This past weekend one of the greatest hip hop albums of our generation, and possibly all time, turned 15.
Kanye West's sophomore album, Late Registration, was officially released on August 30th, 2005.
The old Kanye was a machine. He literally never stopped working. He went right from releasing College Dropout and marketing it to beginning work on the next project, which turned out to be Late Registration.
And even though College Dropout won a Grammy for best Rap Album, Kanye wanted his new album to be even bigger and better.
So he reached out to super musician/producer Jon Brion who had scored one of West's favorite movies "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind".
They say if it's not broke don't fix it but Kanye was never one to stick to the same recipe, no matter how good the results tasted.
College Dropout is regarded as one of the most important and beloved albums in music history. Littered with classical samples and old school soul throughout. But for this new project, Kanye wanted the sound to be larger. And larger it was.
Take for example the 20 piece orchestra that provides backing on Kanye's "Celebration"
Or the string quartets on both "Late",
(sidebar - "Gone" is in my top 5 Kanye songs ever list. Partly because of the quasi "Coming to America"/"Golden Child" line "Treat me like the Prince and this my sweet brother Numpsay". Partly because Cam'Ron is on it, but mostly because it's peak Kanye. If you had to play 1 Kanye song for somebody that had never heard him before I think "Gone" is one that encompasses his entire (old) style. Old cocky, witty punch line rhyme scheme. Old soul piano key beat with a classic sample. Just perfection)
As well as more strings on "Bring Me Down"
You've also got the horn ensemble on the Curtis Mayfield "Move On Up" sampled "Touch The Sky"
All these fancy bells and whistles cost money. And although Kanye just won a Grammy for his album the year before, he wasn't swimming in dough yet. So he borrowed $600,000 to produce this album. No joke.
And let's also not forget the cult favorite "Drive Slow" featuring Paul Wall and GLC.
Kanye's genius shined through once again on this production. He took a Canadian pop group (Skylark)'s song "Wildflower" covered by jazz saxophonist Hank Crawford and sampled it for the track. M.I.A. was originally supposed to appear on the track but she canceled on Kanye and he didn't want to wait on her.
There was also a feature from Maroon 5's Adam Levine that was orchestrated by the one and only Rick Rubin-
The two mega-hits from the album were of course "Gold Digger" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone".
A wild, little-known fact about "Gold Digger" was that the song was originally produced by Kanye for female rapper "Shawnna".
When West played it for her and sang her the hook "I ain't saying I'm a gold digger…" she wasn't feeling it. So Kanye scrapped it and hit up Jamie Foxx to do his now famous featured Ray Charles cover for it and the rest is history. It still remains Kanye's #1 selling single to date. (I'll have to do a Sunday Night Sample on this and go deeper into it someday soon)
For "Diamonds" Kanye utilized a sample from Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever". Kanye plays off the "diamond" symbol that Roc-A-Fella became known for flashing but also harps on the unethical African diamond trade.
The album also features the heartfelt tribute to West's mother Donda, "Hey Mama".
The song was a thank you to, and acknowledgment of all that his mother had done for him growing up. It was a beautiful ode to her that Kanye had been sitting on for years and luckily had decided to release as she sadly passed away two years later. Kanye's life was never the same and the Kanye we knew as an artist wasn't either. He'd go on to win another Rap Album of the Year Grammy for Late Registration, as well as a nomination for Best Album of The Year. The success also solidified his place as a bonified rap and pop music star. Not merely a flash in the pan.
Such a great album front to back. Take a listen below -
p.s. - It's also the 15th anniversary of this all-time deer in the headlights moment with Mike Myers. This happened like a week after Late Registration dropped.
p.p.s. - if you're looking for a cool behind the scenes making of the album this video is awesome. Just wish it was longer.