Written by Alex Kehn
Immediately following the critical acclaim and success of The College Dropout, Kanye West truly began to embody his lavish persona, known only as 'The Louis Vuitton Don'. Kanye had presented a new and unique style to the world of hip-hop, and as a result, he began to celebrate his success and live the life of luxury that he had always dreamed of. Knowing that he was more than a one-hit-wonder and that there were global problems he was compelled to inform the world about, Kanye West began to work on his sophomore project, and the second of three education-based albums, Late Registration.
In 2005, Kanye made his first of many appearances at the Grammys, receiving 8 nominations and earning 3 total Grammy awards for his freshman album, The College Dropout. It was at his first Grammy award ceremony where Kanye West proved all of his doubters wrong. Kanye had finally made a name for himself in the music industry after years
of hard work and dedication, and he wanted everyone to know that he was here to stay. When Kanye West received one of his awards that evening, he remarked to the audience "everyone wanted to know what I would do if I didn't win. I guess we'll never know" as he thrust his new Grammy award towards a roaring audience. Kanye was truly enjoying the fruits of his labor, and his newfound designer lifestyle is a focal point of the lyricism throughout Late Registration.
Kanye had essentially reinvented the way that hip-hop production was presented via The College Dropout, and as a result, numerous rappers and producers copied Kanye's production style. Soul beats had become commonplace and oversaturated in the hip-hop community because everyone was trying to replicate Kanye's success. Little did the world know at the time, Kanye had listened to every hip-hop album from the year 1991 to 1999 and recreated every beat perfectly when he was learning how to produce. To put that into perspective, Nas' Illmatic, Dr. Dre's The Chronic, and A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory are some of the greatest hip-hop LPs ever released, and they were all released in the span of time that Kanye had been replicating beats. Kanye West would not let himself become a burnout in the music industry by constantly producing the same style of beats. On Late Registration, Kanye showed his outstanding musical adaptability by not following the formula of soul beats that he had created only one year prior. Kanye West had begun a routine of reinventing his style on every album. He would follow this routine religiously for the duration of his career.
Controversy is a word that Kanye West has become extremely familiar with throughout his career. His first real controversy came following Hurricane Katrina, not long after the release of Late Registration. Kanye West had been growing more and more frustrated with the way that African Americans were being treated and portrayed in the media, and he had used his place in the music industry to promote equality through his songs. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through the Southern United States, doing billions of dollars worth of damages, most notably to the New Orleans area. After seeing the damage done to the mostly African American community of Louisiana and the fact that there was very little done to help those in need, Kanye's anger towards discrimination had reached a boiling point.
On September 2nd, 2005, a telethon even was held where all proceeds and donations would go towards Hurricane Katrina relief. At one point during the telethon, Kanye appeared alongside Austin Powers actor, Mike Myers, in order to encourage donations to the Red Cross foundation. Myers read off of the teleprompter as he was instructed to do, but Kanye had decided that it was time for the world to understand the strife of the African American people. When it was Kanye's turn to speak, he began expressing the media's depiction of African Americans during Hurricane Katrina, stating "I hate the way the media portrays us. If you see a black family, it says 'they're looting'. If you see a white family, it says 'they're looking for food'...". Myers regained control and began following the teleprompter once again, but Kanye wouldn't be detoured. With his irritation growing, Kanye interjected into the conversation with a line that shocked the world: "George Bush doesn't care about black people". The duo was promptly cut off, but Kanye knew that there were more problems that the world had to hear about. It became Kanye West's mission to educate the people on global problems that have been suppressed for years.
On August 30th, 2005, Kanye released Late Registration, which combined his newfound fame, designer lifestyle, and global awareness into an outstanding sophomore album. With the release of Late Registration, Kanye West proved that he was a lasting force in the music industry.
Kanye's second album builds on the success of The College Dropout amazingly well, providing the listener with a very well-rounded and polished album, although Late Registration doesn't quite live up to the perfection of The College Dropout. This review will focus on the skits, lyrics, and production that went into the creation of Late Registration.
The skits return on Late Registration stronger than ever before, assisting in building a story for the album. Late Registration begins with the familiar voice of the school administrator belittling Kanye for his backpack and for falling asleep in class. At the end of the skit, the school administrator is attempting to wake up Kanye by remarking "wake up, Mr. West! Wake up, Mr. West"! The conclusion of the opening skit, Wake up Mr. West, transitions beautifully into the first track on Late Registration, entitled Heard 'Em Say. Nearly every time I hear this gorgeous transition I get goosebumps as I prepare myself for a truly great listening experience.
The skits throughout Late Registration are much funnier than those on The College Dropout. On Kanye's second album, the focus of the skits is on a fraternity called 'Broke Phi Broke' which consists of a group of people with no money whatsoever. Members of 'Broke Phi Broke' go through substantial financial struggles, even going as far as sharing one outfit and eating their cereal with a fork to save the milk. At the start of the album, Kanye is a member of this fraternity, however, as Late Registration progresses, Kanye gets kicked out of 'Broke Phi Broke' because he was making beats on the side and bought himself new shoes. The dynamic of this made-up fraternity makes me genuinely laugh every time I hear the skits, which is something that many albums have attempted to do, but very few have done successfully.
Late Registration includes some of Kanye's most memorable tracks, including Gold Digger, Touch the Sky, We Major, and Hey Mama, all of which have iconic Kanye West-style lyrics. Kanye embraces his newfound designer lifestyle on Gold Digger, where he flaunts his wealth while also exclaiming that money can have an adverse effect on a typical family lifestyle. Kanye mentions many global issues that are rarely mentioned in the modern-day on Late Registration. On the track Diamonds From Sierra Leone, Kanye informs the listener about the blood diamond trade in Africa, and how it has led to countless deaths. During the first verse, Kanye says "over here it's the drug trade, we die from drugs. Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs", exclaiming that the concept of diamond jewelry in modern culture has led to deaths and violence globally. On Crack Music, Kanye continues to speak on the American drug epidemic. This track highlights what an average low-income American suburb would experience due to the availability of drugs, more specifically crack, in the community.
Not all lyrics on Late Registration are deep and thought-provoking, or even fun to listen to for that matter. The track that exemplifies this the most is Celebration, where Kanye gets slightly carried away with his designer lyrics. It's apparent that Kanye West is attempting to have fun with this song, which he has been known to do in the past, however, Celebration is such a sharp contrast to the rest of the album that it feels unnecessary and it breaks up the flow of the LP. Appearing immediately after the best track on the album, Hey Mama, Celebration is unfortunately lyrically lackluster and is one of my least favourite Kanye West songs as a result.
Kanye once again excels in the production of his sophomore album. Straying away from his signature soul beats that everyone had begun to copy, Kanye West made it his goal to produce another album with new and innovative beats. Kanye used string orchestration and selective sampling for much of Late Registration's production, which helped to create a unique atmosphere for the album as a whole. When Kanye West was producing Late Registration, he decided that he wanted to use some artistic influence from alternative acts of the time, such as Fiona Apple and Coldplay, which was an avenue that had not been thoroughly explored in the world of hip-hop prior to the release of Late Registration. New and innovative production styles have been a part of Kanye West's albums ever since The College Dropout, seeing as he was being copied by rappers old and new. Late Registration tries its best to be as unique as possible, but it is hard to compete with a perfect debut album, so some of the production falls flat for me.
Late Registration is a great album full of thought-provoking lyrics that are tied together beautifully with intricate and unique production. Although not every aspect of Kanye's second album is perfect, it is still a fantastic display of what he is able to do and the entire album showcases his versatility as an artist. Overall I would rate Late Registration 8.5/10. Give this album a listen if you haven't before, it's definitely worth it.
Follow @akmusicreviews on Instagram for more reviews, top 10s, and everything music related