Kanye West needed just 18 months to follow his soulful debut, The College Dropout, with 2005’s Late Registration. Instead of dipping back to the proven successful sound of speeding up Luther Vandross or Chaka Khan tracks, the then-28-year-old rapper picked up some more keys and an orchestral aesthetic. At the time, it wasn’t like anything in hip-hop.
It garnered year-end and best-of-decade accolades and some fans would regard it as West’s best release. Ever the hit-maker, Late Registration spawned a few hit singles. But there are plenty of gems to unearth on the rest of the record. For the album’s 10th birthday on Sunday, EW selected five best tracks that weren’t released as singles.
“Crack Music (feat. The Game)”
Right after a string of addictive radio hits, “Touch The Sky” and “Gold Digger,” comes this stark collaboration with The Game. The album’s lush strings take five for foreboding gospel vocals and deliberate snare. Compared to other songs, “Crack Music” isn’t as produced: Its bareness emphasizes West’s lyrics about the drug epidemic.
Don’t be deceived by the bongos. “Awareness” is self-aware Kanye at his frankest. He muses about knowing something is harmful and succumbing to it regardless. West proves “Why everything that’s supposed to be bad make me feel so good? ” is a universal question.
“We Major (feat. Nas & Really Doe)”
Nothing is more sprawling or ornate on Late Registration than the seven-and-a-half minute ode to the awesomeness of Yeezy and Nasty Nas. Both turn in strong verses, but what really moves the song along without stagnation is Tony Williams singing in the background. West’s cousin is on many of his tracks, but the “bah-bah bah-bahs” shine here.
“Hey Mama” is the cheeriest song and continues West’s reflection. He runs through all the trials he and his mother Donda endured, and hearing West recount how he consoled his tearful mother and promising he would buy her a house has huge staying power.
“Gone (feat. Consequence & Cam’ron)”
Friends from The College Dropout, Cam’Ron and Consequence, give more bars, but “Gone” is West’s show, opening with a pair of verses and closing with one of the best stanzas of his career. ” I’m ahead of my time, sometimes years out/ So the powers that be won’t let me get my ideas out” first seemed like cockiness; it now sounds like prescience.
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