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Kanye West

Better 'Late' Than Never

KanyeFor those familiar with Kanye West's well-documented braggadocio, it may come as a surprise that the rapper/producer found plenty wrong with his Grammy Award-winning debut, "The College Dropout." With his sophomore effort, "Late Registration" (due this week on Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam), West aimed to correct his perceived flaws in flow, engineering, instrumentation and lyrics.

"Some of what we did on ["Dropout"], like 'Last Call,' was rushed, although people liked it," West says during a recent phone interview from Chicago. "But it was pseudo [compared] to what we're doing now. It wasn't authentic like a Portishead, Radiohead or Fiona Apple. I've always wanted to sound like I was rapping at the top of a mountain. I wanted to change the sound of music."

Enter songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, the production whiz behind such artists as Apple, Rufus Wainwright and Aimee Mann. With Brion onboard, "Late Registration" expands the "Dropout" premise to include live instrumentation, with violin, viola, cello and French horn, not to mention "Eternal Sunshine" director Michel Gondry on drums.

The subject matter is just as wide-ranging. "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" cleverly ties in the bling of West's post-fame life with the horrors of the African country's ongoing civil war, which is fueled by the illegal diamond trade. "Heard 'Em Say" talks about being honest with yourself in a world that is not. One of the lines is, "I know the government administered AIDS." West also trains his lyrical sights on drugs in the black community ("Crack Music," featuring the Game and a gospel choir), his grandmother's hospital stay ("Roses") and racism/self-hate in "Bring Me Down" (with Brandy).

"This album is so good, it's scary," West declares. "I would be sh*ttin' if I didn't have involvement in this. People are either going to try way harder or just quit."