Kanye West’s Late Registration is widely regarded as a classic album in the world of hip hop, and its inspiration can be traced back to the recording sessions for Common’s Be.
In an interview before the album’s release, Kanye shared that his sophomore album was a direct result of the Be recording sessions. “The hard percussion, the ill samples. Me and Common really vibed out and came up with a new—it’s retro but it’s also a new—style of music that just made you feel good,” the Chicago rapper-producer explained.
The collaboration between Kanye and Common was a natural fit, and dates back from the mid-90s when they were both still up-and-coming. As Common reflected, “I met Kanye in ’96… He was still in high school. He used to come around No I.D.’s house, a guy that used to produce for me. The thing I noticed about Kanye was that he could really rap! He had some kind of hunger that I hadn’t really seen before.”
For Common, Be was a critical and commercial success after the disappointment of his previous album. “I don’t think Electric Circus was as focused,” he told PopMatters. “When I showed [fans] something different, a different style of b-boy, there were like, ‘Hold up. You can be Afrocentric, but what’s this rock shit that you’re doing?'” But with Be, Common and West found the perfect balance between traditional hip hop and a new, experimental sound.
The influence of Be can be heard throughout Late Registration. As Kanye said, “Sometimes Common would pass up on something, but before he could turn around and say, ‘Man I really like that,’ I’d have a verse written to it.”
In the end, the success of Be and Late Registration was not just about the music, but also about the connection between the two artists. As Kanye enthused about Common when the album dropped back in 2005: “He’s today’s Marvin Gaye of rap. Buy the album. If you in a situation where you can barely buy groceries, burn the album.”