May 13, 2009

Kanye West - Late Registration (August 20, 2005)

In late August, Kanye West released his sophomore album, Late Registration, to wide critical acclaim and healthy sales. The disc featured the continuing adventures of the Dropout Bear, first introduced on the album cover of The College Dropout, who, in sheer defiance of his name, decided that getting a college education was a good thing after all, and decided to go for the full experience, fraternity and all. A couple of weeks later, Kanye West trash-talked then-president George W. Bush live on the air during a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina, leaving actor Mike Myers flabbergasted. (Never thought I would ever use that word on a hip hop blog. "Myers" is definitely a weird-sounding word, right?) When the Dixie Chicks did essentially the same thing during a concert, they were swiftly booted off of country radio and had to crossover to the pop world in order to remain culturally relevant (and to take care of their children). However, when Kanye said it, they just started playing his records even more. Is rap radio filled with war-bashing Democrats? Maybe. It's also possible that Kanye's huge ego had already infiltrated mainstream media, and this statement was simply one in a long line of similar sentiments that we just unconsciously grew to expect from the man. Either way, regardless of how you feel about the man, you have to give him credit for not censoring himself or his beliefs, no matter how inappropriate the venue.

But this post isn't about the Hurricane Katrina response. Late Registration is notable for the company Kanye kept while recording the disc: in addition to the usual suspects (Jay-Z, Consequence, GLC, who still doesn't have his own album yet...) and some newcomers to the fold (Nas, The Game, Cam'Ron, Lupe Fiasco, Paul Wall, Brandy, Adam Levine from Maroon 5), Kanye also co-produced the majority of the album with Jon Brion, a producer best known for his work with the likes of Fiona Apple, Evan Dando, Of Montreal, and Dido, in addition to his film score work for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (one of the most romantic films ever fucking made) and Synecdoche, New York (a film which was both interesting and ridiculously aggravating, often at the same time). With this then-unorthodox pairing (one which actually makes perfect sense now), Kanye achieved the cinematic soundscapes that sort of eluded him during The College Dropout, depending on how much you liked that album.

Which I did.

So we're back with the fake Bernie Mac, are we?

Ironic that an intro that ends with a command to “Wake up!” leads into a song that sounds so fucking drowsy, Kanye could fall asleep in the middle of the second verse and nobody would notice, since everybody's already skipped to the next song.

Also ironically, the best song on Late Registration is not produced by Kanye. Just Blaze creates one of the best beats he will ever do, built off of a Curtis Mayfield sample (from "Move On Up"), and lets Kanye run wild with it. The video was corny as shit, but the song itself is good, especially with Kanye's laugh-out-loud reference to The Lox. This song also served as the mainstream debut of Lupe Fiasco, and he does alright for himself.

The second single, which took me a while to get into when it began getting airplay. Once it sunk in, though, I found the song to be hilarious and catchy. As to why Jamie Foxx receives a co-starring credit when all he really does is make up his own Ray Charles-sounding vocals at the beginning of the track (the real guy is sampled throughout the actual song), I'm not sure: maybe West felt that Foxx was instrumental to the success of The College Dropout (because of “Slow Jams”). Or maybe he really liked Collateral. I know I did.

5. SKIT #1

This song uses the same Hank Crawford sample ("Wildflower") that Eminem's early “No One's Iller” utilized (and 2Pac's "Shorty Wanna be A Thug", a song about shorties that had thug-like aspirations), but Kanye makes a better song out of it, regardless of Houston grill maker Paul Wall's participation. Kanye and GLC make the song their own, and the screwing of the song at the end was a nice touch, but I personally don't understand how people can listen to an entire screwed album without being under the influence of syrup. Maybe that's just me. There's a remix to this song that tacks on a verse by T.I., but I've never actually heard it, so I won't comment on it.

This just sounds like Kanye had originally intended for fellow Chi-Town buddy Common to have a verse on his “Homecoming” (a song that appeared on mixtapes for years before finally popping up in a finished form on Graduation), but suddenly felt a change of heart, and deleted any trace of himself from the track. That's right, Kanye isn't even on this song. But Common still sounds good.

Some reviewers compared this song to “Jesus Walks”, probably because the beat sounds similar in a marching-band way: it certainly can't be because the subject matter is similar. The Game, returning a favor after Kanye produced his “Dreams”, originally recorded both a verse and half of the chorus for “Crack Music”, but, for whatever reason, Kanye deleted the verse from the final pressing of Late Registration. Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?

Rational Max understands that this song was written about 'Ye's grandmother, and it does a fairly effective job at expressing his exasperation at the health care system, but it's hard to listen to it today without thinking about what happened to his mother.

I always thought this song sucked.

As I mentioned in my Graduation post, I actually love this song, even though the subject matter (and 'Ye's flow, for that matter) is off kilter. My favorite line reading is when Kanye explains his request to the unnamed object of his affection to undress and pose for the camera by saying “I'm into that now”. Hilarious!

12. SKIT #2

This song was already pretty grand in scope (its original incarnation is included towards the end as a bonus track), but the fact that Kanye (half-assedly, admittedly) addresses conflict diamonds gives this song a sense of importance. Naturally, Shawn Carter completely ignores the concept, and obliterates his host anyway, with a guest verse full of quotable lines and Vitamin B (“I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man!”). His verse is also notable for the fact that half the artists Jay mentions as part of the Roc-A-Fella camp no longer reside on the same planet as Hov, which is both funny and sad for them.

Sure, I thought it was cool back in 2005 that Nas appeared on the album right after Jigga (kind of like how LL Cool J and Canibus had guest spots one right after another on Keith Murray's It's A Beautiful Thing), especially since they still hated each other at the time, but this song is much too long. Also, it's not very good. I was never a fan of the uber-pretension that masqueraded as a “song”. Nas has a good verse, though, and the world is left wondering what this could have sounded like, had Hova actually showed up to drop the guest verse he was supposed to, alongside his arch-nemesis.

15. SKIT #3

Takes on a completely new meaning after the passing of Kanye's mother. At least she lived long enough to watch her son earn his success (yeah, I said “earn”, and nobody out there can prove otherwise), and to hear this song. Rest in peace.

This track isn't very memorable. And quoting Dave Chappelle's Rick James was dated even back then (unless, of course, you were Dave Chappelle).

18. SKIT #4

Max will never say that he's a big fan of Cameron Giles, but I love this song, and Killa Cam does nothing but add to the proceedings. Consequence is no slouch, either, but ultimately this is a Kanye product all the way, especially after the beat switches completely toward the end.

The following songs are considered to be Late Registration's bonus tracks.

I always swore this song retained its original title of "Diamonds Are Forever", but the Interweb keeps telling me otherwise, so here you go. Truth be told, this song sounds feeble when compared to its remake, even though the beat is exactly the same. Why is that, exactly? On here, Kanye is basically talking mad shit, throwing up the Roc-A-Fella diamond sign, and bragging about his bling. According to Kanye, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest) schooled him on conflict diamonds, which led him to research and re-tool the track. I suppose we have Kamaal to thank for the conscious Kanye West.

21. LATE
My favorite of the two bonus tracks. This shit just relaxes me. Not really sure why it wasn't worked into the regular sequence, though. Did we really need a guest appearance by Brandy? She wasn't even a relevant artist when Late Registration was conceived, and nothing has changed.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Late Registration is a natural progression of the concepts and thoughts from The College Dropout, and is a much richer package musically. (That's entirely due to the presence of Jon Brion behind the boards.) To date, Late Registration is Kanye's most complete work, even though all of the skits are worthless and a couple of the songs are flat-out awful. It's interesting that the most successful rapper signed by Jay-Z is the guy that used to exclusively sit behind the boards.

BUY OR BURN? This disc is worth your money. Some of these songs are among the most cinematic rap songs in the history of the genre (once again, thanks to Jon Brion), and even 'Ye's smart-ass comments aren't strong enough to change that opinion. All in all, a worthwhile purchase.

BEST TRACKS: “Drive Slow”; “Addiction”; “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”; “Gone”; “Touch The Sky”; “Late”; “Diamonds Are Forever/Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Original)”; “My Way Home”; “Roses”


More Kanye West reviews to read can be found here.


  1. Max, worth finding the TI verse on Drive Slow.

    In fact, he's the only one who seems to have gotten the memo on what the song was about. When TI brings it from the heart and head, he brings it hard till it's dead.

  2. The Diamonds remix was sloppy compared to the original. It was probably the way Kanye edited the track but it just seemed disjointed. Jay’s performance was meh.

    We Major- Not a very good track? Are you crazy? This song is hood fabulous. I wild out to this track everytime I hear it.

  3. Heard Em Say is one of the best songs that Kanye West would ever rap on. Plus that bass is just sick nasty.

    We major is also a great track,even if a bit long.

    I also love the beat to Celebration. I can also stand Bring Me Down, even thought I completely agree with your sentiments about how its overdone.

    It's a hands down classic and one of the best albums of the decade.

  4. AnonymousMay 13, 2009

    I totally agree with u on the "We Major" song. Everyone claims its amazing but to be honest its totally wack and wayyy to long.

    I would argue though Diamond From Sierra Leone (Remix) is the best song of the album because its the only time Jay Z has really impressed me.

    Also, why did I get a song called "We Can Make It Better" which not mentioned anywhere..

    This is Kanye's best Album by a long shot.

  5. i, like you max are waiting on that GLC album, if kid cudi comes out before him i will loose all faith in g.o.o.d. music

  6. Anonymous, I've heard "We Can Make It Better". It was a bonus track on non-US versions of Late Registration: I think we Americans finally got to hear it on some compilation created to aid Hurricane Katrina survivors. I didn't include it because it's technically not on my version of the album. For the record, it's alright, but since it included Rhymefest (alongside Talib Kweli, Common, and Q-Tip), it should have made the album based on star power alone.

    Thanks for reading!

  7. The only track i truly hate is that crappy reworking of Gil Scott-Herons "Home is where the hatred is" in slow and uncreative. The rest is good, but somehow i actually enjoyed college dropout more. Its not nearly as perfect but just more to like.

  8. AnonymousMay 13, 2009

    I almost completely agreed with your opinions on this album, which is weird, considering I COMPLETELY disagreed with your College Dropout review (Never Let Me Down is my favorite Kanye song).

    Nice writeup.

  9. RingpeaceMay 13, 2009

    Muthafuckin' lyrical wordsmith muthafuckin' genius :D...
    khm, yeah this is a very good album, and it's sad to see that kanye has lost his way...

  10. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMay 13, 2009

    I've played "Gone" more than any other song in Kanye's catalog. Killa Cam hadn't fully regressed to the remedial level and I love Consequence (which is kind of funny since I hated the fact that he was all over Beats, Rhymes, and Life) but Kanye's verse is definitely what makes it such a keeper. Nas murders "We Major" which is why I prefer a version that has just his verse and then cuts out all the pretentiousness that follows. I prefer the original "Diamonds Are Forever" pretty much for the reason RL said in his comment above. It's edited like a mixtape cut and paste track. Jay's verse on there is solid but the "business, man" line is the only grade A material. So, Nas kills it and Jay-Z's overrated; I guess I'm pretty predictable, eh?

    1. I liked "Gone" more than any other kanye song but I think Consequence owned that track because I loved how his voice blended in with the high pitched strings

  11. Max,
    For some reason, I was afraid you were not going to like "Gone" and give this album a bad review. However, you didn't! This review made my day :-)

  12. This is actually my least favorite rap album from Kanye. It's still worth checking out, but some of it is a little too dull and boring. A few complete stinkers too. Even a few of the songs I like go on for a little too long.

    Pretty much all the stuff you mentioned in the review. It just bothers me more, I guess.

  13. AnonymousJune 21, 2009

    ahahaha a kayne fan...son just give it up already

  14. kanye is fucking boring

  15. Hey Max
    If the president of the United States called me a jackass, I dont know what the fuck I would do! I like the mans music enough, but it is hard to appreciate it when he is such as douche in real life


  16. Co-sign Addiction, it's a hilarious track.

  17. Good review, Maxie. I also love Addiction; the beat is very cool. Your description of "Shorty Wanna Be A Thug" - "a song about shorties that had thug-like aspirations" - was really funny to me for some reason.