The clock was ticking for the most highly anticipated hip-hop album of the summer. Packed to the brim with future classics like “Gold Digger,” “Crack Music” and “Drive Slow,” Kanye West’s brand new album Late Registration was officially polished.
West’s album hit the shelves August 30, 2005 and since then, the rap artist has been making his mark all over the Billboard charts.
The album features 21 tracks, including the hit singles “Gold Digger” featuring Jamie Foxx, and of course the summer banger “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” as well as next level music from the most innovative hip-hop stars in the game. Late Registration addresses a litany of topics that range from the personal to the political and all that falls in between.
With Late Registration, “Dr. West” has once again proved himself by making great music the only way he can: with honesty, humor and conviction. Enlisting composer and producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann) to lend his skills to the album’s production, West’s trademark sample-based arrangements have expanded to include live instrumentation.
West has always been an artist who challenges not only himself but his audience and his fellow musicians with new ideas and new ways of expressing the joys and sorrows of life through music. Late Registration does just that as it goes down avenues and alleyways filled with sound and vision.
With a line up of guests that includes Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Brandy, Paul Wall, Cam’ron, Adam Levine of Maroon Five and his longtime friend and collaborator John Legend, West has widened his selection since The College Dropout. There are new flavors and voices in the mix, but it is still 100 percent Kanye, still the voice of the underdog tackling the highs and lows of everyday life through pointed lyrics and emotionally charged music.
Unlike the “great” hip-hop releases of the past, the productions in this album are so insistent that even a person with an appealing voice like West’s can get lost. Only the song “Roses” delivers the endearing sentimentality of “Jesus Walks” or “Family Business.”
The album’s worst track, “Bring Me Down,” overwhelms with silly orchestral pomp, courtesy of Brion. “Bring me Down” also presumes people still care about Brandy, who sounds like she is recording her voice through a blender.
The song “Celebration,” unlike its title, is a busy, empty exercise in celebrating.
Kanye is not one to limit himself, and he lets his humor shine through. Barring those two tracks, and a few harmless yet unnecessary skits about a fraternity for the financially impaired called Broke Phi Broke, the rest of the album is impressive.
“Addiction” is unsophisticated in concept but inspired in delivery. “Gold Digger” is also simple but not restrained, tearing into the imitation of the obvious with a Ray Charles voice, Jamie Foxx and recycled drums, but succeeding with humor and respect. This song tells a cautionary tale for those who confuse love with the love of somebody’s wallet.
Opener “Heard ‘Em Say” might be the only song with a band feel to it, thanks to the presence of Maroon Five’s Adam Levine. “Heard ‘Em Say” is a song where the two stress the importance of being honest with yourself in a world that is anything but. West sounds great with his off-key, blue-eyed selling of his soul, but like nearly every risk here, the very sweet pop works.
The assumption circulating about West revolutionizing the sound of modern hip-hop is false. Not much has changed, though a few Brion tracks might appear to offer an oboe loop or two. In general, what makes West’s sound and personality so vital is that it is completely singular.
The irritating contradictions, the goofball ridiculousness, and the furious fist-raising still comprise an original voice. Though you will notice that I hesitate to use the phrase “everyman” to describe West, not every man could have written a headphones album that will rattle your trunk.
Throughout the album, Late Registration’s sheer depth of musicality is what is most impressive. Dark and eerie at times, uplifting in others (tracks like “Touch The Sky” and “Celebration” come to mind), the album finds Kanye at once madly in love with hip-hop music and fighting with it like a lover scorned – trying to push it’s boundaries to see how far it will go. A daunting task, indeed. But it seems as though West, as stressed as he is, is more than up to the task.