Copyright ©2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Before Kanye West released his debut last year, many weren't sure if this hip-hop producer could pick up the mike and make it as a wrapper. The college dropout was an overwhelming commercial and critical success, and West found fans outside hip-hop circles. He recently became the only rapper to appear on the cover of Time magazine in anticipation of his new album. Out today, it's called "Late Registration." Oliver Wang has our review.

OLIVER WANG reporting:

Over the last year, Kanye West has become the rapper that many love and others love to hate, but not for the reasons you'd normally expect. The controversy over Kanye has little to do with content. Unlike other best-selling rappers, like Yem Geezee(ph) or 50 Cent, West doesn't rhyme about selling crack or dropping bodies. The son of a Chicago English professor, West made his mark by dressing preppy and wrapping about black middle-class angst.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. KANYE WEST (Musician): (Singing) I'm so self-conscious. That's why you always see me with at least one of my watches or at least ...(unintelligible) and drove me crazy. I can't even pronounce nothing. ...(Unintelligible).

WANG: Compared to the bulletproof arrogance of other emcees, Kanye's self-deprecating humor and self-awareness set him apart, making him a go-to rapper for those who don't usually like rap. However, unlike previous so-called alternative hip-hop artists like Arrested Development or Will Smith, West never lost street cred with hip-hop's A list. For the new disk, he lined up help from Nas and Cam'Ron and, on this track, Jay-Z.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. WEST: (Singing) The chain remains, the kink is in tact. The name is mine, I'll take blame for that. The pressure's gone, but guess who ain't gonna crack. A part of me, I had to laugh at that.

WANG: For all of West's humility on record, in public life his success and ego have grown proportionately. His petulance is becoming legendary, whether giving peevish speeches at the Grammys or whining about Time magazine misquoting him. In squandering his good will, West has earned many vocal detractors who would like nothing better than to see him flop and forced to eat some crow. That might happen in the future, but not on this record.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. WEST: (Singing) I got to testify. Come up to the spot looking extra sly for the day I die. I'm going to touch the sky. Got to testify, come up to the spot looking extra sly for the day I die. I'm going to touch the sky.

WANG: "Late Registration" doesn't duplicate the cultural moment that arrived with last year's debut and West is still a better producer than he is a rapper, but he has matured. He possesses a self-awareness and even a bit of social consciousness that comes through on tracks where he admits to past infidelities or laments the effects of the crack wars on black communities.

Mr. WEST: (Singing) ...with crack. Raise the murder rate in DC and Maryland. We arrested and that is like we got Merrill Lynch. And we been hanging from the same tree ever since. Sometimes I feel that music is the only medicine so we could get, cut it, measure it, bag it, sell it. (Unintelligible).

WANG: Where "Late Registration" really shines is in its music. West joins forces with co-producer Jon Brion and the two polish Kayne's signature soul sound to a rich, glowing luster. But there are moments of sonic self-indulgence. When West and Brion click, they craft tracks filled with intensely rich melodies and subtly intricate arrangements. Hip-hop rarely sounds this sublime.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. WEST: (Singing) Well, ...(unintelligible) rock stars, but they can't cut five without being cut, carved. I guess they want us all behind bars. I know it and I heard her say nothing's ever promised tomorrow, today. And I heard her say, nothing's ever promised tomorrow, today, but we'll find a way.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Nothing lasts forever but be honest, babe.

WANG: The album does suffer from a few conspicuous flaws. It hits a momentum-killing, three-song wall right in the middle. And Kanye's attempts at expressing wide-eyed astonishment over his success play false now that he's throwing diva tantrums. However, challenged to follow up on one of the most lauded debuts in recent memory, West meets most expectations and, at times, exceeds them. Far from sliding into the dreaded sophomore slump, Kanye West pushes further towards the head of the pop music class.

MONTAGNE: Oliver Wang is a music critic based in San Francisco and editor of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. WEST: (Singing) Look how I did it. I know it's late and I took all year, but stop complaining because I'm finally here. Yea.

Unidentified Back-up Singers: (Singing) Can we ...(unintelligible).

Mr. WEST: Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.