Believe it or not but Late Registration was released 11 years ago. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when you look at Kanye West then compared to now, it feels like several lifetimes. The Late Registration iteration of Kanye, fresh off of the success of The College Dropout but still hungry for more is perhaps him at his most contemplative and driven. Late Registration has not only some of his most politically charged lyrics (“Crack Music,” “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”) but also his most personal (“Roses,” “Hey Mama,” and “Drive Slow”).
The aspect of Late Registration that also sets it apart from any other release in Kanye’s discography is the brilliant arrangements and production from Jon Brion. Famed for his movie scores and previous work with artists such as Fiona Apple and Elliott Smith, it originally seemed an odd pairing, but it was exceptionally beneficial to furthering Kanye’s sound. No, he wasn’t the first hip-hop artist to work with strings, but rarely has it been so well integrated as it is on Late Registration.
“Gone” in particular owes all of its building tension to Brion’s string arrangement, and the ending result is epic without being flashy. The marriage of lyricism with musical proficiency and technical prowess are what make Late Registration so heralded– some may argue it’s still his best effort.