On the 10 year anniversary of the release of Late Registration (which was yesterday, but it wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t late) I am going to make this post a huge love fest. Kanye’s Late Registration is his true masterstroke and, to me, still his best album to date.
College Dropout came during a perfect time. We were right in the middle of an era where gangsta rap ruled supreme. From essentially nowhere, an unlikely underdog emerged, wearing a pink polo and backpack. That’s why I love this album. The nostalgia attached to it. This is back when I was the only (black) kid wearing wallabies to school. It’s definitive an album that’s definitive as an era. He didn’t invent the backpack movement that was established by De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, he just made it cool again. As someone who wasn’t exactly “street”, this album was for me. Not quite Talib Kweli but not all the way Jay-Z either. It was the perfect blend of band geek meets swag rap braggadocio.
I know that intro kinda has nothing to do with Late Registration, but it actually has everything to do with Late Registration. Mainly, because I was that band geek. Many of us were. And with Kanye’s growth, we grew too. Late Registration was an expansion of that sound and more.
Remember where you were the first time you heard “Diamonds”. Rushing back home to my grandma’s house to see the premiere on Rap City. You know, back when videos came on TV. I sat in front of the TV thinking “Wow, this is huge”. Of course by this point Kanye established himself as one of the hottest producers in the game, but I wasn’t expect this type of sound for his next album. I also wasn’t expecting him to rap so well. (Note: Still not the greatest lyricist, but he “rapped” better)
So after “Diamonds” set the buzz, the promos rolled in. I remember those behind the scenes snippets that showed the making of the album. Through this I learned of the album’s biggest contributor: Jon Brion. Now, this had me excited, because I’m a faux movie buff so I love movie scores. It’s crazy to think that any rapper and Jon Brion would cross paths. If you’re not familiar with his work, here are a few things he’s hand his hand in:
Also gives me a perfect excuse to share the very flames “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann, from Magnolia.
Ok, moving on, before I start talking about Jon Brion all day. Because I can. You know, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ok, I’m doing it again, let me move on.
Anyway, Jon Brion presented a unique sound to this album. I truly think it was one of the first instances where Kanye was in someone’s presence and was truly wowed. There was a true synergy here and is shined through in the music. I think this bond was strong than any other of Kanye’s collaborators. It didn’t have to be forced, nor could it have been replicated.
If you were to ask me to pick a favorite song from Late Registration, I would say first go back and forth between about five tracks. Three hours later, I would probably settle on “Addiction”. Probably an underrated song on the album. No one ever seems to mention it. But the production on this song is classic Jon Brion. The rhymes are classic Kanye. But it doesn’t sound like “Kanye rapping over random Jon Brion beat”. It sounds like an organic fusion of these two styles. From these sessions, he carried on this knowledge and applied it to later albums.
In addition to Brion’s production, Kanye did his thing as well. You can’t mention Kanye production without mentioning the samples. Check out this very cool graphic from Who Sampled.
But it’ wasn’t just about taking an Otis Redding sample and chopping it up, it was doing all of this backed by a big orchestra. Way before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Late Registration served as Kanye’s first foray into another dimension of art. “Gone” seriously sounds like it could be performed in a large concert hall by an eighty piece band–with Kanye as the conductor of course. This album makes a serious case for the “musical merit” that snobbish critics claim hip hop was/is missing. You get flute and oboes while Cam’Ron is rapping to you about his chinchilla.
Late Registration is also great because it features some great moments. We have Jamie Foxx reprising his role as Ray Charles. We have a formal introduction to some guy name Lupe Fiasco. We get Paul Wall doing more than just posting up like a mailbox but dropping a hot, memorable verse. We get a leftover from Common’s classic, Be. Who the hell is Really Doe? I don’t know, but his hook that sounded like a verse that wasn’t quite a hook was DOPE! And who could ever forget those classic Broke Phi Broke skits?
Late Registration will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the album that made him more than just a rapper/producer, but transformed him into a megastar. True, we created a monster that now we all want to kill, but hey, we didn’t know at the time.
So from all ex-band geeks everywhere I would like to say thank you, Mr. West.
PS: Kanye, if you ever want to give us that Good Ass Job album, we’re still waiting. Even better: The Internship. A compilation featuring Lupe, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, King Louie, Chief Keef, etc. That idea is free, use it as you please.