience is obvious throughout the album. Yet, far from damaging it, his presence and subtle touch transforms several tracks, giving them new layers through his ear for instruments and giving West’s verses a more lush and complex musical background without complicating the tracks themselves. The end product is an album that is not quite hip-hop but certainly not purely pop either; instead, Late Registration lies at a comfortable intersection between the two genres, something that might go a long way in explaining how it reached its triple platinum status.

The album is not without its flaws, certainly. After an extremely strong opening salvo of songs, led by the inimitable Adam Levine, the album loses some of its momentum in its middle section with forgettable tracks like ‘Bring Me Down’ and ‘Celebration’. The loss in momentum isn’t tremendous but the tracks drag on and don’t quite contribute enough to justify their inclusion in what was even otherwise an amazing album. Likewise, the skits, which are short and occasionally entertaining, don’t totally suck the album dry of its pace but certainly don’t help either. Despite these minor setbacks, Late Registration is strikingly better than its predecessor in almost every tangible aspect yet, just a little, the added mainstream influence drains it somewhat of its rawness, leaving the album feeling just slightly more processed.

Standout Tracks:

Drive Slow

My Way Home

Diamonds From Sierra Leone

Gone

Track Title Producer Rating
Wake Up Mr. West
Heard ‘Em Say Kanye West, Jon Brion 5.0
Touch The Sky Just Blaze 5.0
Gold Digger Kanye West, Jon Brion 5.0
Skit #1
Drive Slow Kanye West 5.0
My Way Home Kanye West 5.0
Crack Music Kanye West 3.0
Rose Kanye West, Jon Brion 4.5
Bring Me Down Kanye West, Jon Brion 3.5
Addiction Kanye West, Jon Brion 3.0
Skit #2
Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) Kanye West, Jon Brion 5.0
We Major Kanye West, Jon Brion 3.0
Skit #3
Hey Mama Kanye West, Jon Brion 4.0
Celebration Kanye West, Jon Brion 4.3
Skit #4
Gone Kanye West, Jon Brion 5.0
Diamonds From Sierra Leone Kanye West, Jon Brion 5.0
Late Kanye West 3.5

Other Reviews:

Pitchfork

Rolling Stone

Spin

The Guardian

Hiphop DX

Wikipedia

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