Sunday, 5 July 2015


Check it out... if you were somewhat disappointed in The College Dropout, and seek a Kanye West album that delivers the bombast, wild and frenetic creativity that the man promised with his debut release

Skip it... if you are unwilling to lose yourself in a hip-hop album that seeks to, at every given opportunity, exceed the inevitable trappings of its own inherent genre


There are few artists who can viably compare themselves to the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince, Muhammad Ali and Louie Vuitton. But as Kanye West would assure you, drawing parallels between those figures and his own genius is not so far-fetched. That said, only a meagre quantity were wholly sold on his artistic capacity and credibility upon the release of his debut LP, The College Dropout. Unfocused in narrative, structure and composition, it was a mundane album elevated to critical acclamation thanks to a number of key tracks which heightened its emotional appeal ('Jesus Walks', 'Through The Wire', 'Family Business', 'Last Call', etc). Discontent to revel in his immediate achievements though, the artist's subsidiary offering, Late Registration, backs up all the egotistical and narcissistic claims that West made within his initial few years of solo activity; a roaring, unapologetic attitude permeates his lyricism, writing and his production on this album, and its addictive sonic direction reinforces the concept that we are witnessing the evolution of one of hip-hop's most intelligent, individual and creative forces. Those who avoid West's musical output solely because of his supposedly conceited personality are missing out on his justification, and Late Registration serves as a damn fine argument for his artf. Is it a crime to self-congratulate when you've spent millions of dollars and months of your life to concoct what is arguably one of the strongest albums of 2005? According to a society which detests those who lack humility, it is. For those who, as West himself puts it, respect artistry, feast yourself on a work which is full of pain, passion, pride and rambunctious confidence. 

Where College Dropout allowed a multitude of chances for detractors to capitalize on various weaknesses all throughout, Late Registration denies these same individuals opportunity altogether. The record contains all the brash pomp that we have come to expect from this man, but the soaring symphonic melodies and choral inclinations register more prominently in this context. Late Registration is a triumph for those who support composition which extends beyond constant and basic beats, West's uproarious arrangements, aided by the helpful hand of film composer Jon Brion, dense in layers but focused in execution. His vision threatens to overwhelm his capabilities in particular instances, but the production team is restrained enough to avoid such a catastrophe. The rousing songs 'Bring Me Down', 'We Major' and 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone'; tracks filled to the brim with stirring orchestrations and beats that transcend the genre of hip-hop, are all pieces which could have failed in the hands of a lesser artist. But guided by the steady hand that West possesses, we are gifted enthralling, expansive and captivating explorations of the man's own psyche, fame, extravagance and vulnerability, each of these bolstered by instrumentals that match this sense of luxury that he oft-times describes, sensuous melodic sensibilities ingrained within this tapestry of a record accentuating the emotions that West seeks to evoke. Influential is an understatement; when Late Registration was released, mainstream hip-hop had yet to see an artist as varied and detailed as West provide something so comprehensive. It's a revelation from a purely auditory-based standpoint.  

Lyrically, the man exceeds expectations. He celebrates black culture, his own success, his mother (eliciting instantaneous comparisons to 2Pac). He laments on how his celebrity has negatively affected himself and those around him. He expresses and examines the disparity between the various classes of America. His rhymes are quick-witted, self-antagonizing, aware and always on point. His delivery lacks the finesse of many of his contemporaries, but this technical insufficiency is made up for with his character and distinction, his lines often uneasy in flow but still dreadfully engaging. The endearing quality of 'Heard 'Em Say' seems to fit his stilted, somewhat awkward rhymes; taken out of the context of his own beats and production, his flow could be considered a major drawback, but here, it seems to just work. The aforementioned 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone' (the original song, provided as a bonus track on the album, as opposed to the remix featuring Jay-Z) happens to feature what is, unequivocally, one of West's strongest verses ever, comparable only to perhaps his first verse on 'Jesus Walks', his second verse on 'Gorgeous', his verse on 'Monster', and his second verse on 'New Slaves'. It is masterful.

But whereas College Dropout was an album which would have stopped at that; a single, fiery track worthy of great honours, Late Registration offers so much more. From the brilliant appropriation of Curtis Mayfield's 'Move On Up' for the sweeping 'Touch The Sky', to Jamie Foxx's compelling and delightful interlude to the banger 'Gold Digger', to the appropriately tumultuous percussion of 'Crack Music', there is a new highlight every few minutes. But these highlights aren't solely reserved for the most flamboyant tracks on the record; the loud and vehement is matched in poignancy and effectiveness by the introverted and emotionally distraught. 'Roses' touches on how West handles the hospitalization of his grandmother and his distaste with her treatment. 'Hey Mama' sees him reflect on his mother's role in his life, and how she has helped mold him into the individual he is. On occasions like this, the man seems to abandon his "cool guy" pretense to connect with his audience on a purely sentimental level, thus elevating the album to a whole new standard; one that feels more human than anything. Late Registration feels like the most humble Kanye record available, even if he does frequently remind the listener of his talent and giant wads of cash. 

The album does feel disjointed in places, and some of the less significant songs underwhelm. 'Addiction' possesses a beat which fails on its initial promise of entrancement, and proves unfocused, as is the case with the forgettable 'Celebration'. Despite the lyrical and compositional prowess on offer within 'Gone', the strange decision to blatantly split the various instruments on the track and send them to different headphones feels jarring and tonally unwarranted. The flow of the work as a whole feels awkward due to the use of a range of skits, which again, feel unnecessary. But these are minor gripes in the face of greatness. College Dropout was an effective opening chapter in the career of one of modern pop/rock/hip-hop's greatest and most influential figures, but Late Registration is the momentous leap forward that established his reign of mastery. For those only familiar with West's media persona - an identity that tarnishes many people's opinions of him, whether or not they've been exposed to any of his interviews or albums prior - however much I acclaim Late Registration will be irrelevant. To them, he will remain an egotistical egomaniac, whose proclamations are dated, self-indulgent and foolish. But his music (at least in this context) deserves the hype, and is undeniably brilliant. So yes Kanye: you can talk your shit again. You can purchase Late Registration on Amazon or iTunes, here and here



Additional notes about release: the iTunes copy comes with a digital booklet. Both explicit and edited versions of the album are available.

Track Listing

1.Wake Up Mr. West0:41
2.Heard 'Em Say3:24
3.Touch The Sky3:57
4.Gold Digger3:28
5.Skit #1 (Kanye West/Late Registration)1:46
6.Drive Slow4:32
7.My Way Home1:43
8.Crack Music4:31
10.Bring Me Down3:19
12.Skit #2 (Kanye West/Late Registration)0:31
13.Diamonds From Sierra Leone - Remix - Album Version3:53
14.We Major7:28
15.Skit #3 (Kanye West/Late Registration)0:24
16.Hey Mama5:05
18.Skit #4 (Kanye West/Late Registration)1:19
20.**Bonus Track** Diamonds From Sierra Leone3:58
Total Album Time:70:26

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