When Nathan asked me to do a ten year anniversary piece for Late Registration it caught me off guard. At first the only thing I could think was, “Shit, it’s been ten years? I’m really getting old.”
Seriously though, ten years?
After the freak out, I was down to start writing. I can deliver a Kanye rant like I am actually Kanye ranting. Whether it’s Watch The Throne’s averageness, College Dropout’s amazingness or defending the magic of 808’s to the death in the face of overwhelming adversity, I always have something to add to the Kanye discourse. He’s the most prolific artist of our generation, love him or hate him the man inspires some great conversation, and I’ve probably spent more time with his music in my head than any other artist. I agreed to pen this piece without really thinking about it because surely my second or third favorite Kanye album (it depends on the day) would be a lay-up, I’d be able to write the piece in my sleep. But then I really thought about Late Registration, what it means to me, the memories I have of it and its place in history and I stared at a blank screen for twenty minutes. Then an hour. Then a day.
For one of the first times ever in my Kanye relationship I truly don't know what to say. In my heart I know Late Registration is a classic, an album that hit my soul, but in my head? When I attempt to figure out where this album fits in Ye’s discography and hip-hop in general? Now that I’m confronted with the question...I really don’t know.
Every Kanye album has a legacy, a dialogue that extends far past beyond the samples, the lines and the guest spots. To fully understand what each album means and it's impact, you have to look at them as more than just a single effort; they are all part of a larger framework. On a personal level College Dropout is my favorite hip-hop album of all-time, and the project that even put Kanye on the map. During College Dropout Kanye was the common man, the underdog. On “Get ‘Em High” he’s using Talib’s name to get girls; do you realize how crazy that sounds now? To me that album will always be his best, not just because of the samples, but because it was the first. 808s is criminally slept on. Not only is it where Kanye began his “do something radical on every album” mission, but personally, it was released as I was going through my first big break-up and really meant something to me. I’ll always love that album. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was Kanye’s magnum opus. Who Kanye was at that time is so perfectly represented in this album. It’s so ostentatious, lavish, and unapologetic; it’s larger than life. While I didn’t like Yeezus it had its own distinct identity as well. It too was dramatically different; it was Kanye stripped down, raw and edgy. SWISH? Who the fuck knows, but again Kanye’s hinted that the album will sound dramatically different from Yeezus (which jives with "All Day" and "Only One").
That leaves two albums (I’m not counting Watch The Throne or Cruel Summer because come on): Graduation and Late Registration. Both are in a space where they don’t tell a much larger story. They aren’t mythologized like Dropout or Dark Twisted Fantasy nor are they as polarizing as 808s and Yeezus, and that’s where my uncertainty lies. Graduation, in my opinion, is an average body of work (by Kanye standards). I’m okay with where it is, because it’s Kanye’s weakest album, and I’ve already debated it, so I won't get back into it. With Late Registration though, it’s different. The legacy isn’t there, but my undying love for the album is.
When I was starting my vinyl collection it was the first album I bought. When I had to make space on my iPhone, I cut College Dropout and kept Late Registration. College Dropout may be my favorite, but I think Late Registration might be the album that's easier to listen to. “Touch The Sky” made me fall in love with sampling and that string section still gives me shivers. The last two minutes on "Addiction" are flawlessly constructed and his second verse on “Gone” is one of the best of his career. I’ve listened to “Crack Music” more times than I can count or would care to admit, and there’s not a person who was alive when the album was released who doesn’t love “Drive Slow.” You can put this album on now or 20 years from now and I’ll never skip a track. I’ll always be fine with it, while on the other hand I have to be in a certain mood to listen to “Power” or “Runaway.” It’s a great album, but it’s a victim of it’s own circumstance. Looking back, Late Registration was the album that….um…..was great and came after College Dropout?
Late Registration is the logical succession to College Dropout. It’s masterfully put together, but not mindblowing, the natural next step, the episode right before the series finale. You need it, you love it, but in the saga of Kanye West it feels more a piece of a puzzle instead of a classic that completely stands alone. I think that's where my uncertainty stems from. I love this album with my whole heart, I listen to it constantly, but there just isn’t that extra layer like there is with almost every other Kanye album.
Late Registration is Kanye’s most classic, non-classic album. Late Registration is Kanye’s least classic, classic album. Agreed? Good, I’m glad we worked that out.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]