Sunday, September 04, 2005

You Gotta Love it Though, Somebody Still Speaks From His Soul

Late Registration - Kanye West

For the last couple years, rap has become very anemic, the same rappers saying the same thing talking about how much ice they have and how many groupies they have scored with. Yawn. Then along came a guy with a backpack and a teddy bear mascot with the vibe of A Tribe Called Quest (by his own admission) and clever wordplay that rivals the Beastie Boys in their prime. Kanye West’s The College Dropout was not just the best rap album of last year but it was easily the best rap album of the last five year. On the album, West pushed the boundaries of rap touching on topics that most rappers found on the radio and MTV including religion and even admitting he was self conscious.

West is now back with his sophomore effort, Late Registration and is pushing the boundaries of rap even further. This is most notable in the addition of Fiona Apple’s producer Jon Brion helping West out on the boards. Brion presence is definitely felt on tracks Touch the Sky with horn the rival those sampled on Crazy in Love, and string section featured in Bring Me Down, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, and Gone. They even bring in full orchestration on Celebration. With Brion by his side, West even stepped up his own game, avoiding the easy way out by copying his signature sound of sped up vocals (not counting the hidden track, Late), and instead created a whole new sound for this album.

Kanye is pushing the boundaries with his choice of topics on this album too. Instead of an ode to Jesus, Late Registration had a song devoted to another subject much ignore subject in rap, his mother on Hey Mama. West saves his best production for this song with a choir of multi-layered la la’s playing throughout the song and Kanye even gives a shot at sing a verse and a chorus.

Late Registration is also more political than most major rap releases in recent years. But Kanye comes off more like Oliver Stone than Public Enemy with accusations like, “And I know the government administered AIDS” (Heard ‘em Say), “How we stop the black panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer,” and, “Who gave Saddam anthrax? George Bush got the answers” (Crack Music). Kanye also takes on the state of the health care in our country on Roses, but this time no conspiracy theories are needed and he asks a question that needs to be posed to our political leaders: “If Magic Johnson got a cure for A.I.D.'s and all the broke (expletive deleted) past away, you tellin me if my grandma was in the N.B.A. right now she'd be ok?”

Unfortunately, with all that said, Late Registration does not entirely live up to the promise of The College Dropout. One thing that really disappointed me was when the album was being made, Kanye mention that he wasn’t going to any guest except John Mayer and Common. But West decided to bring in more guests some with better results then others. Out is John Mayer, instead we get the new token white accessory to rappers, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 helping out with a soulful performance on Heard ‘em Say. Also Jamie Foxx shows why he got the Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles as I originally though Gold Digger had a sample of Ray’s I Got a Woman, until I realized that it was different lyrics. Other decent appearances include Jay-Z on Diamond from Seirra Leone (Remix) along with Consequence and Cam’Ron on Gone. But on the flip side Brandy can’t carry a tune and lives of to the name of her contribution, Bring Me Down. Lupe Fiasco gives an uninspiring verse on Touch the Sky. The Houston inspired Drive Slow featuring Paul Wall and GLC drags the album down too much. And even though Nas is in my top 5 rappers, his contribution We Major falls flat.

Another major different between Kanye’s two albums is that The College Dropout sounded like a concept album revolving around college with track flowing into each other perfectly. The thoughts on Late Registration sounds more like great songs that are thrown together. For instance, there is a bad transition between Touch the Sky that goes straight into Jamie Foxx’s acapella beginning of Gold Digger. The only thing that barely hold Late Registration together are the four skits throughout the album dealing with a fake fraternity, Broke Phi Broke.

The highlight of this album, much like his last, is Kanye’s quirky wordplay. He doesn’t drop references as obscure as the Beastie Boys, but he’s working on it. But what other rapper would quote John Denver; “I'm going on an airplane, and I don't know if I'll be back again” (Touch the Sky). Tim Hardaway, Gil Scott-Heron, Shirley Bassey, Sam Cooke, Forrest Gump, Nicky Giovanni, The Jeffersons, Gone with the Wind, Anakin Skywalker, and Jennifer Aniston all get namedropped throughout the album. But like his last album, the best line involves Michael Jackson, “She was suppose to buy ya shorty Tyco with ya money. She went to the doctor got lypo with ya money. She walkin around lookin like Michael with ya money” (Gold Digger). But honorable mentions go to “Ask the reverend was the strip club cool if my tips help send a pretty girl through school” (We Major) and “If a stripper named Porscha and u get tips from many men, then your fat friend, her nickname is Minivan” (Diamonds from Sierra Leone).

Song to Download – Hey Mama

Late Registration gets a Terror Alert Level: Severe [RED] on my Terror Alert Scale.

1 comment:

  1. Hell of a review. I love Kanye's music. The College Dropout is my favorite album of his by far, but Late Registration isn't a far second. My only complaint is that I thought you were a little harsh on Late Registration but that might only be because I enjoyed that album so much.