Two Words; Kanye West
I’ll admit to not being Kanye’s biggest fan.
In fact this is what I said just over a year and a half ago;
To a lesser extent I was digging Kanye West’s “College Dropout.” I remember the first time I heard about Kanye. I guess it was early 2001 and I read about a producer who was so confident in his production that he tattooed his production credits on his forearm. That stuck me as odd. But when I realized the tracks he had produced it occurred to me that his eccentricity was a sign of his talent.
The first time I heard him rhyme was probably around two years ago on a Roc A Fella mixtape with the song “Champions” on it. Kanye rhymed lead off. I wasn’t digging his flow, but I admitted he could hold his own the mic. Well his album finally dropped and lived up to expectations, even if I had to skip “Slow Jams” and “Through the Wire” due to extreme overplaying.
My main beef with the album is Kayne’s beef with college. His constant mocking of college is annoying. But his implication that college isn’t necessary is actually deplorable considering the demographic he’s trying to reach has more persons in the judicial system than in institutions of higher education. But aside from that the album is cool. “Last Call” is by far the stand out track.
I stand by those words. I wasn’t impressed with Kanye the first time I heard him rhyme. I always dug his beats. I still can’t listen to Slow Jams or Through the Wire. And I think that mocking college is reprehensible.
After The College Dropout was released Kanye was everywhere. I rhymed with Brandy, Slum Village and Dilated Peoples. He was damn near inescapable. During this period of time I sided with most people in being sick to death of Kanye West.
But I think that I came back to Kanye’s side after his tirade at the Grammys and his comment about charging people to put him on the cover of their magazines. That’s when Kanye suffered a pretty severe backlash. At that point you couldn’t see his name without the adjective “arrogant.”
That was when I became Kanye’s biggest fan. He should have won the Grammy he was crying about. And his mug was selling magazines, was it completely absurd that he comment about charging money to appear on the cover? Kanye’s boss Jay-Z has alluded to pretty much the same thing in his verses.
Anyway, with all of the hate that Kanye was getting it made me root for him more. I knew that there were going to be people who were rooting for him to fail and I wanted to balance that out on the cosmic scale by sincere desire to see him live up to his braggadocio and prove them wrong.
The first implication that Kanye would live up to the hype was Common’s Be. The album was a certified classic, with the majority of the beats provided by West, who also occasionally lent his voice to the disc. The beats were some of Kanye’s best work to date and seemingly reinvigorated Common from a creative slump.
The first song I heard from Late Registration was Diamonds From Sierra Leone. It was a cool song, but didn’t do too much for me. I dug the concept that The Roc was still together, but it seemed like more of a mixtape song or album fodder rather than lead single. Still it had a pretty nifty single.
Gold Digger was a safe choice for the second single, but again it didn’t really impress me much. Much like The New Workout Plan it just seemed like lowbrow song. I was beginning to fear that Kanye was going to get torn apart by the critics.
When I finally did cop Late Registration my fears evaporated; the album is phenomenal. It exceeds expectations and is a treat on the ears.
None of the beats are lacking. But one must give credit where credit is due; Jon Brion. I was eager to listen to West and Brion collaborate and it didn’t disappoint. Kanye’s beats always have a passionate quality about them, whether it’s a soulful sample or a sped up voice. Well Brion’s contributions up the ante by raising the intensity of the emotional quality. This can be heard throughout the album, where as the track progress and most songs would lose intensity, these songs keep building. You stop listening for lyrics and just listen, period. Take the haunting strings on Crack Music or the triumphant instruments on We Major. It’s refreshing to hear a Hip Hop album where production is valued over beats.
Lyrically Kanye isn’t going to bowl anyone over. He’s much the “common everyman” that is John
ny Cougar Mellencamp than the “exquisite poet” Smokey Robinson. But that is Kanye’s allure; he’s maybe arrogant but he doesn’t try to grab beyond his reach. He can be clever and witty, but he’s not going to win any battles or lyrical awards.
However content wise Kanye deserves some credit. For the life of me I can’t recall the last time I heard the term “conflict diamond” on a Hip Hop record. Crack Music is one of the more interesting songs to listen to, lyrically.
In terms of guests, the album is loaded with them, but it doesn’t seem overloaded. Adam Levine doesn’t seem out of place, and both Paul Wall and The Game are actually tolerable. Common has a solo track and Jay-Z and Nas are as close as they’ll ever be. Just Blaze probably gets the most valuable guest award for the amazing beat (Touch The Sky) that he gave Kanye. I bet it’s heating up dancefloors back East.
As far as the skits go, I liked them. That may be because I could place them in the proper context. On The College Dropout Kanye wrote from the Black male perspective about college. Thus on its’ follow up he also provides perspective from a Black male, this time in a Black frat. I’ve got second hand experience with Black frats (my college roommate was in one) thus I was entertained by the skits. But I could see how some, less aware could find them tedious.
So there you have it. I honestly think that Kanye West could possibly have the album of year. I think it stands a good shot of taking that honor. Of course at this point it’s taking the honor away from Common, so Kanye wins either way.
(oh, wait. You thought I was going to talk about Kanye’s comments? My bad, I’ve been there and done that. But feel free to read all about it.
Shawn is all over the map this week. But he wants you to save CBGB’s.
Aaron has Black Actress Survivor and Nick gives you another take on Late Registration. Oh and Aaron is off this week.
Jeff has a Battle Royale and reports that Uncle Phil has been shot! Oh and Jeff is off this week.
Mike Eagle blows me away this week. This is honestly the read of the week. I almost didn’t write a column this week, because his column was that good.
Gloomchen has a retrospect this week.
Wait a minute. Aaron, Jeff and Gloomchen aren’t new this week? Someone needs to call FEMA! Stat!
And just for the sake of informing people of different opinions; here’s Aaron’s take on Late Registration. And Warren Woo’s take on Late Registration. And J.J. Botter’s take on Late Registration.
The College Dropout
Ian has bad news about both Queens of the Stone Age and Bloc Party.
Phil is full of hate this week.
Five Favorite Tracks on Late Registration
1. Touch The Sky
2. Crack Music
5. My Way Home