Music

Kanye West: Late Registration

Jozen Cummings

Gorgeously textured and musically ambitious, this album is a testament to West's top-of-the-game production skills, but as an MC he's still got a few lessons to learn.

Kanye West

Late Registration

Label: Roc-A-Fella
US Release Date: 2005-08-30
UK Release Date: 2005-08-29
Amazon affiliate
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

+ another review by Justin Cober-Lake

Let's just get this out of the way up front: Kanye's latest album is album-of-the-year at best, not album of the next 20 or 30 or 40 years, which is what various publications have insinuated by giving 'Ye's sophomore effort perfect scores. Even Time magazine was subliminally saying Late Registration is the best thing since pockets on pants when they recently put Kanye on the cover. The problem with all of this is that Late Registration is not all that. It's more like this:

Late Registration continues where The College Dropout left off, opening with a skit featuring Bernie Mac as a school administrator still unsatisfied with Kanye's classroom performance. Mac's tirade fades into the beginning of "Heard 'Em Say", featuring Maroon 5 leader Adam Levine. With its sweet piano chords and Levine's gentle cooing, the track is probably the best hip-hop lullaby to come along since Slick Rick's "Children's Story", as Kanye preaches, "Nothing's ever promised tomorrow, today". But Kanye saves his show-and-tell talent for the end of the piece. As Levine fades out, the track rides on, incorporating various bells and whistles, which move into a warped bass and scathing synthesizers. And here is where we are introduced to 'Ye's special guest of the day, Jon Brion.

As the producer for Fiona Apple, the Brion choice seems to be nothing more than Kanye's way of telling people, "I'm too cool for hip-hop," but Brion's presence is evident from the beginning, and it's hardly a bad thing. As a colleague of mine wrote, the two of them together have created "some of the most sophisticated, baroque hip-hop ever."

Take "Gone", for example, featuring Consequence and Cam'Ron. Kanye combines his stock-in-trade production method -- chopping up Otis Redding's version of "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" -- with Brion's short bursts of dense strings, which weave in and out over a "Chopsticks"-like piano line. When the chorus comes in, a full orchestra lays down a plush soundbed underneath Kanye and Cam'Ron, who harmonize "We strive at home / I ride on chrome" along with the Redding sample. Cam'Ron then abandons form on his verse by continuing to rhyme well into the chorus. And on Consequence's verse, more violins are added as the piano drops out completely.

This kind of complex creativity is found throughout every track on Late Registration. Together, Brion and West have made the most musically ambitious hip-hop album since Outkast's Aquemini. But what prevents Late Registration from achieving that unequivocal classic status is Kanye's alter ego: Kanye, the rapper.

While he certainly sounds more comfortable on the microphone on songs like "Crack Music" and "Drive Slow", there are more than a few tracks and guest appearances that show Kanye's rap game still needs work. On the remix to "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", Jay-Z's witty reference to the sampled track ("Shirley Bassey's in the rear saying exactly / What I've been saying practically, my whole career / The diamond is forever / I've been mining this forever") outshines Kanye's conscious (albeit, noble) talk about the horrors of the diamond trade. The majestic "We Major" is another musical triumph, but the guest appearance by Nas, in which he claims, "I'm Jesse Jackson on the balcony when King got killed / I survived the livest niggas around", takes the cake for the song's best line.

Ironically, Kanye has played an integral role as a producer in classic albums by Jay-Z (The Blueprint Vol. 1) and, more recently, Common (Be), thus proving Kanye is at the head of the class. But what made those albums classic had just as much to do with the MC's as it did with the beats Kanye provided. As Kanye says on "We Major", the album's title was chosen because he's "taking these muh'fuckas back to school", and he does that, musically. But lyrically, Kanye is still a few credits short of graduating to the next level.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.