#89: Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)

Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number eighty-nine.

I get it. You hate Kanye West. You’re not alone. My 100 favorite albums list includes records by a convicted murderer, a man prone to making racist remarks, a performer with multiple child molestation accusations, and a handful of men who we know physically abused their wives and/or girlfriends, but the most hated person on the list is probably Kanye West. Did I say probably? It’s definitely Kanye West.

Though I understand, I’m going to go the Marvin Gaye route. “Only love can conquer hate.” Try not to hate on Ye. And try not to hate on me, for I swear to you, my role in his success is significant yet pretty small.

Don’t hate Ye for saying “You may be talented, but you’re not Kanye West.” Be grateful you’re not Kanye West, for he is so hated.

Don’t hate Ye for saying “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” Instead, relieve his pain. Introduce him to YouTube.

Don’t hate Ye for saying “I’m the closest that hip hop is getting to God.”

Don’t hate Ye for saying he is “the number one human being in music” and “the most impactful artist of our generation.”

Don’t hate Ye for responding to Entertainment Weekly’s B+ review of one of his releases with “It’s either pass or fail! A+ or F-! You know what, fuck you and the whole fucking staff.”

Don’t hate Ye for his comments about Black people voting for Democrats because they’ve been brainwashed. Take it from the man who said that slavery was a choice. You don’t agree with that comment either? You’ve been brainwashed.

Don’t hate Ye because you see hypocrisy when he complained about hip hop culture’s focus on buying fancy things. That reminds me of the time I, on behalf of Warner Music, where I worked, had to chase him down for an advance he owed us and was told by his office “Kanye’s having a cash flow problem at the moment.” That very day, Ye was tweeting photos of the fancy furniture he just purchased. The man has his priorities.

Don’t hate Ye for his idiotic promotional stunts, such as the fanfare he drummed up for releasing a new album every Friday for a month, rather than just focusing on making one good album. Or the fact that his new album, which may be out today though I’m not sure as I’ve long since stopped caring about his new releases, will not be made available for streaming. Per Ye, streaming services pay a pitifully low royalty to songwriters. Fair enough, but there’s been no announcement of the album coming out on CD or vinyl, nor has Ye removed the rest of his catalogue from streaming services. The only way his remaining fans can get Donda 2 (I think that’s the name of the new one) is via something called a Stem Player. The Stem Player costs $200. It’s like he’s trying hard for people to not be able to hear his new music, and for that you hate him?

Don’t hate Ye because he pretended to run for president of the United States. Let’s not judge until we know if that was another of his egomaniacal exploits or an attempt to subvert democracy by siphoning enough brainwashed Black votes away from Joe Biden so the other candidate who had a shot would win.

Don’t hate Ye because he said “I liberate minds with my music. That’s more important than liberating a few people from apartheid or whatever.”

Don’t hate Ye because of the time he refused to continue with a concert, saying “I can’t do the rest of the show until everybody stands up,” finally proceeding when some audience members convinced him that the concertgoer he was addressing was in a wheelchair. On second thought, you can hate him for that.

Don’t hate Ye because he sells t-shirts for hundreds of dollars and sweaters for over a grand, and at his Sunday services he sells “church socks” for $50 a pair. There are many denominations in Christianity. He is part of the $50 socks sect.

Don’t hate Ye for interrupting Taylor Swift’s award acceptance speech at that awards show. And don’t hate him for then putting the line “I made that bitch famous” about her in one of his raps. Yes, she was winning an award on a televised program watched by millions, so she already was famous, bitch. The only people who should hate Ye for that are Taylor Swift, her fans, the people watching that show, the people who voted for Swift to win the award, and people who like women. The rest of you, leave it.

Don’t hate Ye for working with Marilyn Manson, DaBaby, Chris Brown, and other men with multiple accusations of assaulting women, while demonstrating no support for women who are victims of domestic violence. Similarly, don’t hate Ye for claiming that Bill Cosby is innocent. Don’t hate him for slut shaming his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose for years and years and years and years after their relationship ended. Don’t hate him for the perceived stalking of his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, about whom he once said “I have to dress Kim every day so she doesn’t embarrass me.” It’s not like Ye has ever done anything to embarrass himself, everything I’ve just written notwithstanding.

Back in the day it didn’t bother me that he said he was great. He used to make great music. He didn’t have to resort to publicity stunts to get people to pay attention to his albums. People listened to them because they were good. Let me correct that before he does. They were excellent, often better than a B+, and they didn’t cost $200 to hear. Late Registration was a commercial and critical success in part because it sounded like nothing else out at that time. Musically and thematically he was going places his colleagues weren’t, and with his first six albums he challenged himself to keep expanding his musical canvas, with each release a departure from the previous one. Late Registration received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. It should have won. Of course, it didn’t. As Ye said, “If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility.” I would argue that the Grammy Awards lost credibility way before then, perhaps when the Record of the Year trophy went to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” over fellow nominees Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Or the time the nominees for Album of the Year included Beck’s Odelay and Fugees’ The Score and Smashing Pumpkin’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Celine Dion’s Whatever It’s Called and the winner wasn’t Beck, Fugees or Smashing Pumpkins. I’ll never forget 1984, when the Album of the Year nominees were four great albums that are coming up on my 100 favorite albums list plus Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down, and the winner was Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Ay, jambo jumbo!

Was Ye always a raging misogynist? One may say that “Gold Digger,” the first hit single from Late Registration, paints a negative stereotype of a certain type of woman, though in a later verse in the song, once the Black man has money he leaves his Black girlfriend for a white woman.

Ye wrote “Gold Digger” a couple of years earlier and presented it to rapper Shawnna for her debut album. Shawnna, who appeared on Ludacris’s number one single “Stand Up,” passed on it. Ye changed the lyrics from first person (“I ain’t sayin’ I’m a gold digger”) to third person and added the aforementioned third verse. He decided to use the song on an album of his own.

Watching the movie Ray, Ye decided to have its star, Jamie Foxx, come into the studio to sing the Ray Charles hit “I Got a Woman,” which would be used throughout the “Gold Digger” recording. Though Foxx recorded several takes, Ye and his co-producer, Jon Brion, thought the original Ray Charles recording sounded better on the new track. They decided use of the Foxx version would be a backup plan should they not be able to license the sample of the Ray Charles original.

Enter me. I oversaw the department at Warner that licensed samples. I thought “Gold Digger” sounded great, so I gave the green light to a member of my team to move forward with making the deal. The single went to #1 in the US and was a smash around the world. Kanye would no longer be a broke broke.

My department also licensed the Curtis Mayfield sample on “Touch the Sky” and the Otis Redding sample on “Gone.” So, yeah, I had a hand in three of Late Registration’s four charted singles, all of which are great tracks.

My favorite song on Late Registration, after “Gold Digger,” is “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” which includes a Shirley Bassey sample that had nothing to do with me. “Diamonds…” is on the album twice. In one version, Ye displays his ego (“If you talkin’ about classics, do my name get brought up?”) while also acknowledging said ego “made him throw a tantrum like he is three years old,” referring to yet another awards show meltdown. The other version of “Diamonds…,” with Jay-Z, is better. In it, Ye talks about the bloody diamond trade and ties it to consumerism in the US and the desire to display bling that people of his race are mutilated for, while in his verse, Jay-Z out egos Ye by miles.

Elsewhere on the album Kanye critiques of the US health care system, raps about the impact of drugs in Black communities, meditates on unfairness in life, particularly with the everyday racism embedded in our society, pays tribute to his mother and the sacrifices she made for him (Donda West died two years after this album’s release), and provides an anthem about believing in one’s self. That’s the Yeezy I love.

There’s more Kanye West to come on this list. Don’t hate me for that.

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