On this day 12 years ago, Kanye West‘s landmark album Late Registration was released for purchase online and in-store (remember buying the CD? I know I do…). His much-anticipated follow-up to College Dropout, the rapper broke even further into the mainstream with this LP, solidifying his place in the hip-hop music lexicon as one of the great minds we have working today.Broadening his range from his debut effort and dipping his toe into a wide variety of sounds when it comes to the production backbone that runs through this album, Late Registration shows Kanye maturing and progressing into a full-blown star. Anyone who had doubted his newfound success as a bankable crossover entity following the success of College Dropout were quickly silenced with this release, blending his funky, soulful rhythms with hard-edged humor and political bite that found a place in the hearts of anyone who was bumping to the hit parade through their car stereo system. It felt inescapable as a musical entity but then, with an album this good, who would’ve wanted to escape from its charm anyways?

To celebrate the birthday of arguably Kanye’s most popular studio effort, we’ve gone ahead and ranked the five best songs from the album in the list below. Does your favorite from the LP make the cut? Read below to find out!

5. Roses

With an old-school Bill Withers instrumental permeating this tender-sounding track, “Roses” tackles the subject matter of death in a poetic and heartwrenching way. The opening lines, where a morose Kanye slinks in after visiting hours with the intention of giving a woman (presumably a family member) flowers, only to find her in a state where her heart “can’t take the anesthesia.” Eventually, the lyrics take a turn to the angry and political, something that would become more of a staple in Kanye’s music moving forward from this album. He talks about how the rich get treated for life-threatening diseases, referencing Magic Johnson’s AIDS diagnosis, and those who are poor often get left out in the cold. A beautifully detailed, hauntingly real track.

 

4. Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) Feat. Jay Z

Is it weird to see Jay-Z and Kanye West on a track together now, knowing what we do about their fractured relationship? Even if that’s the case, there’s no denying that the excitement was high among those in the hip-hop community to see Jay and Ye join forces on this track. At the time, there were good friends, giving off this infectious vibe of a wise older sibling taking the rambunctious young one under his wing. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a torch-passing moment, but it was clear that a slight generational gap was being bridged, in terms of who fell into each rapper’s base of die-hard fans. Appropriately sampling the theme song from the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, this was the first step towards a partnership that culminated in the Watch The Throne album.

 

3. Touch The Sky

One of the strongest of Kanye’s modern funk-soul hybrids, “Touch The Sky” is a track that was the centerpiece of many house parties and high school dance floors back in the day. The slowed-down Curtis Mayfield sample is complemented by the seriously smooth production work from Just Blaze, accentuating the cool, confident vibe that West carries with him throughout this song.

Two other points that are worth bringing up about this album are as follows: 1) Evel Knievel actually sued West for his depiction of the motorcycle stuntman in the video for “Sky,” although the two would settle the dispute amicably; and 2) this track also proved to be somewhat of a launching pad for Lupe Fiasco, who would take the momentum he gained from this feature and translated it into his first solo project, Food & Liquor, the following year.

“‘Fore I die, I’ma touch the sky” was the uplifting refrain on the lips of most rap enthusiasts in 2005, and for good reason.

 

2. Hey Mama

Arguably the most touching hip-hop tribute to one’s mother ever written, Kanye’s “Hey Mama” was originally conceived about five years prior to its public debut on Late Registration. It was penned by Kanye for his mother, Donda West, with whom he was very close, as this video of them singing the track in her kitchen will demonstrate. Apparently, she liked the song so much that she even had it as her ringtone for minute, as per a report from The Guardian.

Sadly, Donda West passed away two years later, in 2007, due to complications from a recent cosmetic surgery procedure. Legend has it that Kanye found it extremely difficult to perform the song in concerts that immediately followed his mother’s passing, but with such a well-written set of verses, the song has transcended that tragic loss and become one of the staples of West’s musical canon.

 

1. Gold Digger

“Gold Digger” was not only the song that made Kanye West a global sensation, but it was the song that changed the rap game and how it crossed over into the world of pop music for a prolonged period. With Jamie Foxx’s indelible rendering of Ray Charles’ lyrics from “I Got A Woman” soaring over the clap-heavy beat from A-Trak, everything about this song perfectly encapsulates an era where hip-hop was at the peak of its decadent image.

It also was incredibly successful, fueling sales not just with radio airplay but also with its iconic, eye-popping music video, which became legendary in its own right where recent music history is concerned. “Gold Digger” was named one of the ten hottest songs of the 2000’s decade by Billboard, as well as one of its 100 hottest songs of all time. Cementing his place in the pantheon of hip-hop greats and selling over 3 million copies in the process, “Gold Digger” is unquestionably Late Registration‘s crowning achievement.

By Matt F for HNHH