Album: Kanye West <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Late Registration, MERCURY
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Like his former employer Jay-Z, Kanye West recognises the value of a blindingly obvious sample, using lifts from "Move on Up", "Diamonds Are Forever" and "I Got a Woman" in this album's most potent grooves. Unlike Jay-Z, however, Kanye isn't satisfied just rapping about his own wealth and wonderfulness. Sure, he'll big himself up on tracks like "We Major" and "Touch the Sky", but he takes pains to emphasise how his ambitions remain steeped in old-school values. As he notes in "Bring Me Down", he's "made a mil myself, and I'm still myself". Tracks such as "Crack Music" and the single "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" show that he has a keen awareness of moral relativity as it impinges on his culture, depicting crack and anthrax as different types of chemical-warfare agents in the former, and questioning the dubious source of bling in the latter: "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". It's obvious where he gets his moral fibre from, judging by "Hey Mama", the genuinely moving testament to his mother, and by his outraged response in "Roses" to his hospitalised grandma's health being dependent on her income. A mature, intelligent album that refuses to conform to hip-hop conventions, not least in its avoidance of gangsta cliché.