For twelve years now, Kanye West has been closely analyzed by society for a number of different reasons. Any hardcore hip hop fan would tell you that he’s reinvented the wheel in almost every album that he’s put out. Conceptually and instrumentally, Kanye has changed the way people listen to the genre of rap. We see the conceptual innovations he creates on his first studio album, The College Dropout, which was released in 2004; where he raps about black materialism, race and religion. The rave reviews and strong rookie start lead to his highly anticipated 2005 album, Late Registration. The intelligently incorporated instruments and impactful lyrics made for a successful sophomore follow-up. The album also solidified Kanye’s superstardom in the game, which would continue for years to come.
The experimentation on his second project is unlike anything we’ve seen before in hip hop. If The College Dropout was Kanye’s grand introduction, then Late Registration was a masterpiece that shook the musical community to its core. Not only did the conscious lyrics spill into his second album, but the instrumentation was refreshing enough to catch the attention of the mainstream audiences around the world.
Late Registration was inventive but not pretentious, ambitious but powerful and meticulous but never boring. The project starts with a short skit that basically reintroduces Kanye and the school based theme of the album. It leads nicely into the first official song, “Heard Em’ Say,” where the piano riff and hard bass mixed in with the positive lyrics about keeping hope alive really sets the tone nicely for the rest of the album. Adam Levine’s hook adds a nice layer to the song about always living life in the moment as well.
Even before Kanye became Kanye, he was still jump-starting careers. Lupe Fiasco gained recognition from his killer verse on the next song on the album, “Touch the Sky.” This single is also one of my personal favorites on the album because, not only are Kanye’s bars fantastic, but the addition of horns and a hard base make for a perfect beat. His next song, “Gold Digger,” is arguably his most popular track of all time. The catchy beat with background vocals from Jaime Foxx gets people singing right from the beginning. Kanye tackles the subject of gold digging women who try to make a living off of rapper’s money. The final line of the last verse, “But when he get on he leave yo’ ass for a white girl” ties the entire song up nicely, while also making people laugh a bit.
Kanye really starts acknowledging the current state of the black community in his next few songs. “Drive Slow” featuring Paul Wall and GLC talks about never rushing life over an almost relaxing trumpet. Common shines on “My Way Home,” where he raps about the hustle that goes on inside of his and other rapper’s communities. The most underrated track on this album has to be “Crack Music” however. The hard bass mixed in with a sample from the New York Community choir packs an emotional punch with the lyrics. Kanye raps about the influence of crack in the ghettos as well as in the genre of hip hop. Definitely one of my favorites.
The next few tracks on the project are good but not great. Songs like “Roses,” “Bring Me Down,” and “Addiction,” bring out a more personal feel with regards to Kanye’ ascension as a superstar. Topics from these songs include, with power comes money, ignoring your haters and the temptations that come with fame. These singles may not stand out as much as some of the others, but they still leave an interesting mark on the album.
Kanye does some of his finest production on “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” where he samples Shirley Basset’s “Diamonds Are Forever” theme song for a James Bond movie. The nocturnal beat and lyrics about the African blood diamond trade makes for another emotional track right smack in the middle of the album. Jay-Z has one of his best guest verses of all-time as well. The next song, “We Major” has some of the best features, where Nas and Really Doe bring their best game for seven minutes long. Another stand-out performance.
The softer side of Kanye comes out on “Hey Mama,” which is basically a tribute to his mom. The theme of his mom spills into “Celebration,” where Kanye is celebrating his fame with not only his mom, but everyone else as well.
The final song on the album (not including the two bonus tracks at the end) is “Gone” featuring Consequence and Cam’Ron. Kanye adds an Otis Redding sample over a nice beat that gives the album a great finale. The bonus tracks at the end are basically “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” without Jay-Z and an unnecessary song called “Late.”
All in all, Late Registration is an album that has stood the test of time for over ten years now. It’s an album that helped spring Kanye West from hip hop’s new sweetheart, to hip hop’s menacing superstar. The inclusion of the many instruments and samples was the new blueprint that many rappers have gone by, even today.