Words By Garfield Hylton
“Garfield, are you seriously about to play this song again?”
I glanced at her, nodded, and turned the volume up a couple more notches so I could feel the music through the speakers. It was 7am and I was on the way to campus with my neighbor who’d been riding with me to school for the last month. It was 2005 and Kanye’s Late Registration had just dropped. I made habit out of playing “Late” every morning on the way to school. During that month, she’d endured many instances of me asking “What would you do for a Klondike, or two dykes that look Christina Milian like…Hmm, I’ll be on time for that” and she had been fed up.
“No. Seriously, there has to be another song you can play.”
I nodded again and said, “There is, but I want to listen to this one.” Before he became Yeezus, Kanye West was a rapper who rapped a story I could relate to. Whereas the newest incarnation of ‘Ye raps about eating out Asian women with sweet and sour sauce, the guy I was a fan of rapped about being stuck with underachievers in basket weaving classes because he “missed his major by a couple of seconds.” As my junior year in undergrad began, “Late” turned into more than just a song to me. It became the soundtrack for my last two years in college.
It wasn’t just the soul sampling, though crooning “I’ll be late for that” at random times entered my daily ritual. The song simply stirred something in me I couldn’t shake or readily describe. As a 19-year-old college junior, before J. Cole made sure every song mentioned Sallie Mae, not much music directly spoke on the college student life.
He rapped about ignoring alarms, barely making it to school on time and trying to plead a case to his mother that he’ll stick with school because he doesn’t want to be broke at 31. These lines came across as personal and it felt like he was rapping my life.
There are 18 tracks on Late Registration. Ignore the skits and the rest yields one of the most complete albums in rap history. Everything about this album works, from the light and soulful drums of “Heard’Em Say,” to the triumphant horns on “Touch the Sky,” and the midnight cruising sounds of “Drive Slow.”
There’s the defiant “Crack Music,” the heartfelt and charmingly corny “Hey Mama,” the wildly dramatic “Diamonds,” the simply incredible Nas feature on “We Major,” and my favorite guest feature on album on “Gone,” which features everybody’s favorite Harlemite, Cam’ron. There just isn’t a weak track to be found on this album.
Then Late Orchestration took some of the best tracks from the Registration and performed them with a live orchestra. While Orchestration gave the songs a different and livelier twist, there wasn’t a huge gap in quality. One would imagine having 300 folks playing a live version of sampled instruments provides a much better listen. Yet Kanye West’s vision was so great at the time that I still preferred the originals. That’s saying something.
Music I like during the honeymoon phase might not withstand the test of time. I recently revisited the album, however, and it sounds just as good now as it did ten years ago. I’ve since graduated, got a good ass job and even became that guy on College Dropout with all those degrees. Either way, “Late,” hits me in the heart and triggers emotions from a much different time in my life.
Little things still stick, like responding “I’ll be late for that” when my girlfriend asks me to take out the trash or entertaining what I’d do to two lesbians that looked like Christina Milian. Kanye’s growth as an artist over the last 12-13 years has been monumental, but for me, everything I hold dear regarding his legacy lies within Late Registration.