As the story goes, before Dame Dash sold Roc-A-Fella he was signing acts left and right. But out of the 20+ artists on the roster, Kanye West was literally the label’s last priority. Fast forward to today, with Jay-Z in retirement, Kanye West is not only Roc-A-Fella’s top artist, but also leads the revolution of “good music” that will hopefully bring balance back to the game in this age of, well, bad music.
Mr. West has had quite the year since the runaway success of his debut, The College Dropout, which saw him take home two Grammys (plus one extra for Alicia Keys). He quickly followed-up with the comprehensive College Dropout DVD, plus got behind both John Legend’s Get Lifted and Common’s Be, easily two of the best albums this year. Perfectly timed with the first day of school, Kanye delivers his official sophomore release, Late Registration. The hot topic surrounding this record is if it is indeed the classic that it’s being chalked up as, or instead victim of the sophomore slump.
Make no mistake, Late Registration is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2005. Produced entirely by Kanye (with one extra from Just Blaze), the album proves to be easily one of the most consistent records of the year, and is a testament to how talented of a producer that West is. Without rehashing what he did on his debut, he has taken his production to a different level, employing many new sounds and styles, even borrowing Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind musician Tom Biller to play live strings on the album. The result is a fuller, more musical sound that carries the album to different heights, without sacrificing his signature style.
With all of the niceties out of the way, you can read about how brilliant this album is everywhere else, and nobody is wrong. Each Time Magzine, XXL, All Hip-Hop, and HipHopSite agree that this is a phenomenal record. It truly is, and it has a lot of great moments, which you’ve probably already heard by now. But let’s instead focus though on the reasons as to why we feel LR just barely misses the mark of a classic record.
Despite the beautiful sound that envelopes Late Registration, it’s no secret that Kanye has always been a producer first and an emcee second. The subject of whether or not Kanye writes his own lyrics (*cough* ….rhymefest…. *cough*) is even brought up in a verse on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” (“Does he write his own rhymes / sort of…”), furthermore sparking the debate. We find Kanye in top lyrical form on tracks like “Touch The Sky”, the Just Blazing introduction which features a beautifully re-freaked Curtis Mayfield sample and quite a few rhyme quotables. The same can be said for the politically charged verse on “Crack Music”, over a marching beat which mysteriously only features half-a-hook from The Game; not to mention the Jay-Z helmed remix of “Diamonds”, which trades the original’s fat girl jokes for socially relevant conflict diamond commentary. However, while Kanye’s sense of humor helps tracks like “Golddigger” and “Celebration” get by unscathed, despite forced-rhymes and flagrant word mispronunciation, at times we are forced to listen to Mr. West struggle through a verse. While it’s the thought (and the music) that counts on tracks like “Roses” and “Hey Mama”, it’s lull moments like “Bring Me Down” and “Addiction” where even the music can’t save Kanye from sinking in his own production. Painfully bad rhymes such as “Your girl doesn’t like me? How long has she been-gay? / Spanish girls say no hablay-in-glay / and everybody want me to remix they sing-lay”, suggest that perhaps ghost-writers should be employed wherever possible. Where “ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever” possible. Word to his whole auntie team.
Granted, whether or not Kanye writes his rhymes isn’t really the issue, especially considering that on the flipside most rappers don’t produce their own beats, and it’s West himself who is making all of these emcees sound hot in return. Many of his former collaborators return the favor by making appearances on LR (Brandy, Jay-Z, Adam Levine, Jamie Foxx, Common, to name a few), as do a few new collaborators, such as Nas (“We Major”) and Paul Wall (“Drive Slow”), both who outshine the backpacked producer-on-the-mic.
Not to beat a dead horse, but another major fault of Late Registration is the fact that Kanye’s notoriously massive ego has got the producer feeling like he can do anything, such as let the “We Major” beat ride for an extra two minutes after the song is done. The listener finds himself thinking, “damn, that was dope when Nas was rhyming, five minutes ago.” The same can be said for “Crack Music” and “Addiction”, both of which are light on actual content, but heavy on repetitive hooks and long-drawn out beat-riding. But yes, he’s a producer first and an emcee second, so we take it in stride. It’s all good.
Don’t let the nitpicking get you down. As evidenced from our 4.5/5 rating, this is a great album with too many beautifully musical moments to name, easily establishing Kanye as the best producer in the game. But if either Common’s Be or Kanye’s own College Dropout are being used as the classic standard, this album doesn’t;surpass either. As he says on “We Major”, Kanye’s reasoning for naming the LP Late Registration was so he could “take you motherfuckers back to school”. But more fittingly, maybe it’s because everyone is back-peddling, trying to make up for not giving him his due props on The College Dropout and giving him the classic rating this time around to make up for it. Better late than never, huh?
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