Kanye West has had a wide variety of work throughout his long relevancy, let’s see how they stack up compared to one another, ranking them from worst to best.
Yeezus is a bizarre and simply loud experiment of an album. The industrial and raw sound are littered almost everywhere, but what it has in consistency doesn’t make up for its lack of memorability within each actual track. And the abrasiveness and violent nature of the album hardly ever bring me back to it for pleasure. West is angry, and it’s a bleak departure from some of the witty and hilarious bars featured on earlier projects. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that a majority of the lyrics simply sound uninspired. From trips to 7-Eleven, to demanding croissants, to even comparing himself to a God, Kanye was at an all-time low lyrically. Even so, tracks like the soul based “Bound 2”, is a calm within the storm, and of course “Black Skinhead” is a rap-rock anthem representing all of West’s frustrations in a smaller, energetic, and heart pumping package.
808’s and Heartbreaks (2008)
808’s and Heartbreaks was the first album after the death of Donda West, Kanye West’s mother. As such, the album did a sufficient job marrying that pain with Kanye’s frustration from past attempts and regrets surrounding love. However, unlike Yeezus, West took that and dialed it into synthesized pop, and while being an extreme left turn from his previous styles, the album ultimately continued putting West on the map with tracks like, “Heartless”. However, the cheesy instrumentals coupled with the tacky autotune in examples like, “Robocop”, create an album that has grown extremely stale over the years. However the song,“Paranoid”, has found a special place in my heart with its repetitive beat and it’s simplistic step changes, and I also enjoy the slow and methodical opener, “Say you will”.
Watch the Throne (2011)
There’s not really too much significant about this album. It’s a collaboration between two rappers growing in age and competing in relevance with other rising artists such as Drake at the time. As such, it almost seems like they’re trying a little too hard, as, underneath all of the gloss and shininess, neither Jay-Z or Kanye brings their A game all that much, creating unremarkable tracks especially in the second half of the album. Also, some of the unconventional samplings backfire and become extremely annoying especially in songs like, “Gotta Have It” or, “Welcome to the Jungle”. I do enjoy the rugged synth-based, “No church in the wild” reminiscent of Graduation’s “Flashing Lights”, and the laser light show that is, “Lift off”, even though it’s essentially a Beyoncé song.
The Life of Pablo (2016)
In this strange beast of an album, Kanye continues to struggle with his insecurities and paranoia, while also exploding with bravado and continuing to self-label himself as a god. It’s a smorgasbord of variety, covering dozens of styles and even qualities over one bloated album. There’s,“Ultralight Beam”, where Kanye and Chance The Rapper travel together on a beautiful space odyssey as they discuss the complexities of religion, but, there’s also “Highlights”, another throwaway career accomplishment track. And that goes for the lyrics too.
There’s the infamously strange T-shirt verse from, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1’, but then there’s the outstanding collaboration with Kendrick Lamar in, “No more Parties in LA”, creating a track extremely reminiscent of the clever and fast jabs of bars seen in earlier Kanye projects. It’s also extremely interesting to see how the album has literally evolved over time getting audio fixes, tweaks, and even an entirely new song, Saint Pablo. The Life of Pablo contains a wide variety of tracks and a disparity of quality, and really, it’s kind of a mess. But it’s one beautiful and often poetic mess.
Graduation absolutely owns its sound. Its synthesized majesty creates an incredibly satisfying energy throughout the entire album. It’s yet another celebration track turned into an entire album, but it’s the sound of Kanye’s lyrics poured over the electricity that’s so magical. It was the first Kanye album I was exposed to, but the tracks that hooked me years ago still continue to grab me today.
Again while their lyrics are nothing more than Kanye flexing his new fame, “Champion” is still an underrated classic with its groovy hook and bass, and “Good Life” uses Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” in a textbook example of sampling. And who could forget the timeless and iconic momentum building explosion that is “Stronger”.
However, it’s unfortunate that when its lyrics do in fact shine, it’s instrumentals begin to show their age dramatically. While West disguises Chicago as a love interest/ role model in “Homecoming”, its piano chords sound super outdated. And you can feel the 2000’s just as much as the love emanating from the bromance track, “Big Brother”. However, while it has objectively aged dramatically, that age subjectively gives the album so much more of a nostalgic charm, and I love it for that.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
While Graduation may be a celebration of Kanye West’s fame, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a celebration of all of West’s previous works. Entertainment Weekly described it perfectly as, “ the luxurious soul of College Dropout, the symphonic pomp of Late Registration, the gloss of 2007’s Graduation, and the emotionally exhausted electro of 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreak”.
Its tracks go down in some of the most grandiose and recognizable in hip-hop history. For example, the hook for “Power” has become virtually unanimous with every mainstream sporting event. Tracks like “All of the lights” are bombastic as they are poetic, as Kanye lives through a magnified public eye, and “Dark Fantasy” is an incredible opener Kanye delves into the darkness, but returns to optimism in the repeating hook.
However, it’s not perfect. “Runaway” is hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity, but I can live without the 3 minute long distortion. And some it’s later tracks like “Blame Game” and the jumbled mess of, “Lost in the World”, also overstay their welcome. Nevertheless, MBDTF gave Kanye’s relevance a breath of fresh air and renewed his reign over the music industry.
Kids See Ghosts (2018)
Kids See Ghost is the second peak of Kanye and Cudi's careers. It's extremely experimental, and absolutely nuts, yet single-handedly revived Kid Cudi's career and continued to remind the world of Kanye's dominance. "4th Dimension" samples a 1930's Christmas song as Kanye gives witty and genius bars about comparing sex to a 4th Dimension, while Kid Cudi delivers a menacing verse about his dark side and previous addictions.
On the album, Kanye and Cudi share the spotlight with an amazing dichotomy, displayed in tracks like "Free", the sequel track of Ghost Town where the boys scream low and hard about there new mental clarity over these hardcore rock guitar samples, all interlaced over beautiful Ty Dolla Sign vocals. There are delightful tracks like"Reborn" where Kid Cudi redeems his title as the humming champion, contrasted with the equally haunting title track, "Kids See Ghosts", with minimal yet meaningful instrumentals and a psychological thriller of a verse from Kanye and feature Yasiin Bay.
The last track, "Cudi Montage", even samples a Kurt Cobain guitar riff in a rough, wild west sounding rap with a genius verse from Kanye about the cycle of gang violence. Kids See Ghosts is an experimental nirvana, and with everything crazy it tries and succeeds in, it should probably be higher on this list. These tracks feel like they've been ruminated on for months, and unlike Ye, sound extremely polished, creating an album that from an objective standpoint is probably better than Ye. However, since this list is based on personal favorites, and I simply come back to Ye more, it earns this number 4 spot.
Ye is Kanye West launching himself out of the cacoon he once placed himself in. Over the two years he spent within the Wyoming Mountains, he's learned to embrace his diagnosis of Bi-Polar disorder and all of the other qualities that brought him there in the first place. This raw happiness creates one of Kanye's best albums to date, with a meaningful 7 tracks that represent almost all of Kanye's discography to date. The track such as "No Mistakes" mirrors that of classic Kanye entirely, with its synth-based celebration vibes, incredible sampling. and victory lap lyrics with an unrelenting flow towards the back half the song.
Then, there's the painfully honest, "I thought about killing you" with floating through space vibes similar to that found in "Ultralight Beam", which are even more emphasized in the psychedelic and unrelenting back half beat switch. However, neither resembling the Old or New Kanye is the absolute masterpiece of a track "Ghost town". It's almost nothing like Kanye's done before complete with full and original instrumentals, and tagging in Partynextdoor, Kid Cudi, and 070 Shake for stunning vocals, with even Kanye himself delivering the most on pitch singing in his career to date.
It deals with innocence and self-love, and might even be my favorite Kanye track of all time. The album then closes with "Violent Crimes", a gentle and somber love letter to Kanye's daughter, and the trials he knows they'll endure during fatherhood. None of the tracks are really covered in the typical polish and gloss, but it creates this awesome, genius lightning-in-a-bottle effect, with almost every track being special in its own way. It puts aside all of Kanye West's controversies and reminded the world of what he's truly capable of.
College Dropout (2004)
College Dropout opens the floodgates and lets Kanye’s soul flow all over the album. It does a fantastic job establishing that classic Kanye sound, while not really having anything holding him back or any success to flaunt. It samples warm and groovy R&B hits and gospels, covering topics such as consumerism, family, racism, and the working class rather than the gangster hip-hop environment surrounding the early 2000’s. Tracks like “All Falls Down”, blend country with West’s own beats as he critiques the American educational system. And “Jesus Walks” describes the mainstream music industry’s fear of talking about religion, while songs about sex, drugs, and money are embraced. All as the choir and military-style drums continue to march on in the background.
The bar is raised in more ways than one when Kanye and Mos Def drop an intense rock based rap where verses are made from two words in the appropriately named, “Two words”. And of course “Through the wire”, literally has Kanye rapping after his jaw has been half sealed on one of the best and most soulful tracks on the album. Personally, tracks like “Spaceship” or some of the skits don’t resonate with me as well, but nevertheless, the album has stood the test of time incredibly well and remains one of the most iconic in his discography.
Late Registration (2005)
Late Registration is the “Empire Strikes Back” of Kanye’s discography. “A New Hope” and College Dropout both were the start of something magical, but personally, their sequels take everything above and beyond to an exciting new level. In this case, I simply enjoy more of Late Registration than its predecessor, and almost all of the album clicks with me both lyrically and instrumentally.
West isn’t afraid to explore a wide variety of themes such as drug trafficking, racism in hip-hop, and even the blood diamond trade. It’s never gets overly preachy, and his observations about the world feel more thoughtful than hollow. And unlike today where politics has a major foothold in the hip hop and musical landscape, nobody was asking Kanye to cover these themes.
In, “Heard em say” , as the piano is lightly played in the background, he recites his thoughts about the world in a grounded, conversational manner as he tags in Adam Levin for a delightful collaboration. Storytelling in rap is also perfected as Kanye delivers an emotionally charged performances, both when he griefs over his grandmother’s death in,“Roses”, and when he makes a warm and fuzzy outreach to his mother in, “Hey Mama”, bringing near tears to the eyes, especially heart wrenching after her death just two years later.
I actually appreciate the absence of sampling and more of an emphasis on orchestration, with each track creating a more lush and polished project than College Dropout. But more specifically, Jazz has a large presence on the album with consistent, smooth, and catchy loops in songs like, “Touch the Sky” and, “We Major”. “Addiction” will always hold a special place in my heart for it’s mysterious guitar rift, dancing bongo beat, and hilarious hidden meaning.
And while “Gold Digger” is a bit overplayed, it’s Kanye at the absolute top of his game, delivering crisp lines on top of fast and loud drum kicks. This goes for about every album, but regardless of how fast the tempo goes, West’s flow doesn’t have a scholarly level of diction, but it’s certainly refreshing to not have to research each song on Genius to understand the lyrics. This album delivers on so many levels and solidified Kanye West as a central figure of modern rap for decades to come and a hip-hop phenomenon.
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