After the breakout success of The College Dropout, Kanye began earning respect throughout the industry as a legitimate rapper for the first time – but Yeezy wasn’t done there. His next album would change production forever, ushering in a new era of sample-based beats and cemented Kanye’s status as one of the most influential producers of hip hop history.
With Yeezy Season 8 in full effect, Ben “Data Daddy” Carter is taking a closer look at the rollout for every single one of Kanye’s albums thus far. Each album era had its own characteristics and promotional strategies that evolved as Kanye himself did. In this second installment of the Yeezy Season series, the data tells us a fascinating story of Kanye’s rise to fame as a super-producer in the Late Registration era.
The rest of the Yeezy Season series is available here.
Late Registration Album
Late Registration: Hypothesis
The Late Registration Era was the Pinnacle of Kanye’s Iconic Sample-based Production in the Mainstream
If The College Dropout finally birthed Kanye the rapper, Late Registration was Kanye running back and making sure all of hip-hop knew just how valuable and influential he was as a producer. Kanye’s currency was sample-based production: an art he, Just Blaze, and Bink perfected on Jay-Z’s 2001 album The Blueprint, though neither Just Blaze or Bink would take the technique anywhere near as far as Kanye did through the mid-2000s.
Whilst sample-based beats were prevalent during the 90s, often as lifted riffs that added texture to the at times static boom-bap percussion, this type of beat ascended into the charts in dramatic fashion from 2002-2005. Kanye’s specific style, which leveraged sped-up soul samples and lush, live orchestration, was at the forefront of this new age for sample-based beats. Fortunately for the industry, Kanye was happy to share his new commercial clout and artists like John Legend and Common were surprising but worthy recipients.
Kanye West Produced More Beats in the Late Registration Era Promo Cycle than Any Other Album
The 60 weeks prior to Late Registration were Kanye’s most prolific as a producer, even out-running his production output before his debut record, a period in which he was thought of primarily as a producer. Demand was high for Kanye’s beats; he’d already lifted Twista to a dizzying peak of number 1 on the Hot 100 in 2003 (via “Slow Jamz”), and followed that up with his own number 1 album (The College Dropout) and further success on the Hot 100 with “All Falls Down” (7th) and “Gold Digger” (1st).
Kanye wasn’t shy – in fact, he merrily engaged in this rapid proliferation of his sound throughout hip hop. Kanye produced the majority of John Legend’s debut album Get Lifted in 2004, far and away Legend’s most successful record in North America (4th on the Billboard 200 and 2x platinum, also the first album ever released on Kanye’s GOOD Music label). He then linked with fellow Chicago rapper Common, for Common’s 6th album Be. Prior to this album, Common’s 12 year career had hit a commercial peak of 16th on the Billboard 200, but Ye’s input on Be lifted it to Gold status and number 2 on the album charts in North America.
Kanye West Produced 17 Singles Prior to Late Registration, The Most of Any Album Era
Kanye’s success working with Twista and Jay-Z quickly spread to his other collaborative relationships. Suddenly, Kanye tracks became major singles that were focal points of any album rather than being just album cuts or b-sides. As Kanye released more and more sample-based singles, demand grew to outmatch his output. The Game decided to release the Kanye-produced track “Dreams” as the 5th single from The Documentary, and it reached 32 on the Hot 100, a number Game wouldn’t again beat until 2008. All 5 of the singles from Common’s 2005 album Be were produced by Kanye, and in Common’s previous 5 albums, he’d never released more than 3 singles off a project.
Kanye also produced Keyshia Cole’s first ever Billboard charting track, “I Changed My Mind”, which sampled “The Chronic (Intro)” by Dr. Dre and “Doggone” by Love (from 1969).
And “Gold Digger”, the lead single from Late Registration, netted Kanye his very first solo number 1 record (“Slow Jamz” was a Twista record that listed Kanye as a guest and as the co-lead artist).
Kanye Gave 37 Beats to Other Artists in the Late Registration Era, the Most Of Any Album Cycle
The John Monopoly story of Kanye saving all his best production for himself on The College Dropout doesn’t appear to apply to Late Registration. This more charitable iteration of Kanye gave away a record number of beats before the album, parting with 37 that didn’t find their way onto his album or mixtapes.
Producing two major projects (Be and Get Lifted) helps. This was the most giving period of Kanye’s entire mainstream rap career. His recipients were diverse too; Keyshia Cole, Talib Kwlie, Shawnna, Jin, Bump J, Do or Die, Leela James, The Game, Mobb Deep, and even Shyne picked up a Kanye track. His sound was in high-demand, and the backlog of beats that didn’t make it on to The College Dropout and Late Registration were still such high quality established mainstream artists with big label budgets behind them were willing to pay for the privilege of having the hottest producer in the game on their record.
Kanye Produced Beats for 21 Different Labels Prior to Late Registration, the Most of Any Album Era
Kanye’s close collaborative ties with Roc-A-Fella influenced the destination of his production prior to The College Dropout (19 of his 37 beats went to Roc-A-Fella), and the period prior to Late Registration could have been similar. The label was in transition after the split of Dame Dash and Jay-Z, and although Jay was the head of Def Jam for much of this period, Roc-A-Fella was prolific in releasing new albums. 7 non-Kanye Roc albums dropped in this period, yet Ye only contributed 3 beats to these projects (two to Cam’Ron and one to Young Gunz).
The Late Registration Era was the beginning of GOOD Music, the label Kanye formed under Sony in 2004, separately from both Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella and Universal’s Def Jam. Late Registration wasn’t released under GOOD Music, but Common’s Be and John Legend’s Get Lifted were, which included 17 of Kanye’s beats.
Kanye Used 29 Unique Samples on Late Registration, the Second Most Of Any Kanye Solo Album (Behind The Life of Pablo: 44)
Sped-up soul samples exploded in popularity during this period, and Kanye ran the farthest and longest with the trend. His first 3 albums, over the period 2004-2007, were stacked with unique samples, reaching a peak with Late Registration. Ye would change his sound up entirely on 4th album 808s & Heartbreaks, a record that would become his most influential, and possibly one of the most influential of all time. That isn’t to take anything away from the influence of Kanye’s first 3 records; he ran hip-hop production during this period.
Late Registration: Conclusion
The Late Registration Era was the pinnacle of Kanye’s iconic sample-based production in the mainstream [CONFIRMED]
Kanye began his Roc-A-Fella career as a “cut price Just Blaze”. He overturned that misconception in dramatic fashion, becoming both the most sought-after rapper (thanks to The College Dropout) and producer (thanks to Late Registration) in the industry in just a few short years. While Kanye’s legend and pop-status has grown exponentially since 2005, it remains, statistically, his more fruitful and productive period. Demand wasn’t limited to his own labels and his own genre, and he lifted two major artists, Common and John Legend, to their highest commercial peak almost solely off the back of his production.
Never again would Kanye spread himself too generously around the rap landscape as a producer.