Kanye West: A Definitive Ranking

Here at UTM, we’re bloody sick of seeing deeply inaccurate Kanye rankings, ones in which his initial trilogy of albums are seen as sacred and placed above his extraordinary latter work. We’re all big Kanye fans here, so we came together and collectively disagreed on which album is number 1. After we ran the numbers through our highly complex system, we’ve put together the DEFINITIVE ranking of Kanye’s eight studio albums (FOH Cruel Summer, you’re a compilation).

8. Late Registration

The truth is, there are no bad Kanye albums, but Late Registration feels like it has the least to offer. It’s the only album where he’s failed to completely reinvent himself, taking the chipmunk soul from the superior College Dropout and giving it a mainstream polish. It’s also completely defined by its iconic run of singles that stand out amongst the bloated track list. There are still amazing deep cuts on offer though, the sentimental ‘Hey Mama’ is unfailingly touching given events that followed and ‘Drive Slow’ remains as one of his smoothest productions. Overall, it’s the Kanye album that feels the least worth revisiting.

7. Watch The Throne

As a victory lap for Jay Z, who was coming off an iconic slew of singles from his 3rd Blueprint record, and Kanye, who reinstated his place as raps most beloved mastermind with MBDTF, Watch The Throne’s spends much of its runtime delivering awe inspiring knockbacks. Surprisingly, for a stalwart that oozes wisdom and a volatile game changer, the record somehow finds a middle group where the two can exist – with the lyrical back and forth being defined by the duos common traits – fame and wealth. It’s a compelling listen, but is held back a little by restricting Kanye to sharing a space with one of raps heavyweight personalities.

6. College Dropout

It’s the old Kanye, the chop up the soul Kanye. College Dropout is a stunning first entry to an artist catalogue, one that looks as the hard man braggadocio of the time and says nah – instead trading that for sensitive yet iconic pitch-shifted soul sampling. Tracks like the captivating swing of ‘Spaceships’ and the life affirming drama of ‘Never Let Me Down’ are equally sweet and sincere, a Kanye we’ve rarely seen since.

‘Jesus Walks’ was initially laughed out the room by industry types at the time, but it’s potent vocal sample march, high-art/dumb lyricism duality and tortured personality serves as the blueprint to the Kanye we all love today, which just proves that College Dropout is an essential record to the Kanye cannon.

5. Graduation

Without Graduation, the fundamental elements for each of the following rappers simply don’t exist: Drake, Nicki Minaj, Future, Childish Gambino, Wiz Khalifa, Kid Cudi, Chance The Rapper, Big Sean, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty and pretty much every other successful modern rap artist who isn’t on some lyrical spiritual miracle shit.

Graduation changed the sonic foundation of hip-hop from boom bap, sample-heavy beats to 808s and synthesizers, and its feel-good anthemic vibes still resonate throughout roughly half of the new releases today. The other half owe their debt to yet another Kanye release which is yet to rear its head on this list, so like, keep reading on.

4. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The context surrounding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is legendary as Kanye exiled himself to Hawaii to combat (unfair) critical negativity and (unfair) public distaste to delivered what is unanimously called a masterpiece. This is Kanye as his most opulent with the maximalist production backing a meditative Kanye, whose focus on his chaotic relationship with popular culture is his lyricism at its most gripping.

Kanye brings both the best and worst out of his staked features list, sure on ‘Monster’ Jay Z namechecking horror villains is beyond corny, but Nicki Minaj’s motormouth energy remains an iconic talking point today, ‘So Appalled’ sees RZA do a disservice to himself with a painful yell, but CyHi the Prynce sits alongside these legends with a biting, smart verse.

‘Lost In The World’ deserves a special shoutout too, it’s the pinnacle of Kanye and Bon Iver’s working relationship (these sweet vocals) and proves to be one of the most sincere moments on an otherwise excessive album. Both the great and awful parts of MBDTF still contribute to the album’s legend, making it one of his most dissectible and debatable albums years on.

3. The Life of Pablo

As with anything Kanye does, you have mass hysteria to follow. That remained pretty much the same upon TLOP’s release, from those who absolutely loved the album, to those who hated it (and Kanye), as well as those wanting to open a dialogue about why the album/kanye are ‘problematic’.  I did not entertain anything negative, because ‘I love Kanye’.

As far as the music is concerned, the main criticism aimed at Kanye was for producing an ‘incoherent’ and ‘unfinished’ album. Although for some, (notably me) this was not the case. TLOP for me, felt like a post-modern take of what hip hop could sound like, in an internet era of uncertainty and contrasting identities. This is summed up perfectly by some interestingly bizarre moments in ‘Feedback’, ‘Freestyle 4’, and a complete change up at the end of ‘FML’.

To top it off, there are a lot of quotable verses, some of them ranging from either gross to just plain misogynistic, or sometimes both (That line at the beginning of ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’ comes to mind). Kanye actually manages to deliver these sorts of lines in a way to make them sound charming, adding to my overall sense of internal conflict when repeating ,“Whip out. Bitch out. Tits out. Oh Shit”.

2. 808s and Heartbreaks

The great thing about arguing with someone who hates Kanye West is that you’ll always have a un-counterable trap card up your sleeve: 808s & Heartbreaks.

For whatever reason anyone might have to hate Kanye (usual suspects being “loud” and “proud,” but both can be interpreted as “I don’t like when people who aren’t white do this”), 808s undeniably changed the game.

In 2008, the likes of T.I and Lil Wayne were running the show with digestible, outwardly active tracks, but Kanye suffered a series of misfortunes and subsequently made the exact opposite: an incredibly introspective, self-analytical album.

It wasn’t necessarily rap, but due to his stature and reputation gained from his 3 previous albums, the rap world stood and watched in awe as Kanye showed them that expressing emotion was okay.

Such a big step forward undoubtedly informed the careers of many that followed in the wake of 808s – Drake, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino and Frank Ocean to name a few – and all wear their 808s influence with pride.

So the next time someone says Kanye is an egomaniac, you can tell them he has every right to be – he literally reinvented a whole genre.

1. Yeezus

Yeezus is fucking wild. Almost every album Kanye’s released has had a profound impact on hip-hop, and we’re still feeling the aftershocks of Yeezus years later. It’s been over four years since it arrived, and yet it remains every bit as insane, inspired and bizarre as it did the day it first dropped.  This is the jolt of life the world of rap needed, proving once again that Kanye West is the biggest rockstar in the world.

Absurd one moment, striking and moving the next,  Yeezus might be the most important major label rap release of the past decade. But hey, if you disagree, maybe you just need time. Like Hannibal Burress joked, “I’m not a good first fuck. It takes some time. My dick gotta grow on you like the Yeezus album.”

Nathan Butler, Connor Cass, Mark Palmer, Joshua Pauley & Joe Price

 

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