All the bragging, boasting and self-promotion of Kanye West does not go without merit. He claimed in a recent Blender magazine article that, “It’s hard trying to find something I’m not good at.” Although it’s a hard lump to swallow and relent to such blatant conceit, West is one of the biggest and best hit-makers in the hip-hop game. With his new album, Late Registration, he brings original beats, rhythms and collaborations, breathing life into an often monotonous music genre.
Late Registration is West’s sophomore solo-album and the second chapter in his planned four-part anthology. West’s double-platinum first disc, The College Dropout, started the lyrical journey through West’s life. West plans to follow Late Registration with titles Graduation and Good-Ass Job.
Late Registration picks up where The College Dropout left off, mixing danceable tracks with songs conveying West’s own personal convictions. Due to West’s enormous success, he was able to get the cream of the pop-music crop to make guest appearances on nearly every track.
The disc opens with “Heard ‘Em Say,” which features Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s smooth back-up vocals. West uses a similar tactic when producing Common’s album Be by adding John Mayer’s bluesy voice on the track “Go.” Common contributes to his producer’s disc on the track “My Way Home.” The short track is a soulful mix of sampled vocals and Common’s signature rhythms.
West brings back some friends from The College Dropout as well. Jay-Z adds some zest to the remixed version of the already dazzling “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.” This track is the first single. West takes a James Bond theme song and molds it into a swirling symphonic mix of melodies. The lyrics examine the problem of slave labor in the African diamond trade. West rhymes of the situation, “I thought my Jesus piece was harmless / till I seen a picture of a shorty armless / and here’s the conflict.”
The star of Ray, Jamie Foxx, brings his Oscar-winning Ray Charles-style vocals to the upbeat “Gold Digger.” While this song calls out girls who only look for a man with deep pockets, West shows a softer side to the female fans by dedicating one song to the number-one woman in his life, his mother. On “Hey Mama,” West speaks of his mom’s eternal dedication to her son and his eternal appreciation.
West’s ability to sample and use beats is best shown on the track “Gone,” featuring Consequence and Cam’Ron. West takes an Otis Redding sample and loops it into a chorus of voices. The result is a funky mix of shrill beats and the raspy blues vocals of an R&B legend.
The unusual thing about West’s sound is its ability to be completely fresh while not veering so far off course that it becomes unappealing to the masses. He manages to blend the sounds of digital beats, classical instruments and soulful voices with hot lyrics.
One trick West had up his sleeve for Late Registration was partnering with producer Jon Brion. Brion’s eerie touch worked for Fiona Apple, but this was his first attempt at hip-hop. West obviously had an original vision for this album and Brion helps add the unexpected elements.
The weakness of the album is the few skits that fall between tracks. While on The College Dropout these asides were amusing and flowed with the story, they create a choppy, uneven feeling on Late Registration.
Late Registration has an overall uneven feeling, but somehow it works. West’s endless self-promotion is somehow enjoyable. The album is undeniably good, and though it is tough to admit in the hip-hop game, West’s cockiness is well justified.