Artist: Kanye West
Album: Late Registration
Score: 3.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
I can’t stand Kanye West. He’s got a big head. Literally. Every time I see him on television his head has grown another 5 inches in circumference – rumor has it that after his Bush/Katrina comments, he actually had a spot behind his left ear populated by several thousand evacuees for 6 weeks. And if you hadn’t noticed by now, the man’s ego has actually grown at a faster pace than his head… the hype around this album was incredible with only Curtis and his bovine experiments outdoing Kanyeezy in the ‘on-MTV-every-43-seconds’ stakes.
And you know what? While many will hear me call this album hugely disappointing and defensively state that my opinion is borne simply out of dislike for West, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. I actually like many of his past efforts – at several times in the past few years, NO other producer could touch what Kanye was doing on the boards, and its testament to his skills that so many other producers jumped on his ‘sped-up soul sampling’ steez. “The College Dropout”, despite being incorrectly labelled as some kind of classic by many who should know better, was nevertheless one of the most enjoyable albums of 2004.
The problem for Kanye, as with many other more and less talented individuals before him, is that following the warm reception for his debut album, he’s actually started to believe his own hype, resulting in endless tantrums in endless interviews, toys out of prams at the Grammies, a hilarious (for us) ‘Punk’d’ episode, and ultimately “Late Registration” being filled full of below average work both on the boards and on the mic (which no doubt has been ‘yes-men’-ed to death so that to him, everyone will think its as dope as he does.) The inclusion of some more pointless college skits, featuring idiotic fraternity chants and the return of the Bernie Mac impersonator also grate more and more as the album plays.
Things kick off with the heavy drum track of second single ‘Heard Em Say’ which is quickly spoiled by an irritating Natalie Cole piano loop, and some horrible
Timberlake-lite ‘Timberlite’ crooning from that Adam Levin Maroon 5 fella. Stick to your own genre, homeslice – methinks you need another single since your little band largely fell the fuck off after ‘This Love’. Kanye greets listeners to the first track of his sophomore effort with some mindless grunts before lazily bullshitting his way through three and half minutes of turgidness. ‘Touch The Sky’ meanwhile goes to incredible lengths to prove the ‘phoning it in’ theory. Looping Curtis Mayfield’s most familiar bars is a move a world away from the ‘most talented producer in Hiphop’ label that Kanye would like many to tag him with.
‘My Way Home’ sounds like something scraped off the floor from the “Be” sessions, with a lukewarm beat and repetitive Scott-Heron sample doing little to lift the track as Common outshines Kanye with little effort and STILL manages to deliver little more than a tired 16.
‘Gold Digger’ meanwhile has been played to death by everyone and their mother. A shame really, because it actually is a decent track. Unfortunately I fear that I, like many have been conditioned to reach for ‘skip’, once Jamie Foxx drops the intro. Despite the recycled ‘Stand Up’ drums, this is one that will be worth returning to once commercial radio removes its fangs.
The middle section of the album is paticularly uninspiring, beginning with ‘Crack Music’ where Kanye acts tough over limp drums because Game is in the studio to deliver a hook (and reportedly a verse which 50 nixed), and ending with ‘We Major’ where people have worked themselves into a masturbatory frenzy because of Nas mumbling over a Kanye cast-off. In between, ‘Roses’ tries to discuss the importance of the family unit, but is buried under a flood of Patti LaBelle-esque wailing; ‘Bring Me Down’ is nothing more than Brandy’s latest demo; ‘Addiction’ has Kanye ticking off the perils of the Hiphop industry in songform – unfortunately pondering why things that make you feel good are so bad for you is handled every week, and with less clumsiness and clunkiness by Jenny Craig; and ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ meanwhile is one of those tracks that you’ll either love or hate. While people will kowtow to Kanye’s genius to sampling Shirley Bassey, I’m sure I’m not the only one who just can’t stand the bloody song. While Jay-Z’s stellar verse on the remix easily makes it a better listening option than the original, that doesn’t actually say much – the actual track is just irritating as fuck.
On the positive side, ‘Drive Slow’ rocks a Hank Crawford sample to spectacular effect, invoking Pete Rock on the horns, as Kanye drops a simple story of girl-chasing in the whip. Sometimes simple IS the best bet.
“Al B Sure nigga with the hair all wavy
Hit lakeshore girls go all crazy
Hit the freeway go at least bout 80
Boned so much that summer even had him a baby
See back back then then if you had a car
You were the Chi town version of Baby
And I was just a virgin, a baby
One of the reasons I looked up to him crazy
I used to love to play my demo tape when the system yanked
Felt like I was almost signed when the shit got cracked
We’ll take a Saturday and just circle the mall
They had the Lincoln’s and Aurora’s we was hurting them all
With the girls there’s a lot of flirting involved
But dog fuck all that flirting I’m trying to get in some draws”
Paul Wall on verse 2 sounds out of place – this is not the album for him, and I feel that his inclusion and the needless chopping and screwing at the end of the track is little more than some lip service to an area that many Northern artists have ignored, and nothing more than a blatant attempt to push a few more units.
Elsewhere, ‘Hey Mama’ despite its sappy title and subject matter, is actually an excellent track, not only due to it being one of the rare examples through the whole album of Kanye actually sounding believable on the mic, but also because the production instantly puts the listener in “College Dropout” mode again. In fact this track, and the subsequent two tracks, ‘Celebration’ and ‘Gone’ would both be comfortably at home next to ‘Slow Jamz’, ‘Never Let Me Down’ and co. ‘Gone’ in particular stands out, with its bouncy Otis sample, and Kanye going back and forth with Camron and Consequence.
Kanye West is a walking contradiction, straight from the KRS mould. His constantly shifting attitudes and opinions on many subjects, can be thought provoking to some, alarming to others, and plain irritating to many. With this in mind, its a fair statement to note that “Late Registration” is a reflection of West’s life as an artist, a producer, and an entertainer – the album itself contains several contradicting arguments and theories, and a selection of beats as varied as Kanye’s views on homosexuals at the Grammys. Unfortunately the biggest contradiction is the fact that Kanye West and many major media outlets thinks this is a good album… and I just think its shite. Harsh? Maybe. But this is a huge letdown from his debut, moreso due to the fact that all the promises he made about his improvements to production technique, to his emceeing, have simply not been kept. I guarantee that if you buy this, or already have, that you won’t listen to this more than half a dozen times.