Kanye West Late Registration

Hate him or love him, it’s pretty hard to disregard Kanye West. Even before The College Dropout dropped, he’d proven himself an excellent producer in possession of an outsized ego, which now serves to put his sophomore effort under intense scrutiny. West’s delivery still marks him as an average MC, but his elemental flow actually highlights his worthy lyrical content. West attempts to reposition contemporary hip-hop as a political movement, indicting American presidents on the forthright "Crack Music,” and addresses the conflict diamonds situation in Africa on the remix to his "Diamonds From Sierra Leone” single. Elsewhere, he revisits and builds on The College Dropout’s traits of self-deprecation and being the perennial underdog, a curious indulgence given the armful of Grammys he has, but it clearly motivates him to raise the bar. And by collaborating with movie soundtrack composer and former Fiona Apple collaborator Jon Brion, he does just that. While the effusively aspirational "Touch The Sky” is an example of the cribbing from the classic soul vinyl stacks that made his name, many of the song arrangements are fully-fledged visions infused with intensely dramatic flourishes, only occasionally underpinned by classic hip-hop breaks. It’s clear Kanye isn’t interested in working only within defined hip-hop parameters and the record could have been a total mess. However, despite a couple of underwhelming moments, the incongruous pairing of Brion and West, along with their laundry list of high-profile collaborators, has arguably crafted one of the best hip-hop records of the year. There may be a point in the future when West’s ego-tripping actions will adversely affect his recorded output. This, unequivocally, is not that time. (Universal)