Kanye West is no doubt a controversial artist, and the variety within his body of work also makes it difficult to really focus on any one record as his greatest achievement. They simply pull in different directions – Yeezus is wildly different to Late Registration, as is the man who helmed it – Ye seems more focused on reflecting his current mindset than anything else, hence the recent switch towards Christian hip-hop. However, the general consensus seems to agree wholeheartedly that Kanye has had three great records in The College Dropout, Late Registration and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The rest are really up for a debate, considered brutally underrated by some and bizarrely overrated by others at the same time.
Late Registration does seem to mark itself apart from any other Kanye record, though, thanks to its leaning towards orchestral sounds and its almost constant use of bass drums which give the entire album a cohesive feel. The sound doesn’t switch, it only slowly becomes stronger, building from the simplistic piano of Heard ‘Em Say all the way through the record until climaxing with the absolutely phenomenal Gone, a track which relies on the same drum beat throughout but features a host of wildly different backing tracks for its wonderful range of verses by Kanye, Cam’ron and Consequence. The drastic shrieks of the violins on Consequence’s verse about mourning and anger.
It’s an album punctuated with hit after hit. Diamonds from Sierra Leone is still one of Ye’s most famous tracks (deservedly so, it’s incredible), We Major taps the borders of the 60s pop of the Beach Boys and the Beatles with the intricate harmonies that flow in the background and the more subtle tracks like Hey Mama and Roses see Kanye dig deep into his vulnerabilities in a way that, at this point in his career, we hadn’t seen him do at all. It sees young Kanye completely harness his power, building upon the more straight forward College Dropout and making use of his higher budget to bring together choirs, full orchestras (the Late Orchestration album/DVD sees Kanye perform many tracks from this record live with an orchestra and nothing else, it’s wonderful) and seemingly extend his goals towards something far larger than we had heard from him up to this point.
Even the bonus tracks, almost left on the cutting room floor, like Late and the alternate, solo version of Diamonds From Sierra Leone are wonderful. Late, of course, has that now iconic Kanye laugh, and yet it remains just another moment on this record, almost made unremarkable by the insanity that is on almost every single track here. For a 21 track album that runs almost 70 minutes long, it’s hard to imagine that it could be honest to say that every song has great qualities, and that the album has a wonderful flow to it that I’m not sure Kanye has yet rivalled (perhaps DONDA will, if ever we hear it!) and yet, against all odds, it really is that great. It’s an astonishing record in a career full of countless musical achievements – here’s hoping that Kanye can prove himself once again whenever DONDA does drop… or, if it does…