To understand the greatness of Late Registration, you first have to understand where Kanye West was in 2005.

College Dropout dropped a year prior. Both groundbreaking and critically acclaimed, Ye’s debut album was an incredible project in its own right, but more importantly, what it did was prepare mainstream America for Kanye West’s massive breakout. Artists with audacious attitudes have long been an integral part of the music industry, but rarely before had one of these personalities possessed such a powerful message and the determination to be heard, until Kanye.

After years of grinding, helping turn other people into stars, and literally producing songs out of a backpack, the scene was set for Kanye West. He released College Dropout, and people were finally listening to him. As he puts it on “Touch The Sky:”

Jay favorite line: “Dawg, in due time!”
Now he look at me, like, “Damn, dawg! You where I am!”
A hip-hop legend, I think I died
In that accident, ’cause this must be heaven

 

Whereas College Dropout was like listening to the underdog finally make it, Late Registration provides a different kind of satisfaction. It’s like a breath of relief: this kid is here to stay and provide us with good music for a long time. For most artists, the expectations set by an iconic debut album are almost impossible to live up to, but Late Registration not only met, but in many fans’ views, exceeded the expectations set by College Dropout. Every aspect of College Dropout is improved, from the themes to the hooks to the verses to the samples.

The messages on Late Registration are Kanye’s most personal and heartfelt. They give us a candid and genuine look at the sensitive side of Kanye few people are familiar with. His self-awareness belied by his brash public image are clear on songs like “Heard ‘Em Say”:

Things we see on the screen that’s not ours
But these niggas from the hood so these dreams not far
Where I’m from the dope boys is the rock stars
But they can’t cop cars without seeing cop cars
I guess they want us all behind bars – I know it

Songs also deal a lot with Kanye’s new found fame, and the guilt that comes with it. “Crack Music”, and “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” juxtapose his new found prosperity with his former identity.

See, a part of me sayin’ “Keep shining”
How? When I know what a blood diamond is
Though it’s thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connects to what we go through today
Over here it’s a drug trade, we die from drugs
Over there they die from what we buy from drugs

Kanye changed up his sound just enough to have a distinct style without becoming stale. His classic soul samples are combined with a richer, orchestral sound that stands the test of time. Samples on Late Registration are slowed down, making them sound more deliberate and providing plenty of room for lyrics, making verses on Late Registration his most substantial.

Late Registration is a quintessential album of the mid-2000s. Classics like “Gold Digger” and “Touch The Sky” still bang today. But more importantly, it’s the last glimpse of a Kanye who is pre-Taylor Swift, pre-Kim Kardashian, and pre-George Bush doesn’t care about black people. It was a simpler time, when we could just listen to Kanye without having to defend ourselves for it, and he could produce his music without an awareness of how negatively he is perceived by the general public, as exemplified on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Ten years after the release of Late Registration, it’s pretty crazy to see how far Kanye West has come. Listen on Spotify below, and let us know what you think!