Thursday, October 06, 2005

Album Review: Kanye West's Late Registration

I've been listening to tracks from the new Kanye West album for months now, but it was only last week that I sat down and peeped the whole album. My verdict: first-class banger.

The album isn't a creative departure from Kanye's first album, "College Dropout," which I think was the best hip-hop record of 2004. And there aren't quite as many standout tracks. But it seems more refined. For one, there's nothing like "Last Call" (the closing number on "College Dropout"), an indulgent, 14-minute track in which Kanye details how he broke into the rap game — including such details as what furniture he bought at Ikea when he and his mom moved to New Jersey. (Kelly is especially unfond of this song and usually demands that I "change the music" when it comes on.)

Instead, the tracks on "Late Registration" are tight and focused. (Production help from Jon Brion apparently helped with this.) And the skits in between songs are better as well. They're funny without being silly — unlike say, "Workout Plan" from "College Dropout". And it's nice to hear Bernie Mac reprise his uncredited performance as the disgruntled school administrator. Just hearing him say "Kahn-yay" cracks me up!

As was the case with "College Dropout," most of the best songs on "Late Registration" will probably never get played on KMEL. Not because they're especially profane or controversial — they just have a different vibe than most of what you hear on rap radio. His songs rely heavily on soulful R&B hooks (typically sampled from works from the '60s and '70s) and they tend to haunt you.

Take one of my favorite tracks, "Touch the Sky," which uses a snippet of "Move On Up" by Curtis Mayfield. The sample is so effective, I will probably never be satisfied listening to the original song again. "Crack Music" (featuring The Game) is another exhilarating work, as is "Hey Mama." And a track called "Gone," which features an Otis Redding sample and fine work by rapper Cam'Ron, has already created a catch phrase in our Household: "We strive at home, I ride on chrome." (Not sure what this means, but I feel like I should be doing it.)

Bottom line: "Late Registration" isn't quite as exciting as "College Dropout" was, but it's at least as good. Right on, Kanye. I knew I was gonna see ya, I knew I was gonna see you again.

Rating: 4 stars