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Late Registration

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Late Registration
Late registration cd cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedAugust 30, 2005 (2005-08-30)
Recorded2004–2005
Studio
Genre
Length70:25
Label
Producer
Kanye West chronology
The College Dropout
(2004)
Late Registration
(2005)
Late Orchestration
(2006)
Singles from Late Registration
  1. "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
    Released: May 31, 2005
  2. "Gold Digger"
    Released: July 5, 2005
  3. "Heard 'Em Say"
    Released: November 8, 2005
  4. "Touch the Sky"
    Released: January 1, 2006
  5. "Drive Slow"
    Released: June 6, 2006

Late Registration is the second studio album by American rapper and producer Kanye West. It was released on August 30, 2005, through Def Jam Recordings and Roc-A-Fella Records. West recorded the album over the course of a year in sessions held at studios in Hollywood and New York City, in collaboration with record producer and film score composer Jon Brion. The recording sessions also featured guest contributions from Adam Levine, Jamie Foxx, Common, Brandy, Jay-Z, and Nas, among others.

West's production for Late Registration departed from the sped-up soul samples of his debut album The College Dropout (2004) in favor of a more elaborate, orchestral, and eclectic sound. Drawing creative inspiration from alternative acts such as Fiona Apple and Portishead, he experimented with intricate sampling methods, string orchestration under Brion, and a variety of instruments not typically associated with hip hop or popular music, including celesta, harpsichord, analog synthesizers, and Chinese bells. In an effort to write authentic yet relatable lyrics, West explored both personal and broader sociopolitical concerns through storytelling devices and a persona marked by humor, enthusiasm, and lament. He also continued to examine his paradoxical relationship between Christian spiritual sense and market-capitalist freedom, resulting in topical songs that critique sources of inequality such as institutional racism, higher education, health care, drug trafficking, and the blood diamond trade.

Surpassing The College Dropout's commercial success, Late Registration debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and sold 860,000 copies in its first week. It eventually reached more than three million copies sold in the US and received a quadruple platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), as well as sales certifications in several other countries. Five singles were released to help market the album, including the international hits "Touch the Sky", "Heard 'Em Say", and "Gold Digger", the latter of which topped the US Billboard Hot 100. Music videos for all five singles were also produced, while West supported the album with a promotional concert tour, leading to the live album Late Orchestration in 2006.

A widespread critical success, Late Registration was viewed as a vast progression from The College Dropout and a pivotal release in hip hop. Reviewers praised its elegant and ambitious musical direction while highlighting West's songwriting and performances for their balance of pop and conscious rap sensibilities. The album appeared on numerous year-end critics polls, being ranked as 2005's best album in Rolling Stone, Time, and the nationwide Pazz & Jop, while earning West eight Grammy Award nominations, including for Album of the Year and a win for Best Rap Album. Its success elevated West from a successful hip hop producer to an innovative and culturally relevant recording artist in his own right. Among his most acclaimed works, Late Registration frequently appears on professional lists of top albums, including Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", on which it ranked 117th in 2020.

Background[edit]

Late Registration is the second of Kanye West's planned four education-themed studio albums[1] and follows the major success of The College Dropout,[2] which had showcased his signature production style of using sped-up vocal samples from soul records (known as "chipmunk soul").[2] However, because of the album's success, this sampling style became highly imitated by other hip hop artists. In response to this, and fearing his own dependence on the technique, West decided to find a new sound[1] and progress in both songwriting and stylistic range.[2]

West enlisted film score composer Jon Brion for Late Registration, resulting in Brion as co-executive producer for several tracks.[3] West had been exposed to his music while watching the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which Brion scored, and also listened to songs the composer had produced for singer-songwriter Fiona Apple's second album When the Pawn... (1999).[4] Apple was another one of West's favorite musicians and sources of musical inspiration for Late Registration,[3][4] whose direction West described as "that Coldplay, Portishead, Fiona Apple style".[2] Portishead's 1994 album Dummy was another reference point for West's direction with the album.[4]

Although Brion had no prior experience in creating hip hop records, he and West found that they could productively work together after their first afternoon in the studio where they discovered that neither confined his musical knowledge and vision to one specific genre.[5] When questioned if his presence made Late Registration any less based in hip hop, Brion replied, "There are colors and ideas that make [the album] different from average hip-hop, but Kanye is already different from the average hip-hop guy. He's got this sense of pop record-making which is really solid, and he likes tracks with a lot of things going on in them – which is not necessarily common for hip-hop. He was already barking up that tree. This is definitely not just a hip-hop album. But it is also by no means overtly arty, or non-hip-hop. I don't think it's a weird record by any means."[3]

Recording[edit]

John Brion, American musician, at The Sunset Tavern in Seattle Sep 26, 2004 (photo by Nadja Dee Tanaka, used with permission of Nadja Dee Tanaka)
Film composer Jon Brion (shown in 2004) assisted with the album's production.

West spent more than a year and two million dollars to produce Late Registration.[6] The majority of the recording sessions for the album took place at Sony Music Studios in New York City and at the Record Plant in Hollywood, California; other sessions took place at Chalice Recording Studios and Grandmaster Recording Studios in Hollywood.[7] He began working in the studio after he finished touring with Usher on the R&B singer's Truth Tour (2004).[8] By November 2004, West had completed nearly seventy-five percent of the album.[9] However he felt unsatisfied with its outcome and in March of the following year, he brought in Jon Brion, which drastically altered the project's direction.[3]

The album's recording sessions between West and Brion were largely exploratory, with the two experimenting with a broad spectrum of sounds. West would construct a song's basic structure, bringing in samples, drum beat programming and occasionally unfinished rap verses.[1] After brainstorming over the musical direction the album could go, he would then select from a variety of unique instruments that Brion provided (and played) and attempt to incorporate their distinctive sound into the song's texture.[3][10] West envisioned the album as like the creation of a film: visualizing the songs as scenes, outlining each in such a way that they efficiently conveyed their respective social or introspective context, and ensuring that all synchronized within the fabric of the complete set.[1] This sentiment was shared by Jon Brion who said, "He thinks in frequency ranges. I can recognize when someone sees music architecturally, which is how I work. I see it as a spatial thing: left to right, front to back, up and down. It's animated and it's moving in real time. Kanye has that. He tries things out until it fits, until it sits where it is supposed to sit and everything has the correct emotional function. He has real instincts like any great record-maker."[10]

For Late Registration, West also collaborated with guest artists, whom he selected based on the effect each of their voices had on him when he heard them. He cited the serene vocals of Adam Levine, the trademark sound of Brandy, the rap skills of Jay-Z and the lyricism of Paul Wall as primary examples.[11] Adam Levine, lead vocalist of pop rock band Maroon 5 is featured on the album's opening track, "Heard 'Em Say". The two had previously collaborated when Maroon 5 commissioned West to produce a remix for "This Love" and later developed a friendship while sitting together on a flight to Rome for the 2004 MTV Europe Music Awards.[12] While playing songs from his second album on his iPod for him during the flight, West came across the demo for "Heard 'Em Say" to which Levine added a R&B hook he had recently written and thought was perfect for it.[12] The track was recorded quickly after the 2005 Grammy Awards ceremony, as Levine only had a couple of free hours available for time in the studio, and Brion was able to translate the two compositions in a matter of hours.[3]

West originally produced and recorded "Gold Digger" in Ludacris's home in Atlanta, Georgia for Shawnna's 2004 debut album Worth tha Weight and had written the chorus from a female first-person viewpoint. However, Shawnna passed on the song. West rewrote the two verses from a male's point-of-view for himself; about a year later, just before "Gold Digger" was set to be released, adding a third verse, recording and mastering it at Sony Music Studios in New York in a week.[13] After he went with friend John Mayer to see Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles in the 2004 film Ray, West decided to have Foxx sing an interpolation of Charles' song "I Got a Woman" in place of the original sample.[13] Once the track was in place, it was layered with additional instruments provided by Brion and individually selected by West.[13]

Houston-based rapper Paul Wall appears alongside West and his GOOD Music label-mate GLC on "Drive Slow", which was recorded in Los Angeles after the two had met while posing for a photo shoot in an August issue of King in a spread titled "Coming Kings".[14] West had originally wanted Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. to appear on the track, but she opted out of the appearance due to a busy schedule.[15][16] "My Way Home" is performed by West's close friend and GOOD Music associate Common, whose sixth studio album Be was being produced and recorded by West simultaneously with Late Registration. Certain tracks West originally crafted for Be that Common passed on subsequently ended up on his second album.[17]

While the original version of "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" featured West as the sole performer, he decided to record a remix to the song which included guest verse provided by Jay-Z—who had come out of retirement from rapping—after learning of the civil war in Sierra Leone financed by conflict diamonds.[18] Both the original and remix versions of "Diamond from Sierra Leone" appear on the album, with the former included as a bonus track. The song contains live drums played by Michel Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and later the first music video for "Heard 'Em Say", who had visited the studio on a day Brion set up a drum kit.[3][12] According to Jay-Z, West mixed "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" about fourteen times before he felt comfortable to release it as the album's lead single.[19] The recording also experienced delay when West and Brion were required to wait two weeks to rent the harpsichord that they used for percussion on the song.[20]

Certain tracks featured contributions from the DJ A-Trak (far left) and a string section.

West recorded a verse by rap artist Nas—one of his idol rappers—for the track "We Major" without informing Jay-Z, who at the time was engaged in a feud with Nas.[21] GOOD, music label-mate Really Doe also appears on the track, delivering its elongated chorus. West later revealed that part of the reason he created the song was to dismantle the feud between the MCs, which they did later that year.[21] "Hey Mama" was first recorded by West as early as 2000.[22]

Brion experienced some difficulty conducting a twenty-piece orchestra for "Celebration", as its musicians found themselves giggling at West's humorous lyrics which hampered their playing.[3] On "Roses", West and Brion had some minor discord; Brion initially layered it with keyboard arrangements, only for West to remove his keys along with the beat and completely reconfigure the entire song in such a way that its verses are built around the rhythm formed by his vocals and Brion's arrangements arrive during the choruses. Brion later lightheartedly compared the indecision surrounding the construction of the track to that of Prince's famous last-minute removal of the bassline from "When Doves Cry".[3] According to Patti LaBelle, she contributed vocals to "Roses". "I was in his studio one night, and [West] and his mother both asked if I'd just sing something on this song", Labelle recalled. "I didn't get a credit on the album because the liner notes had already been printed up."[23]

Music and production[edit]

West's prize catch, audibly enriching at least half [the] songs, is co-producer Jon Brion ... adding an unprecedented third element to West's proven meld of hitbound soul hooks and rhythm tracks made or played. There's never been hip-hop so complex and subtle musically.

Robert Christgau[24]

The album's music blends West's primary soulful hip hop production with Brion's elaborate chamber pop orchestration, and experimentally delves into a wide array of different genres, including jazz, blues, rock, R&B, spoken word, funk, turntablism, western classical, and psychedelic soul.[2] With the presence of Brion, who conducts a twenty-piece orchestra and plays instruments individually selected by West, the album is largely orchestral in nature, brandishing a euphony of string arrangements, piano chords, brass flecks, and horn riffs among other symphonic instrumentation.[3] They also incorporated a myriad of foreign and vintage instruments not typical in popular music, let alone hip hop, such as a celesta,[25] harpsichord, Chamberlin,[26] CS-80 analog synthesizer, Chinese bells and berimbau.[27]

For Late Registration, Serena Kim of Vibe magazine took note of how West uses unconventional styles and sudden musical shifts in song structures, drawing comparisons to The Beatles during their experimental era.[28] Rolling Stone described Late Registration as West claiming "the whole world of music as hip-hop turf" chronicling the album as "his mad quest to explode every cliché about hip-hop identity."[2] Kim concurred with this sentiment, stating, "West ambitiously attempts to depart from the street sensibilities of Dropout by giving Late Registration a shiny, quasi-alt-pop finish."[28] The album has also been described as a work of pop rap, by journalists Caleb Wossen of the Dallas Observer[29] and Vice magazine's Eric Sundermann.[30]

The album's opening track "Heard 'Em Say" exhibits a cascading piano melody provided by excerpts of "Someone That I Used To Love" as performed by Natalie Cole embellished over tumbling beats and a bass synthesizer as well as acoustic guitar.[31] The song's intricately composed outro, with the right amount of flourish provided by new musical elements such as xylophones and bells,[32] exemplifies the musical complexity of the album as a whole. "Touch the Sky" stands as the sole song on the entire album not to feature production by West. The song was produced by fellow Roc-a-Fella producer Just Blaze, who uses a slowed-down sample of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" filled with jubilant Latin horn blares.[33][34] "Gold Digger" contains an interpolation of "I Got a Woman" by Ray Charles and a bouncy beat formed from handclaps as well as scratches by West's touring DJ A-Trak.[7] Towards the end, the song employs vintage synthesizers,[35] which emit a honking sound[36] in cadence to Kanye's voice.[37] West's production approach comes full circle within "Drive Slow", a song that samples the alto sax[38] from Hank Crawford's recording of "Wildflower", while also slightly speeding up and looping the song's intro melody over a jazzy downtempo drum loop[39] before slowing down the track towards the end of the song, which is antithetical to West's "chipmunk soul"-styled loops.[40]

West played with an extensive orchestra on "Bring Me Down", "Gone", and "Celebration".

The interlude "My Way Home" contains a sample of "Home is Where the Hatred Is" by Gil Scott-Heron. "Bring Me Down" has more orchestration than any other track on Late Registration.[7] Additionally, it features an overdubbing of Brandy's vocals to create a chorus effect, a recording technique in which her lone voice produces the illusion of a 48-voice Choir[41] singing harmonies. The up-tempo arrangement of "Addiction" contains synths, congas,[34] filtered Hi-hats, a guitar and a sampled line from "My Funny Valentine" as performed by Etta James.[42] All the while, West's overdubbed vocals reverbs in and out of the track.[43] For "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", West worked with a sample of Shirley Bassey's theme song for the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, layering it with lush instrumental arrangements[37] that featured drums,[7] horns, strings,[34] and a harpsichord,[44] resulting in a production that crescendos with his vocals.[37]

Late Registration's longest track, the seven-minute-long "We Major", implements exuberant, amplified backing vocals and a "splashy disco groove" featuring a bassline, electric piano Glissandos[40] and horns.[45] The melody of "Hey Mama" is laced with a folksy looped "La-la-la" vocal sample[2] from "Today Won't Come Again" by Donal Leace, while its beat is produced by Tin Pan Alley-styled Drums. Additionally, it contains vocoder-processed background vocals, a xylophone solo and a cascading synth outro.[46] "Celebration", opening with an electronic twinkling sound,[3] contains samples of "Heavenly Dream" by The KayGees.[7] A columnist for The Guardian described it as evoking "the lavish 1970s psychedelic soul of Rotary Connection."[35]

Some of the most elaborate orchestral arrangement expressed on the entire album is contained within its closing track "Gone." The composition begins with a vocal sample of "It's Too Late" by Otis Redding and a two-chord piano ostinato, followed by a simplistic funk beat. As the song progresses, its structure gradually morphs and develops more and more musicality. Over time, the composition assumes ten violins, four violas and four cellos in the midst of verses, all of which initially come in brief staccato bursts that simply punctuate the rhythm but eventually expand and consolidate into a fully formed string section by the arrival of the harmonic choruses. After its third verse, the song enters an instrumental passage before returning with a fourth verse from West, where the rise and fall of his voice is intricately emulated by the fluctuation of the string orchestra.[36]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

Jamie Foxx (left) and West performing "Gold Digger" in 2008

According to Time magazine's Josh Tyrangiel, Late Registration acts as a demonstration of West's deliberate storytelling mode.[47] West stated that his goal for the album was to touch on topics that people from all walks of life could find relatable, while remaining true to himself: "[I wanted to have] raps that were just as ill as Jadakiss and just as understandable as Will Smith."[11] University of North Carolina scholar sees the album as a continuation from The College Dropout in demonstrating how West's Christian heritage has informed his relationship to the capitalist market economy. In his analysis, Late Registration reaffirms West's "paradoxical articulation of market and religion—that is, his simultaneous sacred critique and secular valorization of capitalism"; "his religious authenticity as a Christian does not replace or merge with his market authenticity as a materialistic rapper but co-exists with it in uneasy tension".[48] Robert Christgau sums up West's lyrical persona to be "mammon in practice, Christ in spirit".[24]

The album's opening track "Heard 'Em Say" is told from the perspective of an afflicted, impoverished American quietly lamenting the fallacies of society and questioning the ways of the world around him. West's lyrics contemplate "being honest with yourself in a world that is not", according to rap scholar and author Mickey Hess.[49] West delivers a tongue-in-cheek lyrical narrative on "Gold Digger", which critically examines the disastrous life of a man married to a woman who manipulates him for financial gain. However, another story arises within the third verse, which illustrates a formerly destitute black male as he earns a fortune and leaves his loyal, unselfish girlfriend for a white woman.[24] "Crack Music" delves into more audacious and straightforward sociopolitical commentary than the self-effacing and passive-aggressive "Heard 'Em Say".[11] In the song, West discusses the spread and devastating impact of crack cocaine in black communities while championing the sovereignty of black musicians, although he compares their addictive power and influence on American society to drug dealers.[11] On "Roses", West offers an account of his ailing grandmother's hospitalization in the form of a melancholic and sentimental poem that also critiques the health care system.[2]

"Diamonds from Sierra Leone" was originally recorded as a largely free-associative track with a number of lyrical punchlines meant to loosely chronicle West's past experiences with the Roc-A-Fella label, from being on Jay-Z's Blueprint Lounge Tour to the label's decline and revival.[19] The song's remix for the album instead touches on the issue of "blood diamonds" that people unknowingly wear and how they are used to fund civil wars in West Africa.[18] The extended raps on the next track "We Major" are a spiritual exultation of generational and personal success,[49] followed by West's dedication to his mother Donda West on the ballad "Hey Mama". In the latter song, West recounts past hardships he and his mother suffered through together while expressing his love and devotion for her and appreciation for her consistent support, even when he went directly against her expectations for him.[11]

Alpha Phi Alpha board members at a banquet in Washington, D.C., 2006. The album features critiques of institutions such as historically black colleges for reproducing inequality.

As on The College Dropout, a series of humorous skits voiced by DeRay Davis feature throughout Late Registration.[50] They involve a fictional black fraternity that West's character joins called "Broke Phi Broke", whose members pride themselves in living a life without money or worldly possessions, despite the glaring disadvantages such a lifestyle brings.[51] His character is eventually expelled from the fraternity after their leader discovers that not only has West been making beats for cash on the side but has also been breaking some of its rules, such as eating meals everyday, buying new clothes, and taking showers. According to Hess, the skits serve to encapsulate "a contradiction at the core of contemporary American life: the need to belong, to fit in, with your fellow humans versus the Darwinistic mad grab at material things, success in the latter being the very definition of success in our culture."[51] The album's critique of higher education, including HBCUs, as a useless institution for African Americans is considered by some scholars to be a variation of Pierre Bourdieu's theories connecting education to social and cultural reproduction.[52] According to academic journalist Chris Richardson, West advances "a theme critical of institutional education and the broader social distinctions it produces" that is specifically connected to Bourdieu's concept of symbolic violence, which is "defined as the ability to impose meanings while concealing their underlying power relations".[53]

The fraternity theme is revisited toward the end of the album on the UK-edition bonus track "We Can Make It Better", featuring guest raps from Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Common, and Rhymefest over a sped-up sample of "Make It Easy on Yourself", as covered by the Three Degrees. In his lyrics, West addresses a girl as a tour guide through her first day on a college campus while trying to alleviate her fears of dating black men in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. The guest rappers offer observations on urban threats such as exploitative criminals, drug addicts, and dangerous police officers, concluding with Rhymefest's blame of government tactics in terrorizing African Americans.[54] Common also appears on another bonus track, "Back to Basics", in which he alludes to fashion trends in the Midwest at the time, particularly in Chicago ("I'm Chi as buck fifty's and Pelle Pelle leathers").[55] West uses similar references ("Let's get back to Basics / When shit gets worse, we Converse / How we need a New Balance before the lines get crossed like Asics"), while continuing to explore the materialist-conscious rapper dichotomy ("I say black on black is the hate that hate made / I'm talking Sara Lee with the dough, I'm talkin' bout the cake maid").[56]

Packaging[edit]

This is the liner image for the album booklet Late Registration by the artist Kanye West. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Roc-a-Fella Records, or the graphic artist(s).
Dropout Bear as he appears within the album artwork of Late Registration.

The art direction and music packaging design for Late Registration were handled by Brooklyn graphic design studio Morning Breath, Inc.[7][57] Similar to its predecessor, the album artwork of the second album carries an educational motif. Where The College Dropout was designed in a manner reminiscent of a high school yearbook, the images contained within the liner notes of Late Registration were taken at Princeton University. West's vision for the style of the pictures was inspired by the works of American satirical painter John Currin, one of his favorite artists.[7] The liner notes also contain a banner that reads Tardus Subcriptio, which is Latin for Late Registration.[7] The album artwork centers around "Dropout Bear", West's anthropomorphic teddy bear mascot, who is dressed in a collegian outfit.[58] Entering Princeton on the front cover, Dropout wanders its hallways, sits in empty lecture halls, and reads multiple library books before departing from the institution the same way he came in on the back cover.[7]

Marketing and sales[edit]

In a preview of Late Registration on April 20, 2005, West appeared on New York radio station Hot 97 and played the lead single "Diamonds from Sierra Leone".[17] The album was originally set to be released on July 12, 2005, but was shifted to August 16 by Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam.[59] It was pushed back once more to August 30 by West himself as he needed more time to complete the album. Late Registration was anticipated to become the biggest-selling record of the year and over 1.6 million copies were distributed to stores in preparation of its first week of release.[60] On the iTunes Store, the album became one of the most pre-ordered titles in the online digital media store's history.[61] West filmed a live album featuring tracks from Late Registration and The College Dropout, titled Late Orchestration which was released April 2006.[62]

A television advertisement for Late Registration was directed and animated by Maggie Rogers, Abby Johnson and Paul Tuersley of Mr & Mrs Smith Design Ltd. It featured a gigantic version of West's teddy bear mascot Dropout Bear roaming through the streets of London. The advert received an award from British music magazine Music Week for Best Music TV Commercial.[63] On the day of the album's release, West made an in-store appearance at New York's Lincoln Center Tower Records to autograph copies for fans.[64] That same day, Late Registration was released in its entirety for online streaming on AOL Music.[65]

West performing as a supporting act on U2's Vertigo Tour in 2005

In its first week of release, Late Registration debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with first week sales of 860,000 copies, selling over 600,000 more copies than Tony Yayo's album Thoughts of a Predicate Felon at number two. This stood as West's first chart-topping album in the United States and gave him nearly double that of The College Dropout's first-week sales.[66] The album had the highest-selling first week sales in the US for two years until West's next album Graduation sold more in September 2007.[67] Late Registration's first-week sales also ranked as the eighth largest for a rap album through January 7, 2019.[68] In Late Registration's second week, it remained atop the chart and sold an additional 283,000 copies, resulting in more than 1.14 million copies sold within its first two weeks on the Billboard 200.[69] In early 2006, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) awarded the album a triple platinum certification, indicating sales of three million copies in the US.[70]

West's string section during his set at the 2006 Stockholm Jazz Festival

Late Registration also debuted at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart.[71] In the United Kingdom, the album reached number two on the UK Albums Chart for the issue date of September 5, 2005, being prevented from topping the chart by McFly's album Wonderland; however, both albums were new entries that week.[72] As of May 2018, Late Registration is the 12th highest-selling rap album in the UK in the 21st century.[73] By November of that year, the album had sold 852,000 copies in the UK, ranking as West's highest selling album in the country.[74] It peaked at number 14 on the ARIA Albums chart in April 2006 and spent 28 weeks on the chart in total.[75][76] Late Registration was the third highest selling album on iTunes in 2005.[77]

In June 2013, Late Registration reached 3.1 million copies sold in the US.[78] On November 23, 2020, it was certified four-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting four million units recorded.[79] The following year, Vibe reported that Late Registration was one of the few rap albums released before the Spotify era to have been streamed one billion times through the service.[80]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic85/100[81]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[82]
Blender4/5 stars[83]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[84]
The Guardian5/5 stars[85]
Los Angeles Times4/4 stars[86]
NME8/10[15]
Pitchfork9.5/10[46]
Rolling Stone5/5 stars[2]
SpinB+[34]
USA Today4/4 stars[87]

Late Registration was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 85, based on 31 reviews.[81] Reviewers generally regarded it as far superior to The College Dropout.[88] Writing in Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield deemed Late Registration "an undeniable triumph, packed front to back, so expansive it makes the debut sound like a rough draft", adding that West reveals himself to be a real rapper.[2] Uncut magazine's Simon Reynolds found most of the songs brilliant and highlighted by West's unparalleled use of vocal samples,[89] while The Guardian lead critic Alexis Petridis pointed to the rapper's topicality and subversive studio production: "Late Registration suggests an artist effortlessly outstripping his peers – more ideas, better lyrics, bigger hooks, greater depth."[85] Andy Kellman from AllMusic said "he can be tremendous as a pure writer" and noted the change in West's production style from unrefined and erratic-tempo samples to "a more traditionally musical touch" from Brion.[82] Sean Fennessey from Pitchfork felt West avoided the sophomore slump with an "expansive, imperfect masterpiece" that draws on his enthusiastic, ambitious, and scattered personality.[46]

The album was hailed by some journalists as a pivotal release in hip hop. Billboard senior editor Gail Mitchell said Late Registration's "combination of socially conscious rap, club music and personal reflections ... represents a watershed moment in rap music history",[88] while Kitty Empire from The Observer viewed it as an important milestone for the genre, revealing West to be "the Brian Wilson of hip-hop" because he "plays up the struggle between conscience and covetousness, the pop mainstream and what can be achieved within the notional boundaries of hip hop".[37] Similarly, Steve Yates from the same publication compared West's aspirations to Stevie Wonder's classic 1970s period, adding that, "Creative, intelligent, funny and daring, he's the only artist out there other than Outkast to walk the tightrope between pop sensibility, conscious rap and the outright nihilism of your common-or-garden [variety] gangsta."[90] In the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn compared the rapper's dignified execution of pop crossover on the album to that of The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and Bob Marley.[86] Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, praised the album's "exquisite details" – both lyrical and musical – while concluding of West:

Arrogant for sure, only that's not why he always samples. Anyway, he's as good as he thinks he is – a backpacker at heart who, like many brilliant nerds before him, has accrued precious metal by following his dream. He wants everybody to buy this record. So do I.[24]

Some reviewers were more qualified in their praise. In The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin found Late Registration as ambitious as The College Dropout but "less successful" because of melodramatic lyrics and "symphonics" without a "strong narrative" to hold the songs together, with him concluding that the album "plays like a brilliant first draft, flawed and uneven, but radiating humor and heart."[91] Jon Pareles believed West's elevated status undermined the underdog quality that had accentuated his debut studio album; he wrote in The New York Times that "for much of Late Registration, the striver has turned into a hip-hop V.I.P., and a cool arrogance has crept into the songs."[43] Hattie Collins of NME was highly impressed by the beats in the music, which she called "pure cranium-crushing boom bap at its best", but lamented the lack of "rubbish lyrics" and clumsy charm that distinguished West's debut album for hardcore fans.[15] In the opinion of Spin magazine's Jon Caramanica, the augmented versatility and eccentricity of West's flow still "pales in comparison to his sonic ambition."[34]

Rankings[edit]

Late Registration appeared on year-end best album lists for 2005 by numerous publications, including being listed as the best album of the year by USA Today, Spin, and Time.[47][92][93] Rolling Stone also named the album as the best of 2005, and hailed it as a "sweepingly generous, absurdly virtuosic hip-hop classic."[94][95] In The Village Voice's 2005 Pazz & Jop nationwide poll of 795 popular music critics, Late Registration finished at number one by a wide margin over any of the other album nominees. This was the second year in a row that West topped the poll, a feat that had occurred only one other time over twenty years ago by The Clash.[96] Christgau, the poll's supervisor, also ranked it first on his own list[97] and assigned it an "A+" grade in his website's entry for the album.[98] On the Washington City Paper's list of the top 20 favourite albums of 2005 calculated from points assigned by the magazine's music writers, the album finished at number four with 43 points, becoming one of the five albums to score over 40 that year.[99] Late Registration became West's second consecutive album to be rated "XXL" by XXL, the magazine's highest rank, which has been awarded to only sixteen other hip-hop albums.[100]

Robert Christgau (2014) supervised the 2005 Pazz & Jop critics poll, which Late Registration won. He later named it the second best album of the decade.

In a decade-end poll of critics and musicians, the album finished number 40 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade.[101] In his ballot for the magazine's poll, Christgau ranked Late Registration as the second best album of the 2000s decade.[102] Pitchfork named it the 18th best album of the 2000s.[103] The Guardian listed the album as the 19th best of the decade.[104] PopMatters ranked Late Registration as the 15th best album of the 2000s.[105] Consequence named it the 26th best album of the decade.[106] La Vanguardia listed the album as the 36th best of the 2000s decade.[107] Late Registration was one of just twelve albums to receive a perfect rating from Rolling Stone in the 2000s, and the only Hip-Hop/R&B album to do so.[108]

In 2012, Rolling Stone placed Late Registration at number 118 on its revised list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", making it one of only four albums released in the 21st century to reach the top 150.[109] The album was the highest entry among recent albums and one of West's three albums to appear on the list.[110] In 2012, Late Registration was placed at number 100 on Spin's list of the 125 best albums of the past 25 years.[111] Three years later, the magazine ranked the album at number 104 on its list of the 300 best albums of the past 30 years.[112] Late Registration was ranked number 117 on Rolling Stone's 2020 edition of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[113] Based on such rankings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists it as the 371st most acclaimed album in history, as well as the 42nd most from the 2000s and the 4th most from 2005.[114]

Accolades for Late Registration
Publication Accolade Rank Ref.
Complex The 100 Best Albums of The Complex Decade (2002–2012)
93
The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s N/A
Consequence Top 50 Albums of 2005
8
The Top 100 Albums of the 2000s
26
Dagsavisen Best Albums of 2005
9
E! Online Top 20 CDs of 2005
6
Eins Live Top 20 Albums of 2005
6
Expressen 50 Best Albums of 2005
19
Musikbyrån 52 Best Albums of 2005
17
NME 50 Best Albums of 2005
8
Nöjesguiden Best Albums of 2005
14
OOR Best CDs of 2005
6
Pitchfork Top 50 Albums of 2005
2
The 200 Best Albums of the 2000s
18
PopMatters Best 50 Albums of 2005
18
Rolling Stone Top 50 Records of 2005
1
100 Best Albums of the 2000s
40
500 Greatest Albums of All Time (2012)
118
500 Greatest Albums of All Time (2020)
117
Slant Magazine Best Albums of the 2000s
13
Spectrum Culture Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2005
4
Spin The 40 Best Albums of 2005
1
The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years (1985–2014)
104
Stylus Magazine Top 50 Albums of 2005
6
Time Best Albums of 2005
1
USA Today Best Albums of 2005
1
The Village Voice The 2005 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll
1
Washington City Paper Music Writers' Top 20 Favourite Albums of 2005
4
The Wire Top 50 Records of 2005
25

Industry awards[edit]

West performing "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" at the 2006 BRIT Awards, where he had received a nomination for International Album

Late Registration was a contender for numerous industry awards. Prior to the Grammy nominations being announced in December 2005, West complained that he would have a problem with not winning the Album of the Year award.[134] Late Registration was ultimately nominated for the award at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards, and West recalled him and Brion being "in the studio saying, 'We're making the Album of the Year!'"[135][136] At the ceremony, the album won the award of Best Rap Album, becoming West's second consecutive album to do so and he delivered an acceptance speech that night.[135][137] "Gold Digger" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" were winners of the awards for Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song, respectively, at the same ceremony, while the former was also nominated for Record of the Year.[135] Though West was met with six nominations for the album, he contended for a total of eight awards at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards, tying with Mariah Carey and John Legend for the most nominations of that show.[136] Despite West's previously instated problem of failure to win, he was happy with eight nominations.[134] However, Late Registration was awarded album of the year at the 2005 Kiss Awards.[138] The album also earned the Best Album award at the 2006 MP3.com Awards.[139]

Awards and nominations for Late Registration
Year Organization Award Result Ref.
2005 Best Art Vinyl Awards Best Vinyl Art Nominated [140]
HipHopDX Awards Album of the Year Nominated [141]
Kiss Awards Album of the Year Won [138]
Vibe Awards Album of the Year Nominated [142]
2006 BET Hip Hop Awards Hip Hop CD of the Year Nominated [143]
Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Nominated [144]
Top Rap Album Won [145]
Brit Awards International Album Nominated [146]
Danish Music Awards International Album of the Year Nominated [147]
Grammy Awards Best Rap Album Won [135]
Album of the Year Nominated
Groovevolt Music and Fashion Awards Best Solo Hip-Hop Album Won [148]
Hungarian Music Awards Best Foreign Rap or Hip-Hop Album of the Year Won [149]
MP3.com Awards Best Album Won [139]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Album Nominated [150]
TEC Awards Record Production/Album Nominated [151]

Legacy and influence[edit]

With the album's commercial success, West established himself as a recording artist in his own right and independent of his earlier success with hip hop productions for other rappers.[152] By matching the sales of The College Dropout and garnering even more acclaim, Late Registration proved "the Kanye West experiment was no longer an experiment, it was a business model", as Shea Serrano writes: "It helped revitalize sampling soul music, it stitched together pop music themes generally attributable to the easily ignorable 'conscious rap' quadrant ('Gold Digger' is secretly a clever examination of the effects money has on relationships), and it created a precedent for the larger-scale gazing he'd go on to do. Rap followed along right behind him."[153] As The Ringer's Logan Murdock chronicles, Late Registration proved his unprecedented artistry and relentless ambition with "a story to tell, an underdog tale that the masses related to", particularly African Americans. The journalist relates his own experience connecting with the music: "In Oakland, I was one of those fans. Though I was just 12 years old, I recognized the same struggles West spoke about plaguing my own environment. Like West, I had educated parents and a stable home life, but was aware of the world around me. Like West, I struggled to get acceptance, living a double life."[152]

I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a Black family, it says, "They're looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food.' ... George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.

Kanye West (A Concert for Hurricane Relief, 2005)[152]

Released in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's destructive landfall on the US Gulf Coast, Late Registration was followed a few days later by West's appearance on the celebrity-driven live telethon A Concert for Hurricane Relief. In a segment alongside actor Mike Myers, he made off-script remarks criticizing the US government's response to the storm and the media for lacking empathy toward black people disproportionately impacted. According to Murdock, West's remarks were in line with both the criticism then-President George W. Bush would receive for his handling of Hurricane Katrina and "with the defiance that Late Registration displayed" through its insight into the "systematic racism faced by those in the water".[152]

In retrospect, Highsnobiety writer Shahzaib Hussain recognizes Late Registration in West's opening series of highly successful, education-themed albums that "cemented his role as a progressive rap progenitor".[154] With their focus on social injustice and racial inequality, The College Dropout and Late Registration in particular are often cited by listeners who "like the old Kanye", a phrase commonly used to refer to the era in West's career when he made his most culturally relevant and acclaimed work.[155]

Track listing[edit]

Late Registration track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Wake Up Mr. West" 0:41
2."Heard 'Em Say" (featuring Adam Levine)3:23
3."Touch the Sky" (featuring Lupe Fiasco)Just Blaze3:57
4."Gold Digger" (featuring Jamie Foxx)
  • West
  • Brion
3:28
5."Skit No. 1"  0:33
6."Drive Slow" (featuring Paul Wall and GLC)West4:32
7."My Way Home" (performed by Common)West1:43
8."Crack Music" (featuring The Game)
  • West
  • Brion
4:31
9."Roses"
  • West
  • Brion
4:05
10."Bring Me Down" (featuring Brandy)
  • West
  • Brion
3:18
11."Addiction"
  • West
  • Brion
4:27
12."Skit No. 2"  0:31
13."Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)" (featuring Jay-Z)3:53
14."We Major" (featuring Nas and Really Doe)
  • West
  • Baby Dubb
  • Brion
7:28
15."Skit No. 3"  0:24
16."Hey Mama"
  • West
  • Donal Leace
  • West
  • Brion
5:05
17."Celebration"West
  • West
  • Brion
3:18
18."Skit No. 4"  1:18
19."Gone" (featuring Consequence and Cam'ron)West5:33
20."Diamonds from Sierra Leone" (bonus track)
  • West
  • Harris
  • Barry
  • Black
  • West
  • Devo Springsteen
  • Brion
3:58
21."Late" (hidden track)
West3:50
Total length:70:25
UK edition
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
21."We Can Make It Better" (with Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Common and Rhymefest)
  • West
  • Brion
3:52
22."Late" (hidden track)
  • West
  • Kerr
  • Robinson
West3:50
Total length:74:17
Japanese and Australian tour editions
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
21."Back to Basics" (with Common)
West1:39
22."We Can Make It Better" (with Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Common and Rhymefest)
  • West
  • Lynn
  • Fareed
  • Greene
  • Smith
  • Bacharach
  • David
  • West
  • Brion
3:52
23."Late" (hidden track)
  • West
  • Kerr
  • Robinson
West3:50
Total length:75:56

Sample credits[7]

  • "Wake Up Mr. West" and "Heard Em Say" both contain excerpts of "Someone That I Used to Love" as performed by Natalie Cole.
  • "Touch the Sky" contains samples of "Move On Up" as performed by Curtis Mayfield.
  • "Gold Digger" contains samples of "I Got a Woman" as performed by Ray Charles.
  • "Drive Slow" contains samples of "Wildflower" as performed by Hank Crawford.[25]
  • "My Way Home" contains samples of "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" as performed by Gil Scott-Heron.
  • "Crack Music" contains samples of "Since You Came in My Life" as performed by New York Community Choir.
  • "Roses" contains samples of "Rosie" as performed by Bill Withers.
  • "Addiction" contains elements of "My Funny Valentine" as performed by Etta James.
  • "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" contains samples of "Diamonds Are Forever" as performed by Shirley Bassey.
  • "We Major" contains samples of "Action" as performed by Orange Krush.
  • "Hey Mama" contains samples of "Today Won't Come Again" as performed by Donal Leace.
  • "Celebration" contains samples of "Heavenly Dream" as performed by The Kay-Gees.
  • "Gone" contains samples of "It's Too Late" as performed by Otis Redding.
  • "Late" contains samples of "I'll Erase Away Your Pain" by The Whatnauts.
  • "We Can Make It Better" contains a sample of "Make It Easy on Yourself" as performed by The Three Degrees.[54]

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[7]

Musicians[edit]

  • Eric Gorfain – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Daphne Chen – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Victoria Lanier – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Julie Rogers – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Alyssa Park – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Audrey Solomon – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Terry Glenny – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Susan Chatman – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Marisa Kuney – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Amy Wickman – violin (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Marda Todd – viola (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Piotr Jandule – viola (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Tom Tally – viola (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • David Sage – viola (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Richard Dodd – cello (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Matt Cooker – cello (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Armen Ksadjikian – cello (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Victor Lawrence – cello (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Jason Torreano – contrabass (tracks 10, 17)
  • Francis Senger – contrabass (tracks 10, 17)
  • Denise Briese – contrabass (tracks 10, 17)
  • Gary Grant – trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 10, 17)
  • Dan Fornero – trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 10, 17)
  • Andrew Martin – trombone (tracks 10, 17)
  • Stephen Holtman – trombone (tracks 10, 17)
  • Bruce Otto – bass trombone (tracks 10, 17)
  • Rick Todd – French horn (tracks 10, 17)
  • Brad Warnaar – French horn (tracks 10, 17)
  • Ervin "EP" Pope – keyboards (tracks 9, 17)
  • Keenan "Keynote" Holloway – bass (tracks 9, 17)
  • Tom Craskey – keyboards (tracks 13, 20)
  • Dave Tozer – guitar (tracks 13, 20)
  • Michel Gondry – live drums (tracks 13, 20)
  • A-Trak – scratches (track 4)
  • Tony "Penafire" Williams – additional vocals (tracks 2, 6, 8, 9, 14)
  • John Legend – additional vocals (tracks 16, 17)
  • DeRay Davis – additional vocals (track 1)
  • Plain Pat – additional vocals (track 4)
  • Don C. – additional vocals (track 4)
  • Keyshia Cole – additional vocals (track 8)
  • Charlie Wilson – additional vocals (track 8)
  • Strings – additional vocals (track 11)

Production[edit]

  • Anthony Kilhoffer – recording (tracks 3, 4, 6, 8–14, 16, 17, 19, 20)
  • Andrew Dawson – recording (tracks 2–4, 6–8, 16, 17, 21), mixing (tracks 8, 16, 17, 19)
  • Tom Biller – recording (tracks 2, 4, 11–14, 16, 17), strings recording (tracks 10, 17, 19, 20)
  • Brian Sumner – recording (tracks 8, 9, 21)
  • Richard Reitz – recording (track 6)
  • Mike Dean – mixing (tracks 2–4, 6, 7)
  • Craig Bauer – mixing (tracks 9–12)
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing (tracks 13, 20)
  • Nate Connelly – assistant engineering (tracks 2–4, 6, 9, 10, 14, 21)
  • Mike Mo – assistant engineering (tracks 2–4, 6, 10, 14)
  • Matt Green – assistant engineering (tracks 3, 4, 8, 10, 16, 17)
  • Taylor Dow – assistant engineering (tracks 2, 7, 16, 17, 19)
  • James Auwarter – assistant engineering (tracks 9–12)
  • Ryan Neuschafer – assistant engineering (tracks 9–12)
  • Jon Brion – string arrangement (tracks 10, 17, 19), brass arrangement (tracks 10, 17)
  • Eric Gorfain – strings orchestration (tracks 10, 17, 19)
  • Vlado Meller – mastering

Design[edit]

  • Louis Marino – creative direction
  • Morning Breath, Inc. – art direction, design
  • Sarah A. Friedman – photography
  • Kris Yiengst – photography, art coordination
  • Charlene Roxborough – styling
  • Ibn Jasper – grooming

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications and sales for Late Registration
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[188] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[189] 2× Platinum 200,000^
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[190] Platinum 20,000double-dagger
Ireland (IRMA)[191] 2× Platinum 30,000^
Japan (RIAJ)[192] Gold 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[193] Platinum 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[194] 2× Platinum 852,000[74]
United States (RIAA)[79] 4× Platinum 3,100,000[78]
Summaries
Europe (IFPI)[195] Platinum 1,000,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]