In Defense of Late Registration
The other day, as I perused elite Black Twitter — those folks whose opinions seem to hold more weight than us lowly peons, according to a very scientific observation of the amount of people who follow them — I came across a conversation regarding Kanye West’s best albums.
The conversation started innocently enough, as far as I could tell. A guy tweeted his favorite Kanye albums in order, starting with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Really, all I remember is that MBDTF came first, Graduation came last, and Yeezus — YEEZUS! — was third, ahead of Late Registration.
Here’s where my perplexion — no, perplexion isn’t a word, but stay with me — begins.
When did Late Registration become this underrated?
For what it’s worth, my 5 favorite rap albums ever are The Black Album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, Late Registration, Thug Motivation 101, and either Tha Carter II, The Blueprint, or The Cool depending on the day. So, yeah, I’m biased. Whatever. Regardless, I kind of thought we all agreed Late Registration was AT LEAST a top-3 Kanye West album.
Apparently, no one else agrees Late Registration is at least a top-3 Kanye West album.
Responses to that initial tweet ranged from “this list is spot-on” to “Yeezus should be higher than third.” Which — quick aside — if you think Yeezus was good, stop reading this essay now. Aside from “Blood on the Leaves,” I’m cool. And you should be too. And I’m never here for criticizing someone’s personal music choices. Unless it’s a positive review of Yeezus. Then your personal music choices need to be criticized, so they can be deconstructed and rebuilt. But I digress.
I’ve become accustomed to people ranking MBDTF and The College Dropout in some order ahead of Late Registration. Those two, I totally get. My best friend was at basic training for the Air Force when MBDTF came out, and in the hot take of hot takes, I’m pretty sure I wrote in a letter to her that MBDTF might be the greatest hip-hop album of all-time. And despite walking back that statement over the past 5 years, I still believe it’s a sonic masterpiece, a grand achievement in a career full of them for one of the greatest producers ever. But it’s not better than Late Registration. And The College Dropout, for all its brilliance and replayability and hit singles, isn’t better than Late Registration either.
There’s no overly analytical reasoning behind my argument; I have no interest in stacking the albums up against each other or in doing a track-by-track review of each CD. I just know what Late Registration did for me, and what I always assumed it did for other folks my age. It gave me Adam Levine and Kanye over that gorgeous piano. It gave me one of the greatest Lupé Fiasco verses — “Touché / Lupé, cool as the unthawed / But I still feel possessed as a gun charge” — in a career full of great Lupé Fiasco verses. It gave me “Bring Me Down,” my absolute favorite Kanye song ever. “Addiction” is as infectious as it was 10 years ago. “Roses” and “We Major” still give me chills. Hovito floated on “Diamonds.” DID NOBODY HEAR CAM’RON’S VERSE ON “GONE”?! Sheesh.
I was a 13-year-old eighth grader when my stepmom drove me to Best Buy on a random Saturday morning to grab that disc, and even though I’ve lost nearly every CD I’ve ever owned, I still have Late Registration — packaging and all, with that poster still inside the insert. For the rest of my life, I will play that album from start-to-finish, trying to figure out how anyone can possibly forget just how damn good it is. I’m hoping that’s all it is — that people have forgotten over time. Because the fact that nobody even sought to defend Late Registration saddens me a whole lot. And if this mini-rant helps folks remember that Kanye’s second album is a masterpiece way more deserving of praise than whatever Yeezus continues to be, then I’ve more than completed the mission.