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ISSUE 119 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/23/2005

'Late Registration' digs up solid gold

By Kelly Wilson
Variety Editor

Friday, September 23, 2005

The album opens with a barking “Wake up, Mr. West!” and continues on to reveal the genius of Kanye West’s musical risk-taking. But Mr. West isn’t the one in need of a wake-up call – we are.

Upon its release, Late Registration jarred critics and fans into musical arrest, captivating not only the hip-hop genre but all musical influences.

West’s critical drive to prove himself as the “Only One” (his first name in Swahili) on the cusp of a hip-hop revolution allows him to redefine previously accepted boundaries. As a result, he created an album so dynamic and provocative that the title of hip-hop king can be given solely to him.

Late Registration is more complex and stylistically richer than its predecessor, College Dropout, and for good reason. West enlisted the help of Fiona Apple’s producer Jon Brion, and his album features several crucially different, yet equally dynamic, supporting artists.

Maroon 5’s Adam Levine croons along with West in the opening track, “Heard ‘Em Say.” Jamie Foxx adds his critically acclaimed Ray Charles rendition to “Gold Digger.”

Consequence and Cam’Ron provide their coarse vocal backup to “Gone,” one of the strongest tracks on the album. Famed hip-hop mogul Jay-Z lends a hand to the inspired remix of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.”

West has chosen a stand up supporting cast. But how does the man himself fair in the leading role? A few lyrics from “Crack Music” provide the answer: “Sometimes I feel the music is the only medicine/So we cook it, cut it, measure it, bag it, sell it/The fiends cop it/Nowadays they can’t tell if that's that good shit/We ain't sure man/Put the CD on your tongue yeah, that’s pure man.”

West strives to formulate the freshest and purest conception of hip-hop he possibly can, and in most respects, does it well. Lyrically, the tracks mostly stick to West’s signature, yet ever so tiring, egotistical proclamations of self importance on “Touch the Sky,” to the extremely shallow and uncharacteristically mainstream lyrics on “Celebration.”

However, he displays his emotional sentimentality on “Roses” and “Hey Mama,” his political and social wrath on the gritty “Crack Music,” and past vulnerabilities on the unsettling track “Addiction,” proving there is stuff behind the fluff.

Throughout the album, West manages to eloquently incorporate diverse muscal styles and samples. “Gone,” with Otis Redding, is a treat for the ears; the blend of voices, strings, faintly jangling piano and rhythm makes for a strong near closing track. “Diamonds,” incorporating the classic James Bond theme, and “Touch the Sky,” sampling from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” both produce an evolutionary effect of unrestrained beats and fresh melodies, making it safe to say that West has become the ultimate innovator in his craft.

Extreme ego inflation, or accurate self-actualization? Either way, you cannot deny West’s ambition. Whether you love him or hate him, it is difficult to deny West’s ability to rattle convention at its very core. West can no longer be stifled, for his voice reigns supreme atop the hip-hop throne.

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