The College Dropout is a work of genius. Without too much fuss (apart from the man himself) Kanye West revolutionised the way producers and by proxy, MC’s utilised vocal samples, loops and interpolations.
But like Timbaland before him when Supa Dupa Fly trounced all before it, Kanye West found his style being bitten faster then Jaws’ first victim. So what is a man to do? Well, ally himself with one of music and films other most talented producers and take his already superb yields to higher, quite stupendous levels…. obviously!
Jon Brion’s Trippy, psychedelic instrumentation brought about something in Kanye that, despite his other critically acclaimed exploits, hasn’t been seen from him before or since. The measured distortions and manipulations of his, then, regular drum layering and loops rather than trying to bring Brion’s musical manifestations in the fold, rush out to meet them head on and the results are stunning. Celebration, Roses, We Major, Crack Music and even the bonus track, Late, are all superior examples of what can be done when great (creative) minds get together and ruminate (creatively) alike.
The result plays out like a peculiar contradiction of quirky and cool, of eccentric and genius, yet at the same time the near perfect aural symmetry between the two camps is undeniable. It might be the stranger than usual vocal howls, it might be the elaborately constructed string sections, it might even be the charm (yes charm) in the way ‘Ye’ shows on some of what he has to say. But as much as some of the more conventional ‘heads’ wouldn’t have wanted to admit it at the time, it is probably its somewhat idiosyncratic disposition that sets Late Registration apart from almost every other commercially successful Hip Hop release since.
Words of such high praise will always require justification and in the Consequence & Cam’ron assisted Gone, and the super poignant Hey Mama, the evidence is there for all to see. The light, sporadic, almost old school piano dovetailing with that moody cello and the trio’s occasional flirtations with song, is a delight. But it’s the change up for Kanye’s second verse, when the strings become the dominant instrument, where my first example really comes into its own. And, to use such an upbeat and dominant vocal sample when such a personal statement can easily be lost on the less discerning listener is a risk… that ultimately ends in triumph.
Kanye’s juvenile charm was still intact when he released this album but now coupled with markedly improved mic skills and an aptitude for conveying emotion, Kanye still manages to be king of all he surveys at just the right time. The angst (for his grandmother), reverence (towards his grandfather) and disappointment (in the nurse) displayed at various times on the first verse of Roses is remarkable and it’s all done with a hint of vulnerability throughout. Not the complete MC by any means but the structural, conceptual and intuitive improvements put him at a level many thought he simply wasn’t capable of.
From start to finish and referencing the processes involved in its completion, Late Registration is arguably latter day Hip Hop’s greatest achievement. The at times schoolboyish nature of Kanye’s rhyme schemes (which I suppose is to be expected on an album that carries a concept framed by education) are unashamedly easy to forgive if such luscious backdrops are what the man is being backed by. It’s just a shame that although the standards he has attained more recently are high (and in moments lyrically very high), he hasn’t yet been able to completely match those set with Late Registration (and that includes My Dark Twisted Fantasy).