37.) Kanye West - Late Registration (2005)
Late Registration marked the last time that Kanye really tried. Sure, the pop sheen of Graduation is pleasant to listen to and some of the singles on that record are top notch ("Stronger" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing" being chief among them), but as a whole that record isn't exactly challenging. It doesn't stick with you. It's not "art." And lets not even talk about 808s and Heartbreak. Yuch.
Let me put Late Registration in perspective, Kanye enlisted Adam Levine to sing the hook on the record's first track and not only does it not suck, it's fucking gorgeous. Late Registration was one of those records that built on what worked the first time around and ultimately exceeded expectations. While The College Dropout is a great record with few missteps, Late Registration is a perfect one with none (well, there's still skits but I've just resigned myself to ignore them).
While most of the praise deserves to be doled out to Kanye, his inspired choice of co-producer, Jon Brion, must be mentioned as well. Brion, famous for soundtrack composing as well as some amazing work with Fiona Apple brought a knowledge of orchestration to Late Registration that has, in effect, set the record apart from virtually any other hip-hop record.
Late Registration is a full record and one that almost defies categorization. Take "Crack Music", an aggressive track with a guest vocal from The Game that is supported by a chorus of soulful "la la las" and a beat driven by an orchestra. It makes for an eerie, uncomfortable listen - but if that comes off as negative, it's anything but. The song's great. But it's unconventional. So, is the record. Everyone remembers "Gold Digger" and with good reason it's a helluva single, but the genius is in the nuance with Late Registration - the seven minute plus epic "We Major", the vulnerable, heart-on-his sleeve "Hey Mama" and the "who would have thunk this could be a hit single, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone."
Late Registration is a sophisticated record, but still an accessible one - a difficult feat but one that was pulled off in a masterstroke.
Posted by Pat Driscoll