Kanye has never been shy when stating his own GOAT status. With his new album, which has been delayed yet again, Vultures set to release this month under the usual undercurrent of controversy and public rants, we have decided to rank all of the generational artist’s studio albums.
13. Jesus is King
Amid a religious awakening, Kanye immersed himself in his Christian beliefs and released Jesus is King in 2019. An effort to integrate gospel music into his own style and shine a light on his faith, Jesus is King sounds much more like a contemporary Christian album than a Kanye West album. In an effort to promote the album, Kanye created the Sunday Service Choir, which had live performances all over America and the globe. The Choir is found singing on every song on the album.
For an album by any other artist, Jesus is King is a decent listen but falls well below Kanye’s own standards. The Christian lyrics can often seem forced on their relative beats, especially those adapted from the abandoned Yandhi album that Kanye was set to release the year prior. Despite being a disappointing album, Jesus is King has its own fair share of incredible songs. The production of songs like On God and Use this Gospel is incredible. These songs also feature beautiful notes and synths that take the listener on a spiritual journey. His worst could easily be some artists’ best.
12. Cruel Summer
An often-forgotten project in Kanye’s discography, Cruel Summer was a collaborative project under the G.O.O.D label, with Jay-Z and Kanye West at the forefront. Heavily marketed to be a larger-than-life project that would blow fans away, it ultimately did not. Songs like Mercy are well remembered today due to their timeless sound, but the project, in general, proved to be a disappointment.
Despite not being too long, it failed to be an engaging tape, as the listener tends to fall into boredom multiple times throughout the project. The interludes are lackluster, and it is an exhausting listen overall, which fails to capture the listener for a large chunk of the mix tape.
Kanye West’s most recent and 10th studio album, named after his late mother, Donda West, came off as bloated and overpacked for a ton of people. The nearly 2-hour listen time is no cakewalk, and the album contains multiple tracks that come off as draining and unenjoyable. The promotion of the album was chaotic, boasting multiple delays amidst West’s personal issues with his now ex-wife, Kim Kardashian. The album’s unnecessary ‘Part twos’ also made it excessively tiring.
Despite all this, the album showcases quite a few bangers, from the long yet emphatic Off the Grid showing off the incredible ceiling of Playboi Carti, Hurricane, which had the captivating vocals of The Weeknd and Moon, which not only had Don Toliver’s heavenly hook but possibly the best verse on the album by Kanye’s long-time apprentice and friend, Kid Cudi. Kanye’s willingness to venture into unexplored religiosity while collaborating with many artists shows courage and ups the ante on the album. Donda has much to offer, lyrically, vocally, and in every other way.
10. Kids See Ghosts
Master and Apprentice finally teamed up for a collaborative project in 2018 with Kids See Ghosts by Kids See Ghosts(Kanye West and Kid Cudi). Releasing a week after Kanye’s solo album Ye, the reflective lyricism, along with Kanye’s revolutionary production work and Cudi’s monotonous yet harmonious vocals, allow the reality of the songs to seep in. Reborn is a slow, sad song about moving forward amidst the controversy and hate, the difficulties and countless obstacles.
With both artists in great form and their relationship at an all-time high, the album proved to be a great work but still pales in front of Kanye’s jam-packed discography. However, it could be argued that the 7-song project doesn’t have a weakness, besides maybe the slightly lackluster intro.
9. Watch The Throne
When two hip-hop giants in the form of Jay-Z and Kanye West work together, the album is definitely gonna be a huge hit. In light of that, it pains me to put it this low on the list, as the album boasts quite a few big hits. No Church in The Wild contains great Kanye production with the harmonious vocals of Frank Ocean. Otis allows Jay-Z to shine with his classic lyricism along with brilliant piano chords that puts the listener into a frenzy.
Watch The Throne was a much-needed deviation from Kanye’s recent 808s-inspired projects. Much like The Life of Pablo, Kanye is looking to have fun and enjoy with his Big Brother(pun intended) Jay-Z. I do not feel like I need to, but I will remind you that this is the same album with the humongous hit N***** in Paris. This is hip-hop heritage.
8. Late Registration
Kanye’s sophomore effort and 2nd entry in the famous College Trilogy is led by a beautiful orchestral direction that maybe its predecessor had missed. Hits like Gold Digger and Touch the Sky elevate the album and make it an enjoyable listen. However, unlike other Kanye albums, Late Registration doesn’t explore any new territory, with the style remaining very similar to Kanye’s debut album. In many ways, it just feels like a refined version of The College Dropout. While this is by no means a bad thing, it just takes away from what makes Kanye West Kanye West.
While the album is most known for its charting hits, the raw emotion of tracks like Roses and Hey Mama make the album what it is. Kanye really brings out the personality of his features on this album, which makes the album sound organised and well thought-out.
Kanye West’s shortest album, coming in at only 24 minutes, is considered by some to be a masterpiece, while others say it has an unfinished feeling to it. This album was released during Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Album Summer of 2018. Ye was one of the numerous Kanye-produced projects released by the G.O.O.D. Music label that summer. These included the collaboration album Ye had with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts. Around the same time, Kanye had been facing a lot of backlash after a public mental health crisis, which he alludes to multiple times on the album. However, if we have ever seen a pattern with Kanye when he is down and considered out, that is when he returns and creates his best music.
The raw feeling of the album is emphasised in songs like Ghost Town, and I Thought About Killing You. The darkness depicted in the album is something we all can relate to when we are at our lowest. The album also gives us an intimate look into the vulnerable part of Kanye’s mind that we have never seen before. The rant about his daughters in Violent Crimes is bound to touch the hearts of listeners, while No Mistakes is undeniably beautiful with snappy drums and heartfelt lyricism. This album serves as a reminder that Kanye is only human, and he, too, makes mistakes like all of us.
Perhaps Kanye’s most divisive project, Yeezus, is a play at Kanye’s alter ego as a self-proclaimed God. This is Kanye at his most rash, abrasive, narcissistic, and arrogant. A 40-minute-long experimental rant that is all over the place but hits the mark. As out there as Yeezus was, Kanye’s unapologetic and brash persona proves to be a near-perfect focus for an album. Full of distorted drums and synths and the production geniuses of Rick Rubin, Daft Punk, and Kanye West working together, the electronic aggressiveness of the album feels right down Kanye’s lane.
The lyrical content of the album has comedic highs as well as lustful and unapologetic lows, from the powerful anthem Black Skinhead to the demeaning lyricism of tracks like I’m In It. The no-filter approach to the album showed Kanye’s egotistic self at its highest and most raw. Over 10 years since Yeezus, whether people enjoy it or not, it has proved to be a juggernaut as far as influence is concerned, giving birth to the musical taste of famous artists like Travis Scott. The sonic experimentation of Yeezus can be a hit or miss for most people, but in the end, its mark on hip-hop culture is massive.
5. 808s and Heartbreak
Kanye’s 4th studio album featured a broken man coping with his mother’s death. Coming off hot from his previous release, Graduation, Kanye took a completely different approach and a hugely noticeable tonal shift with his next album. Arguably his most important record, it is impossible to talk about 808s and Heartbreak without discussing its huge influence on the hip-hop and pop scene even today. The auto-tuned vocals and mix of bass and strings create emotional beats with Kanye’s raw commentary on how fame doesn’t equate to happiness engulfing 808s.
The human emotion on the album seeps through, especially in songs like Pinnochio Story and Coldest Winter. The writing of Kanye, along with Kid Cudi, made for a massive hit in Heartless, and the symphony of different instruments and heartfelt lyrics on songs like Street Lights and Robo-Cop really resonate with the listener. The album may not be as versatile as others like The Life of Pablo, but it has left a huge impact on the music scene, paving the way for various artists like Drake, Future, and Lil Uzi Vert. His best album? Probably not. His most impactful? Definitely feels like it.
4. The College Dropout
Kanye’s debut album, the instant classic The College Dropout, has not aged a bit 20 years since its release. A debut album acts as a learning curve for most artists as they stumble their way onto the billboard charts. However, Kanye made it look relatively easy with instant hits like All Falls Down and Through the Wire, which he famously sang with his mouth wired shut after his near-fatal car crash.
It may have looked unchallenging and straightforward, but Kanye had to work his way to a record deal with Roc-A-Fella, who seemed to look at him as only a producer. Despite major setbacks, including many eye-rolls from notable hip-hop names, Kanye released his debut album. The album thrived on childlike playfulness, liveliness, and strong lyrics while also tackling major issues in the black community at a time when the rap bling era was in full force. The College Dropout helped cement Mr. West as a household name who would majorly influence the hip-hop scene throughout the rest of his tumultuous career.
3. The Life of Pablo
A beautiful, superb, original, captivating, yet flawed mess, The Life of Pablo may be the album that perfectly encapsulates Kanye’s career. From the beautiful hard drop on Father Stretch My Hands to the incredible party songs like No More Parties in LA and the raw emotionality signifying his journey throughout the years in Saint Pablo, the album has so much to offer. It signifies Kanye coming to a crossroads in his life. Confused about how to balance different parts of himself and the life he has led, he has to make a choice. A choice between a caring family man or a party-loving bachelor.
A complete detour from previous experimental albums like Yeezus and 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye now looks back at his ups and downs throughout his career and takes time to reflect, but not without having some fun. “See, I invented Kanye, and now I look and look around, and there’s so many Kanyes.” With this line, he looks back at the influence of his previous projects. Talking about his emotional distance from his family and struggles with party life, mixed with his unapologetic arrogance and hubris, The Life of Pablo is Kanye West personified. A huge, calculated mess.
Probably West’s most commercially successful album, Graduation, once again pushed the boundaries of modern hip-hop. From the brilliant Daft Punk sample on Stronger to the euphoric and lively Good Life, along with a huge amount of star power makes it an all-time classic. It may not be as emotional or poignant as his other albums, but the electric undertones make it perfect for late-night drives and proved to be an inspiration for future artists such as The Weeknd.
His powerful lyricism that shone in The College Dropout and Late Registration takes a backseat to powerful melodies as Graduation focuses more on crowd-pleasing hits rather than social commentary. Flashing Lights glorifies the rich luxurious lifestyle West is now becoming accustomed to as he welcomes his wealth with a warm embrace, while I Wonder talks about dreams and goals that keep him up at night and that he strives to achieve. This album cemented that Kanye had no one to look up to and was officially at the top of the hip-hop hierarchy. Nearly every single track is a powerhouse bound to get you vibing and in a good mood whenever it plays on the radio. However great Graduation may be, it pales in comparison to…
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye West’s Magnum Opus. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a masterpiece that flaunts some of Kanye’s most emotional and hard-hitting tracks, ranging from powerful anthems like POWER to the raw emotional acceptance in Runaway. Kanye had just been in the media spotlight once again for the controversial 2009 Taylor Swift incident at the MTV Awards. This, coupled with the death of his mother and his emotional break-up that had triggered the release of his previous album, 808s and Heartbreak, caused Kanye to seclude himself and return to doing what he does best. Kanye channeled his pain and emotion into what is considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time and, by some, one of the best albums of all time.
Kanye poured his heart and soul into a work of art on par with Picasso. West is raw and unapologetic but also accepts himself for his flaws. He hugs the ugly part of himself and shows it to us in all its glory. MBDTF was an ambitious attempt that could have gone horribly wrong but did everything perfectly. Even the features were absolute juggernauts, such as Nicki Minaj on Monster, Rick Ross on Devil in a New Dress and Rihanna on All of the Lights. Kanye presents himself as an open book in an attempt to make amends, making a grand return to hip-hop that most can’t even dream of.