Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Songs in the Key of Kanye
Kanye West: Late Registration
Shorter and comparatively tighter than his debut, with the benefit of
additional live instrumentation and an incredibly pop friendly vibe, Kanye
West’s Late Registration is a sophomore effort in the truest sense of
the term. If last year’s phenomenally successful
College Dropout was a hook-laden attention-grabber that didn’t offer
anything particularly new but catered to easy-nod beats and can’t miss
samples, Late Registration is the more assured second- year
progression as he matriculates through the School of Hip-Pop Music.
Nagging freshman habits persist: Cedric the Entertainer’s humbling of the
cocky Kanye via skits and West’s middling rhyming ability. And a pair of
family-oriented cuts -- the overblown, gospel-embellished “Roses,” in which
West visits his ailing grandmother in the hospital, and the derivative
shout-out “Hey Mama” -- feel like forced counterpoints to the harder-edged
(and considerably more interesting) politically slanted material.
“Heard 'Em Say” delivers a terrific hook and features the soulful crooning
of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. And even if West misfires wildly with claims that
the “Government administered AIDS,” the confrontational nature of the track
ensures it will leave a stronger impression than some run-of-the-mill
club-thumper. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” (appearing in both its original
and Jay-Z-featuring remix versions) uses Shirley Bassey's familiar James
Bond theme to a similar effect as Dropout’s "Through the Wire" did with
Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire." But the lyrical content couldn’t be more
different, with “Diamonds” tying the bling Americans wear to the strife and
horrors visited on the people of the distant African country. On “Crack
Music,” West offers up the pointed line “Former slaves trade hooks for
Grammys” and, similar to the polarizing AIDS comment, links the introduction
of drugs into the black community by those in power as a controlling
mechanism to keep his people down.
Late Registration’s best moment is a political statement more
personal in nature. The lively, playfully accusatory “Gold Digger,” which
starts off with Jamie Foxx channeling his Oscar-winning incarnation of Ray
Charles before allowing a sample of the late music legend’s "I Got a Woman"
to take over, champions pre-nuptial agreements, especially for opportunistic
women who “Ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas.”
The use of live brass throughout helps brighten Registration’s sound
-- though serving up a 20-piece orchestra on the zero-calorie “Celebration”
("You know what this is? / It's a celebration, bitches") proves a bit much.
And co-producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, the Magnolia soundtrack)
deserves credit for couching a more unified sound than Dropout
possessed. West is still a better assembler of talent than he is an MC. And
the army of guest stars blend nicely, despite some getting the shaft, as
Common does on the underdeveloped, too brief “My Way Home.”
While Late Registration might not attain the enduring status of any
of Stevie Wonder’s early to mid-’70s output (an ambition about which West
has made no secret), it nonetheless deserves credit for being a shamelessly
commercial work that isn’t afraid to make controversial or brash statements.
For this reason, and thanks to a handful of truly excellent tracks, it
merits a passing grade. Final judgment will be reserved until after the
upper-class challenge of years three and four (Graduation and A
Good Ass Job, respectively) have been released.
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