Kanye Omari West. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he’s one of the most influential artists of the 21st century. Constantly reinventing himself and pushing boundaries, Kanye’s art has produced moments of brilliance over the years. Though you probably have no idea what direction he’s heading on each album, you can be 100% sure of one thing – it won’t be boring. That’s what makes him such an interesting artist.
Okay, sometimes his irrational, and somewhat outlandish behaviour rightfully earns him criticism, but this shouldn’t take away from his art. Kanye is a prime example of needing to separate the artist from the art, because otherwise your opinion is formed before even listening. Just take everything he says with a pinch of salt, and enjoy the music.
Kanye’s always been one of my favourite artists, and not that I forget, but returning to his discography always reminds me how great he really is. I love different albums for different reasons, and this list is definitely susceptible to change. Some I fell in love with at first listen, others I grew to appreciate years later. Although I may not be as fond of others, I can honestly say I don’t completely dislike any album in his discography. So now that’s clear, here’s the list:
9. JESUS IS KING (2019)
With everyone prepared for the release of Yandhi, Kanye did the most Kanye thing ever and scrapped the album completely, went on yet another twitter storm and declared he was done making secular music. This may have come as a shock for anyone who last saw him dancing as a water bottle bragging about being a “sick fuck”. Nevertheless, he stuck to his pact.
For those who’ve followed Kanye’s career from the beginning, hearing him speak so highly of his faith may not have come as much of a surprise. Starting a weekly Sunday Service programme, he began teasing new material along with the Sunday Service gospel choir. This is a sound Kanye has often returned to throughout his career, and it was just a few years earlier we’d been treated to ‘Ultralight Beam’, a brilliant gospel track that opened The Life of Pablo. Basing my expectations of JESUS IS KING on this was probably foolish, as I was left feeling extremely underwhelmed.
Considering this was labelled a ‘gospel album’, there’s actually very few gospel elements to it, excluding the album intro and the chorus on “Water”. I guess this was possibly to be expected though, seeing as he said the same thing about The Life of Pablo. In all fairness, Kanye did abide by his remarks made prior to the album, with the concept heavily revolving around his faith and relationship with the lord.
I was wrong to assume the multiple push-backs would mean a complete and polished album, with the constant delays doing nothing to help the flow of the album. One of the big issues I’ve had with Kanye projects post-Yeezus is the arrangement of the tracklistings, which almost always seem to be subject to change right up until the release date. JESUS IS KING was no different, and the result is a flow that sounds like a collection of ideas, rather than a completely polished and mixed studio album. This feeling isn’t helped by the abruptness in which the album both begins and ends.
This isn’t to say I dislike the album in its entirety, because there are some elements I enjoy – most notably ‘Follow God’, where Ye delivers one of his most consistent flows in a long time over a classic soul sample. The Sunday Service choir’s refrains of “Hallelujah” on ‘Selah’ compliment the modern production, making for an interesting blend of genres. ‘God Is’ also stands out as a high point on the album, hearing Kanye speak of everything God means to him. Though not his greatest vocal display, Ye’s passion can be heard as voice becomes raspy as the track progresses. This makes it one of the few tracks on here in which Ye’s feelings come off as natural, as opposed to appearing ‘forced’.
There was potential for this album, which sadly wasn’t fulfilled – prime example being ‘Closed on Sunday’. The atmospheric instrumental, Kanye’s admirable vocal melodies and the introspective lyrics are made difficult to take seriously due to the ridiculous “Chick-fil-A” comparison. Despite Pi’erre Bourne’s fantastic synth led production and Ye’s thought provoking lines on ‘On God’, his attempt at justifying his extortionate clothing prices as a way of stopping his family from “starving”, is quite absurd when you consider the fact he’s one of the highest selling artists of all time.
While JESUS IS KING provides moments which brilliantly capture Kanye’s rediscovered bond with God, I can’t help but feel like this album lacks the levels of artistic creativity that take most of his albums from ‘good’ to ‘sensational. Despite being impressed with Kanye’s ability to stick to one concept throughout the album, it sometimes felt as though he was too eager to get certain points across, regardless of how it sounded. This often lead to lyrics which feel forced, an issue I feel could’ve been resolved if he took longer finalising this album. But who’s to say this album won’t grow on me the same way previous Kanye records have?
Best tracks: Follow God, God Is
Worst track: Hands On
8. ye (2018)
Following his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Kanye moved to Wyoming in which he focused on doing what he does best – producing albums. The result of these sessions was five 7-track albums; Pusha T, Nas, Teyana Taylor, Kids See Ghosts and his very own ye.
Ye is most definitely Kanye’s most personal record of the 2010’s, coming at a difficult time which saw Kanye battling numerous mental health issues. From cancelling his Life of Pablo tour, declaring his support for Donald Trump, delivering his outrageous comments on slavery, and calling out his once ‘Big Brother’ and long time collaborator Jay-Z, it was evident Kanye was in a bad place. His wife, Kim Kardashian being held at gunpoint in Paris appeared to be the breaking point, which he claims triggered a breakdown.
Hospitalised due to severe sleep deprivation, Kanye gathered his thoughts and returned with new political and social ideas. This album saw him at his most vulnerable, contrasting heavily with his enormous ego which dominated his art at the start of the decade. Before even listening, the artwork gives an insight to the album – which heavily revolves around mental health and overcoming the stigma attached to these disorders.
The spoken intro on ‘I Thought About Killing You is’ the closest we’ve got to Kanye’s thoughts in years, as he implies his bipolar makes him think “really bad things”. Though I’m not the biggest fan of the beat switch that occurs midway through the track, I appreciate this intro for what it is and I feel as though it brilliantly encapsulates his mindset and thinking behind this album.
Despite being 7 songs and just over 20 minutes in length, ye contains two of my favourite Kanye songs of the last decade in ‘Yikes’ and ‘Ghost Town’. The former sees Kanye reference his previous battle with opioid addiction as he raps “I think Prince and Mike was tryna warn me”. The passion he delivers in these infectious flows is supplemented by yet another ‘semi’ rant at the end of his track in which he alludes to his bipolar as a “superpower” rather than a “disability”. In an era dominated with mental health issues, I found this lyric to be particularly inspiring.
Teaming up with PARTYNEXTDOOR, 070 Shake and Kid Cudi on ‘Ghost Town’, each artist brings their own identity whilst simultaneously contributing to the theme of internal battles. Incorporating elements of hip-hop, gospel and rock, the climax this song reaches adds to Kanye’s already long catalogue of anthemic songs. Delivering his best singing performance in a long time, Kanye shows self-awareness with lyrics such as “years ahead but way behind”, alluding to the fact he’s artistically ahead of his time, while also recognising his faults that often impair his reputation.
070 Shake also delivers a strong vocal performance on the closing track ‘Violent Crimes’, where Kanye speaks his thoughts on parenthood, describing how it’s altered his perspective and attitude towards many aspects of life. I feel as though this was in important inclusion to ye, given it’s a personal nature and the fact parenthood has been a large part of his life for the last 5 or so years.
Where ye falls short isn’t entirely to do with its length, as Kids See Ghosts and Pusha T’s Daytona prove 7 tracks is enough to form a quality album. In my view, the album’s flaws lie in the fact that the instrumental complexity that’s so prevalent right across his discography is only present on a couple of tracks here. Although there is quality on display throughout this album, I can’t help leaving it feeling as though I’ve not got enough from it.
Best tracks: Ghost Town, Yikes
Worst track: Wouldn’t Leave
7. Graduation (2007)
After overcoming the difficulties most artists undergo on a sophomore album with Late Registration, Kanye followed up with this instant commercial success, selling a mega 950,000 copies in its first week. This placed him at the summit of commercial hip-hop, outselling 50 Cent’s Curtis to settle the ongoing feud between the two.
Kanye completed the trilogy of education themed albums with probably his most commercially viable album to date. After having a taste of chart success in 2005 with singles such as ‘Golddigger’ and ‘Touch the Sky’, the cravings for more are evident on Graduation. This made for an album which hasn’t aged too well in my opinion, given the drastic change in what’s considered commercial rap today. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy this album, as I do consider it a good representation of Kanye’s rise to stardom – however the overriding drive for album sales outshines what was so good about his first two albums.
This album is filled with undeniable hits, from ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’, to ‘Homecoming’ with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and of course the stand out crossover between hip-hop and electronica on ‘Stronger’, by virtue of the iconic Daft Punk sample. It’s safe to say these singles have all stood the test of time and gone on to inspire pop/rap crossovers for years to come. The same can’t be said for other tracks on here such as the painfully sloppy and repetitive ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’, and the extremely dated ‘Barry Bonds’ which features an almost unbearable verse from Lil Wayne.
One thing I do enjoy about this album is the wide range of samples used. Making his chipmunk soul samples something of a trademark on his first two albums, Kanye branched out towards different sounds on Graduation. The house inspired DaftPunk sample on ‘Stronger’ and the use of Michael Jackson’s ‘PYT.’ on ‘Good Life’ help turn Kanye’s hits into anthems, which allowed him to make the step up to large arenas with ease.
From the moment Kanye announces “on this day we become legendary” on ‘Good Morning’, it’s evident Graduation will be a celebration of Kanye’s career up to this point, a theme which continues on tracks such as ‘Champion’ and ‘Flashing Lights’. Kanye’s arrogance is traded for respect on the Jay-Z dedicated ‘Big Brother’. Though I feel the track’s a great representation of their brotherly relationship, I refuse to believe Kanye really thought Jay-Z “came through and kicked (his) ass” on the Diamonds remix. Kanye definitely had the best verse.
Ye’s new profound obsession with fame is evident on this album, and it’s a sign of what’s to come from his future projects. Though we’d experienced a somewhat braggadocios side to him on his first 2 albums, it felt more playful. Turning into a compulsion on Graduation, Kanye’s ego lead to a lacklustre project which unfortunately falls short of the ridiculous standards he set on his first two albums. I definitely consider it a pivotal stage of his career, however.
Best Tracks: Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, Stronger
Worst Track: Drunk and Hot Girls
6. The Life of Pablo (2016)
Was this the self-proclaimed “album of life”? Debatable. Was this the strangest album roll out of all time? Most definitely. I salute anyone who knows off the top of their head how many times the album title, tracklist, and release date for this album changed. Nevertheless, we were gifted with a special album.
Many twitter antics later, Kanye made us sign up for Tidal in order hear this in full, and I must admit I was left disappointed. The substandard mixing made for an amateurish sound which was inexcusable for someone who’s produced their while life and has a team of high-quality musicians around him. Looking back now, I’m SO relieved he took his time to edit the mix after release because the outcome was another great Kanye West record (as well as an endless ‘Imma fix Wolves meme’).
Some view album sales as irrelevant but The Life of Pablo became the first record to reach #1 by means of streaming figures alone, and for an artist 7 studio albums into their discography, this is rather impressive. Whether you agree with how he’s done it or not, Kanye has always managed to reinvent himself, continuously pushing boundaries. This, alongside his sheer artistic qualities, has allowed him to stay relevant, where many of his contemporaries from the mid to late 2000’s are merely a distant memory.
20 tracks long and a handful of skits, The Life of Pablo’s format is reminiscent of his first 2 albums. I’m particularly reminded of the “old Kanye” on ’30 Hours’, where Ye spends the last 2 minutes freestyling his thoughts over the looped instrumental. The album is far from a throwback to his early days however, with Kanye incorporating sounds from all angles throughout this album. This makes for an unpredictable album – which is a word that brilliantly describes Kanye.
Moments of brilliance can be heard all throughout this album, starting with the gospel intro, ‘Ultralight Beam’. The cinematic production, spine-tingling vocals from Kelly Price and a timeless verse from Chance, the Rapper easily makes this Kanye’s best album intro. After a topsy-turvy journey, the closing track ‘Saint Pablo’ ends the album on an emotional note, as Ye addresses personal issues such as debt, supported by a poignant hook from Sampha, making for another highlight. Between these we’re treated to an incredible beat switch on ‘Famous’, which brilliantly samples Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’. Another highlight is the killer bass loop on ‘Fade’, which completely outshines the appalling verses.
Kanye explores his wittiness throughout the album, from the infamous Taylor Swift lyric on ‘Famous’, to the humorous ‘I Love Kanye’ skit, which sees him mock his fans request that he returns to his older self. The same can’t be said for the “bleached arseholes” line on ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’, which still makes me cringe to this day, and must go down as one of his worst lyrics of all time. Thankfully Kanye stays away from both “bleach” and “arseholes” on ‘Pt. 2’, as he delivers a verse full of raw emotion, alluding to his relationship with his father as well as the devastating car crash that almost ended his life in 2002. Albeit holding absolutely no relevance to the song topic, Desiigner’s hook taken from ‘Panda’ is sonically pleasing.
A whole range of emotions are on display throughout these 20 tracks, whether the vulnerability on ‘Real Friends’ or the psychedelic driven fantasies on the manic ‘Freestyle 4’. These inconsistencies make for an exciting, albeit messy album, which is impossible to leave feeling one individual way. Though I feel The Life of Pablo contains some of Ye’s most impressive songs, as a body of work I feel it falls short of other albums, and should’ve been condensed to avoid weak moments such as ‘Highlights’ and the completely obnoxious ‘Silver Surfer Intermission’ skit. Nevertheless, a great album.
Best Tracks: Ultralight Beam, Famous, PT. 2, FML, Real Friends
Worst Tracks: Highlights
5. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Wow.. where do you start with this album?! As Kanye had solidified himself as the biggest rapper on the planet, his personal life took a turn for the worst. Losing his mother and seeing his long-term relationship with Alexis Phifer evaporate, his artistic endeavours took a drastic change.
Though huge credit must be given to Kid Cudi, who had several writing credits and an undoubted major influence on the sound behind this album, Kanye deserves a great amount of respect for having the balls to make such a diversion from the winning formula that had brought him his success up to this point.
Trading his signature soul samples and braggadocios attitude for the thundering 808s and lyrics of vulnerability, Kanye changed hip-hop forever. Using autotune to pour his heart out on tracks as a way of representing his grief, Kanye brought an end to the hyper-masculine ‘gangster’ persona that had dominated hip-hop for years earlier. This opened doors for artists such as Drake and Kid Cudi to explore their emotions for mainstream audiences, as well as influencing today’s hip-hop, which is largely centred around themes of vulnerability.
The simplicity of the lyrics and songwriting on this album do nothing to dent its credibility, if anything they represent Kanye’s true heartbreak which is evident to any listener. A prime example is ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’, where Ye’s straight to the point lyricism demonstrates him coming to the realisation that fame has made him lose touch with reality. Everything he’d sacrificed and fought for his whole life for, was now causing nothing but despair. Kid Cudi’s impeccable hook added to the despondent tone of the track, an ability that would go on to make future Cudi albums so enticing.
Despite the drastic change in style for Kanye, he still managed to incorporate huge singles into this album, with ‘Heartless’ going on to achieve 6x platinum status, being his 3rd highest single to date. Similarly, ‘Love Lockdown’ achieved major chart success, and was a significant moment that would shape the future of hip-hop, containing no rap verse throughout the entirety of the track.
Experimenting with completely new sounds, Kanye was taking a big risk on this album. Although groundbreaking in it’s own right, the album is far from perfect, and the excessive use of autotune at times is overwhelming, being an art that was yet be mastered in 2008. But to his credit, Kanye managed to craft some gems which remain some of the best songs in his discography. The contradictory ‘Amazing’ which features a killer verse from Jeezy serves as a marker point for Kanye’s career and in a way foreshadows his bipolar that developed just a few years later.
His pain can be felt most notably in ‘Coldest Winter’, which serves as a farewell to his mother Donda West. The simplicity of the structure of the song allows for Kanye’s true emotions to shine through, as he asks whether he will be able to love ever again. This is taken up another level on the closing ‘Pinocchio Story’ which is an intense live performance from a show in Singapore. The minimal instrumentation allows for Kanye’s emotions to take centre stage, as he speaks of being confined to his sadness, and that neither fame or money are unable to pull him out of the slump. A groundbreaking album.
Best Tracks: Welcome to Heartbreak, Heartless, Amazing, Paranoid, Coldest Winter
Worst Track: See You in my Nightmares
4. Late Registration (2005)
Sophomore albums often make or break artists, and it’s safe to say Late Registration definitely elevated Kanye’s career even further. Looking back at it in 2020, it’s aged just as well as The College Dropout, and for that reason I feel it’s an underrated project in Ye’s discography. You rarely find a Kanye fan who dislikes this album, but you rarely see it named as someone’s best Kanye album, which despite the quality of it, is surprising.
As was the case on The College Dropout, Kanye came through with original song topics, once again demonstrating he would be using his new high-profile to showcase his political stance as well as tackling social issues. ‘Crack Music’ attacks the government for the sudden influx of crack cocaine across major US cities which “raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland”. Kanye also attacks George Bush for his relationship with Saddam Hussein, which was taken a step further just a few days after the release of this album, as he proclaimed “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live tv.
Ye explores topics close to his heart on Late Registration, such as the personal ‘Hey Mama’ written about his special relationship with his mother, which definitely became harder to listen to without tearing up after her death a few years later. Another important topic to Ye at this stage of his career was racism, which is referenced on ‘Heard ‘Em Say’, as he raps “they can’t cop cars, without seeing cop cars”. This song also deserves a huge amount of credit for achieving to pluck a good hook out of Adam Levine.
Ye provides an interesting political take on ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’, where he scrutinises the idea of conflict chains, shining light on a war that receives almost no media attention. The “We die from drugs, over there they die from what we die from drugs” is another example of Kanye showing a great amount of awareness in his younger years.
In addition to the personal and introspective songs on Late Registration, some of Kanye’s biggest singles exist. ‘Touch the Sky’ and ‘Golddigger’ aren’t even close to being some of my favourite Kanye songs but they deserve the plaudits they receive, they’ve also not aged all that badly. These songs, as well as most of the tracklist are elevated with the inclusion of a wide variety of instrumentation. The incredible brass, string and horn elements on this album inspired a fantastic live album in Late Orchestration.
Returning to this album made me realise how underappreciated it’s become over the years. Though not as groundbreaking as his debut, I feel this was a brilliant follow-up, and served as an important stepping stone for Kanye’s career. For that reason I’d recommend everyone to go back and listen to it in its entirety.
Best Tracks: Heard Em Say, Drive Slow, Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix), Hey Mama, Gone
Worst Track: N/A
3. Yeezus (2013)
If you’d have asked me where I ranked Yeezus among Kanye’s discography upon it’s release, It’d have been somewhere near the bottom. 7 years later, it’s grown to be one of my favourite Kanye records, which once again demonstrates his visions to be ahead of his time.
Where MBDTF had been a grand, emphatic return to hip-hop, Yeezus was as an attack on the music industry at large. This bold artistic statement was like nothing we’d ever heard from Kanye, and it signifies a point in his career where he stopped giving a shit about how people received his music. Whatever he wanted to make, he was going to make.
Though artists like Death Grips had already been experimenting with these electronic sounds in the underground scene, these instrumentals were unheard of at mainstream level. This made Kanye’s decision to base an entire album on this aesthetic even more of a bold decision, and like 808s & Heartbreak, it’s proven to be ahead of it’s time, going on to inspire hip-hop records almost a decade later. This sound was supported by legendary electronic duo Daft Punk, who had production credits throughout the album.
Where Kanye was suffering from loss and grief on 808s & Heartbreak, Yeezus was him demonstrating his anger towards the industry. This is evident from the sheer aggression of the opening track ‘On Sight’, where we’re swiftly made aware that this isn’t an album that’s going to sound pretty. Ye’s arrogance can be heard as he raps “How much do I not give a fuck?”, which potentially foreshadowed the lack of critical acclaim this album would receive upon release. But year after year this album sounds better and better.
The manic instrumentation continues on ‘Black Skinhead’ where the drum sequence which opens the track is fairly unique for a hip-hop song. It was also around this time that Kanye began experimenting with animalistic sounds which can be heard in the background throughout the track. When you break down each individual element of this track, you come to appreciate how incredibly well it was produced. For anyone who’s sceptical about the similarities with punk on this track, go and watch Ye’s performance of this song on SNL.
Say what you want about Kanye’s lyrics on Yeezus, but isn’t that the point of punk? Firstly, Kanye has never been the most lyrically gifted, and secondly the purpose of this album was Kanye speaking his mind. Though I agree there are lyrically weak moments on this album, I find it hard to attribute this to Kanye’s “laziness”. For me, the outlandish and somewhat controversial lyrics on here have always come across as being a reflection of Kanye’s mind state at the time, and I feel they do a good job of representing his frustrations towards the industry.
Kanye’s arrogance may hit new highs on Yeezus, which I know, is quite an achievement when you consider how arrogant he already was. If the album title alone wasn’t enough to convince you of Kanye’s self-confidence levels, ‘I Am A God’ most definitely was. The industrial inspired beat most definitely is godly, and alone makes this track one of Yeezus’ stand out moments. These egotistical moments are balanced out by more introspective tracks such as ‘New Slaves’, which is Kanye’s attack on modern day racism, which exists yet often goes unnoticed at corporate levels.
One thing I’ve always loved about Kanye is his ability to weave unconventional samples into tracks. He takes this to a whole new level on Yeezus, with the sporadic change from distorted synths to ‘He’ll Give Us What We Really Need’ by Holy Name of Mary Choral Family on ‘On Sight’. Another highlight is Popcaan’s vocals that are taken from Pusha T’s ‘Blocka’, and are used as the hook on ‘Guilt Trip’. Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’ adds a haunting feeling to ‘Blood on the Leaves’ and it would be impossible to not mention the iconic Bound sample, that closes the album on a high note. When you consider each of these samples occur on the same album, it really shows Kanye’s diversity as a producer, as well as his talent for crafting tracks around these samples.
Yeezus was an audacious release which has become better understood over the years, and those who said they missed the ‘old’ Kanye upon this release are now referring to the Yeezus era as the ‘old Kanye’. I’m guilty of finding it underwhelming upon release and I salute anyone who saw it for what it is back in 2013. However, as Kanye’s career has progressed, this album has spoke louder to me, and I find it impossible to listen without skipping a track. A great body of work.
Best Tracks: On Sight, Black Skinhead, I Am A God, New Slaves, Blood on the Leaves
Worst Track: N/A
2. The College Dropout (2004)
At the time Kanye released his debut, he was considered an outsider. A pink-polo wearing producer who wouldn’t ever be taken seriously on the mic. If anything, the odds being stacked against him gave him the desire needed to prove everyone in the industry wrong. The rest was history.
Making a name producing beats for Jay-Z on his 2001 classic album The Blueprint, Kanye developed a signature production style which consisted of sped up high-pitched soul samples, later becoming better known as ‘chipmunk soul’. This sound was prominent throughout The College Dropout, helping craft moments of brilliance such as the r&b/soul inspired ‘Slow Jamz’, which pays homage to many of Kanye’s inspirations, namely Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.
Being known as merely a ‘good producer’, however wasn’t enough for Kanye, as he was convinced he was destined for greatness. As explained on the insightful 13 minute closing track ‘Last Call’ – Kanye underwent numerous difficulties trying to be signed as a rapper, and he had to fight significantly harder than most before finally being signed to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records. I think it’s fair to say what followed most definitely justified the faith Hov put in him.
Kanye’s hunger and eagerness to prove his talents on the mic as well as a producer is evident to see on The College Dropout. Suffering a near-fatal car crash after falling asleep at the wheel in 2002, Kanye’s jaw needed to be wired shut – which put his career as a rapper at peril. Unphased, Kanye went to the studio and wrote the infamous ‘Through the Wire’ in which he spat his verses while his jaw was still wired shut. His determination was evident from this moment, as he put the pain aside and delivered raw verses, claiming he’d turned “tragedy to triumph”.
Ye brought original ideas to the scene with his debut, and touched on topics yet to be explored in the hip-hop industry. ‘All Falls Down’ is a prime example, where Kanye’s self-awareness helps him discuss addictive consumption, and the detrimental effects retailers can have on individuals. Using comedic one-liners, don’t be mistake this is a thought-provoking song, which helped bring ‘conscious rap’ to the mainstream. The iconic ‘Jesus Walks’ is another moment where Kanye goes against the grain, being the first time of many throughout his career he alludes to his strong faith. Despite labels pushing topics down artists’ throats, Kanye suggests “radio needs this” – alluding to the fact hip-hop only goes mainstream with topic revolving around sex, money and violence.
Refusing to adopt the hyper-masculine gangsta persona that was dominating the genre at the time, Kanye insisted he would use “a creative way to rhyme without using knives and guns”. Though it may not seem a big deal now, for a rapper trying to make a name for themselves in 2004, this was an extremely ballsy move, and though not always right, his honesty over the years has definitely been a factor in earning him respect. Equally his “you can still love your man and be manly” lyric on ‘Family Business’ demonstrates how forward-thinking he was in comparison with his contemporaries, showing true feelings shouldn’t be hidden.
Kanye was also outspoken about racial issues on this album, which makes his more recent comments even more surprising, and quite frankly disappointing. His will to draw attention to the fact a “drug dealer buy jordan, crack head buy crack” and the fact “the white man get paid off of all of that” sees him bring attention to the money hungry CEOs at the top of the chain who care very little about how people beneath them are affected, as long as they’re paid. This passion most probably stems from the oppression his ancestors faced, as he alludes to his mother being arrested for the sit-ins aged 6 on ‘Never Let Me Down’. As well as 2 verses from Jay-Z, this track includes a phenomenal verse from J. Ivy.
All in all, this album is a classic. Hip-hop had heard nothing like it up until this point, and it serves as a marker of what was to come of Kanye’s career.
Best Tracks: All Falls Down, Spaceship, Never Let Me Down, Two Words, Last Call
Worst Track: N/A
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Every so often a special album is released, one that will go on to define genres and inspire generations to come. MBDTF is exactly that. 10 years on, listening to this album somehow keeps on getting more and more enjoyable. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and I’d even go as far as saying this remains the best album released in the 21st century.
Surrounding himself with some of the biggest names in hip-hop – from producers, artists, sound engineers alike, Kanye locked himself away in a Hawaii studio and created an absolute masterpiece. The album roll out consisted of a GOOD Fridays series, where Kanye released a new song every week leading up to the album release. These tracks, containing many features from his fellow GOOD Music associates, gave the impression that Ye was preparing for a grand return to hip-hop, signalling the end of his experimentation with auto-tune pop.
When MBDTF was finally released in November 2010, it became an instant classic. Once again showing no fear while pushing boundaries, Kanye fused many elements of rock on this album, with the electric guitar that leads the melody on ‘Gorgeous’, Mike Dean’s wonderful guitar solo on ‘Devil in a New Dress’, and sampling Black Sabbath’s iconic ‘Iron Man’ on ‘Hell of a Life’. Four tracks surpassing 6 minutes in length was also unheard of for a mainstream rapper at this time, a formula that this album helped ensure went on to be a common theme in modern hip-hop albums.
Serving as a conceptual album surrounding Kanye’s relationship with fame, this wasn’t an album made for people to relate to. It’s an escape from reality into a world which Kanye has found himself in, for better or for worse. The colossal single ‘POWER’ sees Kanye acknowledge the fact he’s at the top of his game – even contemplating killing himself in what would be a “beautiful death” in what is a great outro. ‘All of the Lights’ which features backing vocals from god knows how many artists, was simply a radio single on the surface level, but given the narrative of the album, the lyrics appear to serve as a metaphor for Kanye’s struggles with fame.
The cinematic production on MBDTF begins with the incredible opener ‘Dark Fantasy’ – in which we’re given an insight into the fantasies Kanye had about fame while growing up in Chicago, and how these are quickly becoming a reality. ‘All Of The Lights (Interlude)’ adds to the grand instrumentation, with a string interlude and a piano meoldy from Sir Elton John that eventually opens into the phenomenal brass performance. The high-quality production is maintained throughout, and reaches a new high on ‘Devil in a New Dress’. Produced by Bink!, the wonderful Smokey Robinson sample and the perfectly layered Mike Dean guitar solo make this one of my favourite instrumentals of all time. With Kanye’s quality matching that of the production, and Rick Ross delivering the verse of his career, this makes for a truly iconic track.
Kanye’s success rate plucking out the right artists to feature on MBDTF was quite incredible, with almost every one bringing something to the table. At a time where hip-hop was still saturated with hyper-masculinity, Kanye invited a then inexperienced Nicki Minaj to perform a verse on ‘Monster’ alongside some of the biggest names in hip-hop including himself, Jay-Z and Rick Ross. The outcome was a truly iconic verse that’s stood the test of time, outshining the other guests and helping her career gain traction in the process.
After Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye’s lyricism became subject to criticism, as many thought it was below par in comparison with his first two records. Though the subject matter had most definitely changed, Ye managed to demonstrate moments of brilliance with his clever and witty one liners on MBDTF. The stand out line is often the Urkel Wins Low on ‘Dark Fantasy’, however his “I’m living in the future so my presence is my past, my presence is a present, kiss my ass” lyric on ‘Monster’ still has me applauding to this day. Delivering not one, not two, but three incredible verses on ‘Gorgeous’ was enough to silence any doubters, and even then if you weren’t convinced, Raekwon came through with a killer verse of his own.
It would be impossible to speak about this album without mentioning ‘Runaway’. The mega 9 minute track is spine tingling from the second you hear that first E5 note on the piano, right through to the outro, which Kanye uses his distorted vocals as a type of guitar solo. Between this we have Kanye laying out his flaws as an individual, and the consequences this has on his relationships. Being a “scumbag” is part of his personality, a trait that Kanye recognises he’s unable to shake off no matter how hard he tries. Artistically, this is one of the best songs Kanye has ever made it feels like the track that takes this album to a whole new level.
I could go on and on speaking about this album, but I think it’s fair to say there’s simply not enough superlatives to describe this masterpiece, and it’s near enough impossible to do it justice in a just few hundred words. To anyone who’s somehow not listened to this all the way through, you’re in for a treat. What a great piece of music.
Best Tracks: Dark Fantasy, Gorgeous, POWER, Devil in a New Dress, Runaway
Worst Track: N/A