Review Summary: With every worthless word we get more far away.
Kanye West has always been somewhat of a perfectionist. If anyone would just put aside all the references to the drama and controversy that surrounds his persona to really focus on what matters they would know that Kanye has always put an enormous amount of heart into his music. His debut The College Dropout is considered one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade and with good reason too. Bringing back the use of heavy sampling and re-popularizing sped up gospel samples in mainstream hip-hop music, Kanye showed many flashes of brilliance. Late Registration shares the most in common with his acclaimed debut. However, Late Registration is the most fully realized piece between the two.
Musically Late Registration is almost just like his debut, but Kanye brought in film composer Jon Brion (who had never worked with hip-hop before) to mix up the writing process. The cinematic vibe to the album gives it a much more cohesive feel, something that The College Dropout desperately needed. Everything here has layers of grandiose strings and horns that make the finished piece a lot more grand and important than it really is. It really injects much needed life into some of these tracks. Imagine the song Crack Music without the “la la la's” and the vicious horns to back up Kanye's aggressive and militant approach to emphasize the political lyrics he spits. Kanye is still very arrogant as most successful rappers are, but he has always had that self-conscious personality that makes him truly unique. But the real highlight of the album is how well Kanye has moved on from the sentimentality and soul of The College Dropout to the much darker material found here.
Kanye doesn't completely abandon the mushy nature of previous songs like Family Business but instead injects his new cinematic approach perfectly like he does in standout track Roses. Here Kanye tells a story of his grandma in the hospital who's battling something possibly fatal but coming through in the end. He even finds room to include a song dedicated to his mother entitled Hey Mama. It's easy to complain about the skits and interludes that break up the cohesiveness of Late Registration and bloat up the track listing to a whopping twenty one tracks, but the hard-hitting beats of songs like Diamonds From Sierra Leone will erase that silly little thought out of your head. Although the humor of these skits (which contain chants of a ridiculous fraternity that shuns having money named “Broke Phi Broke”) don't really fit in with the serious subject matter, no one should complain with a track as comical as Gold Digger. But this isn't even close to the weakest song on the album. The tracks Celebration and Bring Me Down are probably the least amusing songs here.
But for the few weaker songs present it's made up by the more sprawling epics and the chemistry between Kanye and his collaborators. Look at We Major where Really Doe and Nas (who has been less than impressive after releasing the gritty urban-masterpiece Illmatic) completely dominate the old-school boom of the beat. Kanye surrounds himself by a few superior MC's every once in a while, but he doesn't let that steal the spotlight away from him. Although Consequence and Cam'Ron spit great verses on Gone, Kanye shows that the track ultimately belongs to him. Fellow Chicago rapper Common even has his track with the sober My Way Home which is very similar to the woozy Drive Slow. The beats here seem to bring out the best of even a southern-rapper like Paul Wall.
Perhaps Late Registration is Kanye's one moment of perfection. After all it is the most emotionally and musically compelling album he's released so far (which is rivaled by 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), and probably his most ambitious attempt too as well. Kanye shows superb growth and maturity with the song-writing here and is pretty big step from The College Dropout. Here Mr. West finally sits us down and shows us that his brilliance doesn't just come in as flashes, but that what he's making is really artful.