Monday, November 9, 2015

Kanye West's "Late Registration" Looks at Race in a Light-Hearted Way

Kanye West, famed Award-winning rapper, made his huge debut in the public rap scene with his first album "The College Dropout" in 2004. On this album was a hilarious commentary on how school doesn't matter to Kanye. He believes that school is just a system that gets you nowhere and you can still make it to the big time, even without a college degree. Since then his name has pushed dozens of singles to the top of the charts, and he's released four more albums with a fifth one on its way, each one getting decent recognition by critics, either for his solid story-telling, high-quality production, or interesting deviation from standard hip-hop.

A sequel to this first album was released in 2005 titled "Late Registration." This record opens up with the teacher character from College Dropout telling Kanye "Wake up, Mr. West." The album itself is entertaining, with tracks like Touch the Sky and Drive Slow being fan favorites, but Kanye adds in 4 short 1-minute skits spaced out along the duration of the album. These skits give the album character and a story. This story is Kanye's, one about how race has always been a part of him but something he's had to let go of anyway.

Skit #1 introduces you to an all black fraternity named Broke Phi Broke. The leader and the group have a humorous exchange about life being broke. "Should we let our women go and be the cat with the car?" he asks. "Yes we will!" responds the group. "Why is that? Because we can't afford gas. Say it with me!" This line is met by a stomping beat as the entire fraternity chants "We can't afford no gas."

Skit #2 is a short chant about how the fraternity doesn't have any money, clothes, cars, or women, things Kanye now has a lot of, although this hasn't yet been mentioned. "Broke- Broke- Broke Phi Broke! We ain't got it-" is the chant that appears later one, introduced here.

Skit #3 is a comedic approach to telling the background of Broke Phi Broke. It was founded years ago by broke slaves who passed it on to their broke children. "Eating all our cereal with forks because we wanted to save the milk? Remember that?" says the leader. "Do you remember all those Christmases when your Mama would walk in the room and pretend she was the tree, huh? Remember that?" Despite being funny, this skit starts to bring race into the foreground. Kanye is saying that this community of broke black people has been around for ages and it's more or less normal: When you're black, being broke is a part of your culture.

Skit #4 brings the album towards its close. The leader says that he has called a meeting because there is an imposter among them. "This brother has been eating every day, do you believe that? Eating every day." he says. "I do not want to believe this but I walked into brother Kanye's closet and I found new shoes!" Kanye tries to defend himself, but is stammering and clearly infatuated with his new lifestyle. The leader banishes Kanye from Broke Phi Broke, interrupting Kanye as he attempts to say "I was just trying to stick to my roots."

The skits on Late Registration tell the story of a rapper who grew up black and broke, but once he released College Dropout and was no longer broke, he had to really give up being black as well. It's an entertaining joke at first, but upon closer inspection is a sad commentary on the community expressed between black people. Kanye presents a problem, but doesn't seem to have a solution. Kanye's response to leaving Broke Phi Broke was just to stay gone and give up sticking to his roots.

Kanye's "Late Registration"

1 comment:

  1. I always really enjoy your investigations into various popular rap albums on this blog. In this case, I wonder if when Kanye says "I was just trying to stick to my roots" he isn't referring to trying to hide his newfound riches and fit in with Broke Phi Broke. Could he be trying to stick to his roots by living it rich? I feel like the roots that Kanye is referring to could be those of his African ancestors while they were still in Africa and had plenty?