Jesus Is King
Unfortunately, the prospect of a creative such as Kanye West taking on the sounds and themes of Gospel and Christianity don’t play out as the biblical experience many hoped and expected it to be. Failing to take advantage of his Sunday Service Choir’s skills and the Gospel sound overall, Jesus Is King is, without question, Kanye West’s worst album. Is it a bad album? Not at all – highlights including Selah, God Is and Follow God showcase the potential of the sound Kanye is working with on the album, but inconsistency and a handful of forgettable tracks (see ‘Water’ and ‘Closed on Sunday’) makes the album more forgettable than it is brilliant. Those aware of Kanye’s recent work may be keeping an eye out for Jesus Is King 2 to see if Kanye can get one step closer to fulfilling the creative potential of the Gospel-Rap crossover.
Included on this list as a formality more than anything else, Cruel Summer was not necessarily a bad album, but it is definitely one that has been forgotten by even most diehard Kanye fans. The thought of a posse album made up of all the G.O.O.D Music crew is a tantalizing one, but Cruel Summer doesn’t feel like an album that anyone involved cared about that much. Nevertheless, the album brought timeless hip-hop classics in ‘Clique’, ‘Mercy’ and the epic closer ‘Don’t Like.1’, a remix of Chief Keef’s drill classic ‘Don’t Like’. It doesn’t look like we’ll ever get another label effort from G.O.O.D Music, but Cruel Summer was definitely a notable moment in hip-hop history – only let down by inconsistency and a seeming lack of effort.
Watch The Throne
Another collective effort, Watch The Throne has also been included on this list more so for the purpose of covering anything and everything. Often omitted from Kanye’s discography by fans, Watch The Throne is a mixed bag. ‘No Church In The Wild’, ‘N*ggas In Paris’ and ‘Otis’ are fan favorites, and genuinely brilliant songs. These songs have stood the test of time since 2011 – however, several songs on the album haven’t. Ask most Kanye West fans and they won’t hesitate to tell you they like Watch The Throne. Ask them to name 5 songs from the album? Different story. Not to say the three aforementioned songs are the only good ones on the album, but few more have stood up as great songs, making the album somewhat forgettable. Watch The Throne is a better album than Cruel Summer, sure, but not by much.
The College Dropout
From this point in the list, we now begin to enter the beginning of what can only be described as an incredibly impressive discography. From here on out, there really are no bad albums, and very few bad songs. The College Dropout was Kanye West’s first full-length effort as a solo artist, and he definitely impressed. The album starts off strongly with ‘We Don’t Care’, a song that aptly sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Kanye continues to impress 2 songs later with ‘All Falls Down’, and before stamping his mark on the scene again with ‘Jesus Walks’, a song that is often dubbed one of the most impressive efforts in hip-hop history. The skits on the album contribute to the album’s narrative about the trials and tribulations of a college dropout – however, 5 skits spread across 21 songs highlights what holds the album back; length. The College Dropout has a runtime of one hour and sixteen minutes (76 minutes), which is just, simply put, very long. Individually, all the songs impress, but The College Dropout is an album that definitely requires commitment to experience as a whole, especially in the age of the playlist. Still an impressive album, it ranks below the other albums largely because, over the years following the release of The College Dropout, Kanye West developed on the skills and ideas he presented here and improved on them continually throughout his career.
ye left fans divided, but it is a genuinely great album. Do not interpret the album’s seemingly low placement as a critique of it, but rather a testament to Kanye West’s consistency in brilliance. The first of Kanye’s 2018 run of seven-song albums, two of which he produced, one of which was a joint-effort with Kid Cudi (we’ll get to that one later), ye was an album like no other he’d ever released. The album is introspective, reflective and stripped back to the essentials, both thematically and musically. For the first time in his life, Kanye publicly reflects on his struggles with bipolar disorder, prescription drug abuse and the private highs and lows of his incredibly public marriage with Kim Kardashian. ye might not be the grandiose spectacle he’s become known for over the years, but it is a great album nonetheless. Highlights include ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Violent Crimes’ and ‘No Mistakes’, but standing at just seven songs long, ye is an album worth listening to in full.
808s and Heartbreak
808s and Heartbreaks has often been cited by many rappers, including Drake, Travis Scott and the late Juice WRLD, as the album that inspired their sound, and they’re not alone in saying so. The ideas and sounds from 808s and Heartbreaks influenced a generation of rappers to look inwards for inspiration. With 808s, the soundscapes of hip-hop changed. Jazz samples and hard-hitting drums made way for more skeletal beats, placing the focus on the rapper’s voice and emotions. Albums like Take Care, Rodeo and even Channel Orange have all taken direct influence from 808s. However, for all the value this album has in regards to its influence, it is far from his best work. Nevertheless, it is still a very impressive album. Kanye’s use of autotune helped him convey pain and heartbreak like never before, whilst the bare instrumentals and machine-fabricated drums helped Kanye West create a cold atmosphere in which he could reflect more openly, with more focus on what he was saying. Like ye, this album was an emotional breakthrough for Kanye, and he was rewarded for his emotional candor with an album that would change the sound of popular music forever.
808s and Heartbreak was a hallmark moment for hip-hop. Album highlights include ‘Say You Will’, ‘Heartless’ and ‘Coldest Winter’.
On Late Registration, Kanye West took the jazz-influenced sound of The College Dropout to new heights. Kanye’s songwriting and lyricism became increasingly impressive as Kanye became more introspective and, even, political. However, what’s most impressive about this album is the world of sound he creates across the 22 tracks. Kanye West wastes no time in getting the album started. Despite opening with a skit, the album starts incredibly strongly with the pensive ‘Heard ‘Em Say’, a song that showcases Kanye West in his element: reflective, thoughtful and confident. Kanye takes the album up a gear from here, delivering ‘Touch The Sky’ and ‘Gold Digger’ back-to-back immediately after the album’s opening sequence. This highlights the growth Kanye made in the year between his debut album and Late Registration – Kanye West was now able to pen anthems as well. A particular highlight from the album has to be ‘Hey Mama’, an ode to Kanye West’s beloved mother, Donda, which has become ever more beautiful over the years. Again, however, the album’s runtime is its one real let down. Standing at one hour and thirteen minutes, Late Registration is another album which, as brilliant as it is, is not one that can be listened to casually.
Kids See Ghosts
While Late Registration was over an hour long, Kids See Ghosts stands at just seven songs and twenty seven minutes long.
Kids See Ghosts is all killer, no filler and sees Kanye West at his maximal best again. With Kid Cudi at his side, Kanye West delivers an experience that is at times, psychedelic, and at others, serene, matching both artists’ personalities nearly perfectly.
The album kicks off with ‘Feel The Love’ a rough, abrasive opening to the album. The track’s gunshot-sounding drums matched with Kid Cudi’s wailing vocals and Kanye West’s one-of-a-kind adlibs creates an experience that few songs do. Standing at just 7 songs long, it is hard to pick out any specific highlights, as the album is so consistent. However, one standout moment from the album has to be ‘Reborn’. The song finds Kid Cudi at his absolute best, with his infamous humming contributing to the song’s ethereal feeling. The hook is simple, but beautiful in its own way. ‘Reborn’ is the album’s most powerful moment, as Kanye and Cudi reflect on what has been an incredibly rough few years for the both of them (Cudi checked himself into a rehab facility after struggling with suicidal thoughts, while Kanye was admitted to a psychiatric ward on tour where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder) before finding the power to close turn the page on such a tough chapter in their lives.
Kids See Ghosts is 27 minutes of Kanye West and Kid Cudi at the height of their joint powers. The production is brilliant, as is the lyricism and songwriting. However, with only 7 songs, one cannot help but think the pair had more to offer.
In 2007, Kanye West cemented himself as the world’s most popular artist with Graduation. In a bold turn, West took a turn away from the jazzy and somewhat lo-fi sound of his first two albums in favour of an album stacked front to back with anthems. Inspired by U2’s ability to command a stadium, Kanye West sought to take his commercial appeal to the next level, dreaming of one day commanding stadiums around the world on his own. With hip-hop classics such as ‘Stronger’, ‘Flashing Lights’ and ‘Homecoming’, Kanye West had delivered a crossover of commercially viable pop sounds and the sample-based sound of hip-hop Kanye adored that had never been seen before. In the era of gangster rap, Kanye West stuck out for all the right reasons. Of his first three albums, Graduation is well and truly the best of the bunch, with songs that have not only become classics for rap fans, but songs that have become mainstays of the popular music canon. In 2007, Kanye West transformed from a rapper to a global superstar, and Graduation is the exact reason why. Album highlights include the aforementioned ‘Stronger’, ‘Flashing Lights’ and ‘Homecoming’.
The Life of Pablo
By 2016, Kanye West had been teasing The Life Of Pablo for well over a year. While most fanbases would grow impatient, the allure of Kanye as hip-hop’s most creative artist simply made more people even more curious. Needless to say, all the mystery and waiting was worth it – The Life Of Pablo is a brilliant album, and there’s no denying it.
The album begins with ‘Ultralight Beam’, arguably the greatest opening track in Kanye West’s discography, and one of the most moving openers to any hip-hop album ever. The gospel sound, lo-fi drums and choral backing vocals make the album’s opener one of Kanye’s most reflective and beautiful songs. However, Kanye changes tone immediately on the following track ‘Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1’ an expansive song renowned for what has become a timeless chorus performed by Kid Cudi accompanied by captivating production from Metro Boomin. On The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West goes from strength to strength as he finds emotional lows and powerful highs throughout the album, giving listeners the best of both sides of West’s musical capabilities. With a runtime of one hour and six minutes stretched out over 20 songs, The Life Of Pablo is a long album, but it doesn’t feel like it. Broken up by changes in sound and theme, as well as some brilliant features to avoid any monotony (special mentions to Sampha on ‘Saint Pablo’ and Kendrick Lamar on ‘No More Parties In LA’), The Life Of Pablo is a nonstop experience that has only gotten better with time. Originally overlooked as a mediocre album by many, the sounds on this album have aged perfectly, proving once again that Kanye West is more often than not ahead of the curve.
Yeezus is an album like no other. Kanye gives into his god complex and reaps the rewards creatively, creating an album that might be difficult to listen to, but is one of his most impressive creative efforts ever. Unlike many of his other albums, Kanye cuts the fat off on Yeezus and gets straight to the point with ‘On Sight’, a track that can best be described as jarring. It’s a difficult listen, and it might seem like nothing more than a wall of distorted sounds and laser sounds, but the opening track sets the tone for this album perfectly: Yeezus is abrasive, experimental, and incredibly forward-thinking, making it one of his best albums ever. Similarly to Kids See Ghosts, this album is all killer, no filler, standing at ten songs over forty minutes. Moving on from ‘On Sight’, the album transitions immediately into ‘Black Skinhead’, a song notorious for its growling synths and metallic, punchy drums and aggressive delivery. The song is packed with energy, and is an experience in and of itself.
The remainder of the album follows the aggressive tone set by the opening two tracks. Songs like ‘New Slaves’, ‘I’m In It’ and ‘I Am A God’ find Kanye throwing himself head first into an entirely new sound and taking more risks than ever before. Genre-bending, aggressive, experimental and, at times, just weird, Yeezus is an album that is beyond description – you just have to listen to it.
Notable tracks include ‘Hold My Liquor’ (which features a brilliant guest verse from Chief Keef), ‘Blood On The Leaves’ and ‘Bound 2’.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Over the course of 2009-2010, Kanye became something of a villain in the industry to many. After his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, Kanye received criticisms from the press, his peers, and even then-President Barack Obama (who called him a jackass on camera). Kanye knew full well that he would have to deliver something special to win back the praises of the public – and deliver he did.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye West’s magnum opus. Not only is this Kanye’s best album, but it is widely recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time. On this album, Kanye West finds himself at the peak of his powers across all fronts, and adopts the ‘creative CEO’ title that has now become synonymous with his name. Kanye uses My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as an opportunity to go bigger than ever before, and as a result, we’re presented with a sprawling, expansive album experience. With guest contributions ranging from Rick Ross to John Legend and Pusha T to Bon Iver, the album draws on a range of different influences and sounds, as West picks and chooses the best of whatever comes his way to piece together a sound that can only really be described as ‘massive’.
The album’s opener, ‘Dark Fantasy’ sets the tone perfectly for the album. The blissful choirs which begin the track are abruptly cut off to make way for a glistening beat over which Kanye raps about his come-up. On the opening track, as well as the rest of the album, Kanye West strikes the perfect balance between beautiful piano and choir sounds, and dark, menacing synths, drums and themes. The album title fits perfectly with its sound, as the album is both beautiful, but dark and twisted at the same time, as Kanye explores his own psyche and delves into his personal fantasies.
The one song which best sums up the experience of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is ‘POWER’. The track sees Kanye juggling a backing choir with dark guitars, as well as a now-infamous King Crimson sample interwoven throughout the track. From a musical standpoint, it is nothing short of a triumph. The track is 5 minutes long, and the song builds for the entire runtime, reaching a shimmering climax in the final 30 seconds, as Kanye juxtaposes gorgeous pianos against futuristic synths and distorted sampled vocals, as Kanye loses himself in the wave of sound he has created. ‘POWER’ like the rest of the album, finds Kanye West diving into his own psyche and morality, questioning his beliefs. As he continues to delve into his own mind, the sounds become increasingly beautiful and powerful, as if Kanye West has unlocked something inside of him. Other album highlights include ‘Gorgeous’, ‘Devil In A New Dress’, ‘All Of The Lights’ and the legendary Pusha T-assisted ‘Runaway’My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a grandiose experience like no other in hip-hop. The album plays out like a theatrical performance, focusing on morality, mortality and the existential questions which keep us up at night, ultimately culminating in what is ultimately the greatest album Kanye West will likely ever make.
Nicolas Murphy, Entertainment & Lifestyle Editor