While it was John Legend and Miri Ben-Arie helping 'Ye at every turn last album, it is composer Jon Brion pitching in this time around. From what Kanye has said in interviews, he wanted Jon to keep it "polished." If you ask me, therein lies the biggest flaw of the album, but more on that later. With Diamonds From Sierra Leone and Gold Digger acting as the album's respective lead singles, it appeared that Kanye had made huge strides as an emcee. Not necessarily from a lyrical standpoint, but the other facets like his flow and delivery. That really isn't the case though, or at least he doesn't really show it through out the album. His inability to adapt to an otherwise good beat on Addictive leads to a terrible song.
Even though I give Kanye way more credit as a rapper than most, I'm still much more partial to his production. From the touching ode to his mother Hey Mama to both singles, 'Ye can still flip a sample with the best of them. The whirlwind beat on the incredible Roses is maybe only outdone by Crack Music. LR's answer to Jesus Walks, Kanye gives food for thought best summarizes by the spoken word piece ending the song;
"...what we gave back was crack music/and now we ooze it/through they nooks and crannies/so our mamas ain't gotta be their cooks and nannies/and we gon' repo everything they ever took from granny/now the former slaves trade hooks for grammys/this dark diction has become America's addiction/those who aren't even black use it/we gon keep baggin up this here crack music."
This kind of content on a major, major label release in 2005 is just incredible.
I'm not going to go into detail about every song, I can say more with an overall assessment. After all, this is an album not just a collection of songs. As I hinted at, the downfall of this album is that it is just too polished. It may sound crazy to some people that I could consider that a bad thing, but we're talking Kanye here. The man who made his name bringing back soul beats as he once said. That never meant that he had to sample old soul records for every beat, but that he made beats you could feel. They had heart. I can feel the heart on some songs, but I can't on many...as a whole the album just kind of feels shiny and plastic to me.
From a technical and musical standpoint this is definitely stronger than his debut, but what is that worth when you just can't feel it? Don't get me wrong, it is still a really good album...it just isn't a really great one.