A Timeless Classic | Kyle Kim
When does a work of art become dated? It’s a question many pieces of artwork have faced throughout the years, from The Beatles’ Abbey Road to as far back as the Mona Lisa. Today, another work joins this debate, namely Kanye West’s 2005 release Late Registration. This soul-sample-filled, classical music-inspired follow up to West’s record-breaking debut album is celebrating its 17 year anniversary today, but the question remains: is it starting to show its age? I sought an answer through a full album listen and subsequent, song-by-song review.
Heard ‘Em Say (feat. Adam Levine)
Immediately, I really love how the song transitions in so smoothly from the intro skit. It sounds good when listening in order, but also doesn’t sound too out of place when enjoyed on shuffle. Otherwise, Adam Levine provides a great vocal performance, and the piano throughout is pleasant and catchy. A great overall start to the album - it sets the tone, makes an impression, and still sounds great all these years later.
Touch the Sky (feat. Lupe Fiasco)
Another bright and catchy song, with an equally memorable and excellent feature artist as the previous joint. I like how Kanye understood his strengths and weaknesses during this period of his career, opting to use a trumpet sample and rapping in the hook as opposed to straining his then-underdeveloped singing voice. Lots of great bars on this song as well, with my favorite being “I felt like Bad Boy’s street team: I couldn’t work the locks.” In summary, it’s no wonder why this song peaked at #35 on Billboard charts.
Gold Digger (feat. Jamie Foxx)
I really like the backstory behind this song, from the reasoning behind the Jamie Foxx cover to the perspective change of the lyrics during the writing process. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the song gets repetitive quickly compared to other songs on the album, probably because of the almost overly-simple chorus. Still, it’s a great and super hilarious song, and a great glimpse into Kanye’s headspace during his early years of fame.
Drive Slow (feat. Paul Wall and GLC)
I’m a sucker for long Kanye verses, and this song’s first verse is a great example. It’s slow, classy, and full of great storytelling. The two feature artists, while relatively unknown in today’s music landscape, still make great contributions to the song. It really feels like a song focusing on the verses of each rapper, which while limiting the song’s pop appeal, creates a great contrast with the chorus-focused previous songs.
My Way Home (feat. Common)
I’ve always been confused as to why this song exists. Why would Kanye include a song without his own vocals on his highly anticipated second project? It’s a great sample, Common gives a great verse, and the thematic content is sound, so why is it treated like an interlude or throwaway track? I can understand why it wasn’t included on Be, but at least include an extra verse on the song before release. My frustration really comes from the wasted potential, but that’s something you get used to when being a Kanye fan, I guess.
Crack Music (feat. The Game)
I do really enjoy the metaphor present throughout the song, which compares hip-hop music to the crack epidemic, as well as the sharp political commentary that Kanye and The Game are presenting throughout the song. However, not unlike Gold Digger, the song gets a bit repetitive for me. Again, I think the chorus is a bit too simple and the sample overstays its welcome after a while. In summary, interesting food for thought, but I got a bit full after a while.
Kanye really pulled at the emotional heartstrings on this one. It’s a relatable experience, of a family member being in a helpless, critical condition at the hospital, making the song frustrating and emotionally evocative to listen to. The way that the instrumental dips between these minimalistic lows and layered highs really encapsulates the emotions of such a situation, and it’s clear why this song is a cult classic. Even so, Kanye throws a bit of his signature charm into the song, making it nuanced and complex, despite the serious subject matter.
Bring Me Down (feat. Brandy)
Something that immediately strikes me about this song is the placement on the album. Squarely after such a depressing, melancholy song, it’s a strange juxtaposition. Almost as though Kanye is trying to make us feel better; a powerful anthem to complement one of his darkest moments. Like a lot of other songs, it’s classy and thoughtful, although a bit on the shorter side.
This song specifically took a while to grow on me. On first listen, I thought it was annoying and confusing to listen to, as well as generally out of place on the album. However, the song’s grown on me since then, with the chorus especially striking a chord with me. Still not a favorite, but I get the appeal now.
Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix) (feat. Jay-Z)
There’s not a lot to say about this one. It’s emotionally powerful, full of storytelling, features a memorable verse from a rap icon, and makes use of a now iconic sample. Also, Jay-Z drops a quadruple-entendre.
We Major (feat. Nas and Really Doe)
While the near eight-minute run time may put off some listeners, this song truly doesn’t feel even half that long. It encapsulates the thematic ideas of this album, from wealth to fame to even Kanye’s evolution as an artist. Nas gives his best verse in a while, at least up until that point, and Tony Williams sounds great as well. It’s entertaining throughout, and it’s one of the rare times an artist makes interesting use of the longer runtime of a song.
Truly a great ballad, and one that is that much harder to listen to in 2022. It’s sweet and thoughtful, with a perfect placement near the end of the album, as Kanye recounts his background before looking towards his successful future.
The song is clever, funny, and an interesting contrast to Addiction. It’s also interesting to see the glimpses of egomania and hedonism that are to come in later projects, although admittedly subdued and played off like humor in this context.
Gone (feat. Consequence and Cam’ron)
This is my personal favorite from the album. It just features everything I love about this era of Kanye’s music: a clever sample, thoughtful and clever verses from every artist, and a great balance of choruses, verses, and samples that captivate your attention. Also, the strings in the background are a really nice touch.
Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Bonus Track)
Much like its more popular brother, the original track features some great verses and a creative sample flip. However, once you hear Jay-Z proclaim that he’s a “not a businessman, I’m a business, man” it’s admittedly hard to go back.
Last but certainly not least, this track really feels like a thematic and sonic ending to this album. It feels like the credits are rolling as the song plays, with all of the emotions of the album simmering down throughout the song into a calm finish. Although it’s technically a bonus track, it’s hard to imagine any other way to end this album.
All in all, Late Registration’s 17th anniversary really only goes to show how timeless Kanye’s oldest projects really are. The clever use of sampling, universal subject matter, and overall charm really can’t be overemphasized, and I appreciate how each listen lends a different perspective or understanding to the work as whole.