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Strong sophomore album cements rapper’s status

Tae Andrews | Thursday, September 1, 2005

Most rap songs can be sorted and placed into different Jeopardy-like categories. I’ll take Glorification of Drug Dealing for 500, please. Or maybe it’ll be Homicidal Firearm Enterprise for 200.

Following Tuesday’s release date, hip-hop aficionados can take “Late Registration,” for $9.99, which, despite its chronologically-challenged title, showed up right on time after a summer of anticipation.

After last year’s release of his first album, “The College Dropout,” the answer to the question, “Who breaks the hip-hip mold?” became, “What is Kanye West?”

Yes, despite being AWOL from university this semester, the big man on campus is back with his sophomore album, “Late Registration.” Known for his fresh approach to the rap game, West’s inventive beats and quirky lyrics combine to make him one of rap’s biggest stars.

While not quite as good as “The College Dropout,” this is due more to West’s being a victim of his own success than any shortcomings on the part of his second album. The same cross-genre collaborations, fresh sounds and idiosyncratic lyrics – basically, everything that made his last album so great – are back, with new tracks featuring, among others, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, R&B singer Brandy and the rapper Common.

The eclectic essence of West is evident in the remix of his first single, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” The track is a strange lyrical amalgamation in which he combines a guilt-ridden jewel infatuation with a running stream of “who’s-the-man” hyperbole. All this is voiced over a steadily increasing crescendo of frenetic chimes and Shirley Bassey vocal samples.

In his first verse, Kanye spits social commentary on the human rights abuses in the South African diamond trade. The second verse is West’s testament to his own staying power, as he boldly affirms the continued presence of Roc-a-Fella Records as a force in the industry.

Of course, having Jay-Z on the remix certainly helps. Jay-Z, the artist formerly known as The Best Rapper Alive, shows that he is clearly restless in retirement, as he shows up on the track and steals it with macho lyrics such as, “How could you falter / When you’re the Rock of Gibraltar / I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water / This ain’t no tall order / This is nothin’ to me / Difficult takes a day / Impossible takes a week.”

West, the self-described Louis Vuitton Don, expresses his love for his wardrobe throughout the album. His conspicuous consumerism makes it difficult at times to tell if he’s rapping or reading from name-brand clothing label catalogues.

Despite all the flashy materialism, West keeps his feel-good vibe and tongue-in-cheek humor alive as he did on “College Dropout” to let you know that just when he starts to get too serious, he’s just clowning, baby.

West is a master craftsman on his productions, using the entire audio palette disposed to his talented fingers. The overriding musical theme of the album – his ability to pair slamming new-school beats with feel-good, oldie vibes – shines with songs such as “Gone,” a track featuring Consequence and gangsta rapper Cam’Ron and “Addiction.”

As he did on “College Dropout,” West again collaborates with actor/singer Jamie Foxx on the song “Gold Digger,” where Foxx showcases some of the soulful vocal talent he put on display in his role as Ray Charles in the 2004 film “Ray.”

A key element of hip-hop that has been missing in recent years is its emphasis on social justice through social commentary. West remains unafraid to use his CDs as a soapbox on which to expound his Western philosophy, as he does on “Crack Music” (featuring The Game), a song decrying the devastating effects of the drug trade.

Despite his penchant for tooting his own horn, this is what makes West the “Crown Prince of hip-hop” – his ability to temper his audio arrogance with self-depreciation via fun, stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow.

All in all, “Late Registration” is a good album and a sound second effort by Kanye West, thereby proving the old adage, “Better late than never.”