With Yeezy season fast approaching, all of the hype, fashion statements, and mystery album titles can be put on hold just one moment longer as Durbanboys reflects on Kanye West’s storied career. Let us take a look back at West’s greatest landmark tracks on record, from the catchy, to the somber, to the straight up fire. This list is just personal opinion as always, but above all, it’s HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, and STRONGER than any other compilation…one of the best lists of ALL TIME! *shrugs*
20. Hey Mama (Late Registration)
Try a little tenderness. “Hey Mama” is a staple of Kanye’s discography, simultaneously checking off a media-skewed imaginary checklist. It exemplifies his talents as an emcee/producer/singer, but also dispels the notion that he is an arrogant, self-centered ass, tugs my fragile emotions, and works an older song in his library (first conceived in 2000) into a glorious final product as seen on Late Registration.
19. No Church In The Wild (Watch The Throne)
Boasting a passable Jay-Z verse and a suave Frank Ocean warcry, Watch The Throne has sights set high on opening anthem “No Church In The Wild”. I won’t speak on the rest of the album, but nonetheless, Yeezy establishes his reign. He is a hip-hop God figure of sorts, and with Jigga as his other half, perhaps it’s more apt to christen him as the true superior looking forward. Kanye has surpassed his former Sensei, the one who gave him the light of day many years ago. What’s a Sith to the new Master?
18. We Don’t Care (The College Dropout)
Kanye West’s studio album debut is a fine introduction to the legend about to unfold. Prefaced by Bernie Mac’s comical monologue, the stage is set for the lyricism and themes that define Kanye’s contempt for useless degrees and the traditional flaws of modern education. Whatever anyone else’s path in life, he proves to be a success story of grand proportions, finely tuning in his own brand of drug-dealing pastimes into the mix.
17. Lost In The World (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
The most obvious samples in hip-hop songs generally aren’t nearly as artistically defined as other intricate works of a performer. “Lost In The World” avoids this mold entirely. Bombastic and grandiose in nature, MBDTF hits its glorious apex, all the while flaunting Justin Vernon’s equal genius as the record tailors out with a familiar chorus of chanting voices. Kanye West’s power trip is caressed back down to an earthly fate in his own poetic narrative of a man fighting for survival in America. This may be his best song from a production standpoint.
16. On Sight (Yeezus)
Daft Punk has their fingerprints all over Yeezus, but no more compact and straightforward with electronics than on Kanye West’s intro, “On Sight”. Often the disoriented puzzle of his own indecisiveness, West cranks out an intense opening number, complete with comical one-liners, industrial influenced production, and subtle odes to former references (“I need you right now”). This time, his demeanor and tone mark an angrier, more experimental version of himself than that of the chart topper of yesterday’s accolades.
15. We Major (Late Registration)
This is textbook Kanye West plain and simple, but “We Major” isn’t a simple song. With a seven and a half minute run time, this epic boasts a Really Doe hook, a Nas verse channeling his prime, and Kanye’s ever evolving charm, complete with the feel good horns and drum machines serenely masking the drug-addled lyrics of the song. Perfect for the Sunday morning comedown!
14. Welcome To Heartbreak (808s & Heartbreak)
“Welcome To Heartbreak” marked an important self-discovery in my young adolescence. Like any kid my age in 2008, Kanye was a presence, for better or for worse in different perspectives. Complaints of autotuning one’s voice supposedly diminishes an artist’s credibility and talent in the eyes of dissenters, but songs like this and others on 808s were a little more dense than face value. “Welcome To Heartbreak” is a crippling look into the feelings and agony of a hurting man, seemingly on top of the world from a riches perspective, crumbling on the inside.
13. All Day (All Day)
In retrospect, it’s actually pretty obvious that Kanye had no intention of christening his next album Swish. Why continue the basketball euphemism if you’re going to leave a song like “All Day” off of the record? Not only is it the banger that proves Yeezy can still torch the young bloods of trap, but like always, production is a highlight of the track, all sandwiched by the robotic serenades and Paul McCartney collaboration to conclude this wild ride.
12. Flashing Lights (Graduation)
“Flashing Lights” wasn’t quite the chart topper it was seemingly destined to be bursting into the spotlight as the lead single off of Graduation, but greater minds do label this track as the best one off of the album. Featuring a consistent synth line repeating throughout the song and Kanye’s boastful yet heartbroken rhymes, “Flashing Lights” perhaps set the bar a little too high for Graduation, sitting perched in the middle of the track listing to give listeners a little kick in the booty that he can still turn anything he touches to gold. Shout out, King Midas.
11. Touch The Sky (Late Registration)
Kanye West’s declaration of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” being “one of the best videos of all time” reigns as a dear memory in the hearts of millions, but little did we know that Kanye prefaced this outburst years prior at the expense of Justice. “Touch The Sky”, from the music video, to the “Kanyevel” character, to the Lupe Fiasco feature, to the soulful Curtis Mayfield sample, is an absolute treasure of West’s status as a legend of the new age of hip-hop that was brewing in the mid 2000’s, he being a pioneer of course.
10. Monster (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
When “Monster” arrives on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it has all of the star power present on many of the tracks on the album, but the delivery of one emcee after the other paints it more of a freestyle than anything. Rick Ross opens the floodgates to the waters rushing in of each collaborator at the top of their game. It features its own pseudo “Thriller” aesthetic in frightening execution, and manages to paint everyone on the track in the highest light, great hype especially for budding star Nicki Minaj, having not even released a full length at the time. 50k for a verse and no album out sure seemed telling.
9. Family Business (The College Dropout)
Kanye West’s tender side is showing again on “Family Business”. As The College Dropout simmers down to a mellower state, West takes a brief pause to shout out the influences and experiences that brought him to his current stature. Humbleness is the heart of his success, and he wants everyone to know that despite being a household name and chart topper, there are more important things in life than the riches and the praise. Kanye cares about black people. Kanye cares about people, period.
8. Slow Jams (The College Dropout)
To decipher fans of older Kanye West versus the newer evolution of his sound is to examine a favoritism of his soulful samples versus a larger play field. In the case of “Slow Jams”, Kanye throws out a classic for the R&B aficionados, citing his influences right in the song. Jamie Foxx drops on record with a smooth hook, followed by Twista’s rapid fire spitting to bring the slow jams back up to pace.
7. All of the Lights (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
On this week’s edition of Kanye and friends, Yeezy brings out the full roster for an absolute mammoth in “All of the Lights”, even prefacing with a dramatic violin intro. The diversity on the bill here is astounding, ranging from pop stars of present in Rihanna and Fergie, to those of days past in Elton John. Altogether, Kanye West manages to craft an illustrious masterpiece on the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous.
6. Say You Will (808s & Heartbreaks)
“Mrs. So Fly crash lands in my room”. This is the first track on 808s & Heartbreak, perfectly encapsulating Kanye West’s shift towards a poppier sound; there are 808s and there is heartbreak. It’s as simple as that (notice too how many album openers are on this list). Kanye knows how to set the tone for a record. This six minute intro is a morose outlooks on the ultimate themes of human sadness and coping with moving on from a rocky relationship.
5. Dark Fantasy (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
With textbook production thanks in part to the RZA, “Dark Fantasy” true to form kicks of Kanye’s heralded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Exploring the darker side of fame, West’s raps are bare, cunning, and crafted with a catchy scheme, it surely masks any sense of struggle he was facing in real life. Keep in mind that the record released shortly after his famous Taylor Swift incident. “Dark Fantasy” is quite the rebound.
4. Can’t Tell Me Nothing (Graduation)
The all important IDGAF outcry to dissenters far and wide, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is a brilliant, energetic force on Graduation’s track listing. Not entirely carried away in the sense of self amidst the glory and the awards, Kanye keeps himself grounded in the only way he knows how, self-proclaimed greatness. That’s not without good reason. He’s earned everything that has come his way, and he knows it’s not without a little help. The money should have changed him. He should have forgot where he came from.
3. Heard ‘Em Say (Late Registration)
On paper, Kanye West + Adam Levine sounds like a cash grab record company move to sell as many singles as possible. On record, it happens to yield a classic Kanye West song. The lyrics are conscious of their roots and the dangers and trials of society. Better yet, Levine’s silky falsetto makes for a perfect combination gelling perfectly with the classical piano driving the song forward. “Heard ‘Em Say” doubles too as West’s most artistic music video.
2. Black Skinhead (Yeezus)
Pairing equally abrasive and angry following Yeezus’ opening number “On Sight”, “Black Skinhead” is a reborn Kanye, focusing on new sights moving forward, and pushing boundaries for mainstream hip-hop figures (if not THE biggest). The industrial drums follow a similar Manson-esque direction, and West’s screaming between bars shocks with an eerie zeal, painting Kanye in a new light. His rapping is at an all-time high, transitioning seamlessly between thudding drums to a muddy synth guiding the track into the chorus, if you’d even label it a chorus.
1. Jesus Walks (The College Dropout)
Open your heart. We’re at war with racism, terrorism, but most of all, we’re at war with ourselves. Fresh off of a medical procedure involving him having his mouth wired shut, West shoots out of the gate into our hearts, unleashing an absolute classic. “Jesus Walks” is a product of influence ranging from gospel, to conscious voices in hip-hop from times past, to an all out spitfire emitting from Kanye’s mouth. The message remains true even today. Kanye is playing from the ground up. He’s been given the spotlight, and he is bursting onto the scene with a new message and a new brand of hip-hop that many capitalized on for years to follow. “Jesus Walks” is a trendsetter, setting an example just as the man 2000 years prior did.