Kanye West has something to say. He always did. The Chicago-bred producer/rapper made that fact clear with his introduction to the world, 2004’s The College Dropout—the outro was a nearly nine-minute monologue. The soul-packed debut collided the worlds of Talib Kweli and Jay Z, contained raps about everything from the futility of higher education to materialism in the Black community. He even took a jab at black Greek life.
By the time Late Registration rolled around, Kanye gave those same thought-provoking rhymes a sophomore bump. He enlisted composer Jon Brion to help bulk up the orchestral sounds. The horns are warm, strings are richer than prior, and those drums still slap. But at the heart of it all is the words. Kanye’s always got a “message!” and they grew all the more “woke” and brash on his second album. In honor of Late Registration’s 10th anniversary, take a look back at the album’s most socially conscious lyrics.
1. “Over here it's a drug trade, we die from drugs/Over there they die from what we buy from drugs/The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charms-es/I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless/’Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless” —“Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”
Kanye reveals the true cost of diamonds.
2. “Who gave Saddam anthrax?/George Bush got the answers” —“Crack Music”
George Dubya and Sway are not alike.
3. “I know that the government administer AIDS” —“Heard ‘Em Say”
Black folks conspiracy theory No. 1.
4. “How we stop the Black Panthers?/Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer” —“Crack Music”
Black folks conspiracy theory No. 2. (Yeezy is onto something here, though.)
5. “You see, if you ever wanted to ever be anything/There'd always be somebody that shoot down any dream/There'll always be haters, that's the way it is/Hater niggas marry hater bitches and have hater kids” —“Bring You Down”
The hater circle of life. Shout out to Simba and grimy-ass Scar.
6. “I'm ahead of my time, sometimes years out/So the powers that be won't let me get my ideas out” —“Gone”
10 years later, Kanye is still battling the powers that be.
7. “Feeling better than some head on a Sunday afternoon/Better than a chick that say yes too soon/Until you have a daughter that's what I call karma/And you pray to God she don't grow breasts too soon” —“We Major”
Stay young forever, North West.
8. “When you get on he leave your ass for a white girl” —“Gold Digger”
9. “C'mon; Tell people the truth, but never give 'em ya true thoughts/Terrorism on blacks, they poison our Newports” —“We Can Make It Better (Bonus Track)” (Rhymefest)
There’s a reason you call cigs “bones.”
10. “Now I'm a free agent and I'm thinkin it's time/To build my very own Motown/Cause rappers be deprived, of executive 9 to 5's/And it hurts to see these companies be stealin the life/And I love to give my blood sweat and tears to the mic” —“We Major” (Nas)
The tides were changing long before TIDAL.
11. “You know the best medicine go to people that's paid/If Magic Johnson got a cure for AIDS/And all the broke motherfuckers passed away/You telling me if my grandma's in the NBA/Right now she'd be okay?” —“Roses”
A sad reality.
12. “This dark diction has become America's addiction/Those who ain't even black use it” —“Crack Music” (Malik Yusef)
Hi, Miley Cyrus.
(Photo: Roc-a-Fella Records)