Kanye West has been a hot topic in pop culture news lately due to his absurd comments and controversies. After he announced an album then pushed back the date after the album was already supposed to be released, I decided to prep for the new release by ranking all of his albums so far.
Quite arguably Kanye’s most divisive album. The one album that will separate the hardcore Kanye fans from the lukewarm ones. In Yeezus we find Kanye adopting the title of god and embracing his innermost ego. The album is cold, distorted and heavily influenced by industrial music. Usually Kanye is cutting edge and ahead on musical trends but capturing industrial sound in hip hop had been already done in several big name hip hop projects such as Death Grips, El P and Odd Future. Personally I believe some of the musical ideas on this album came across really well. My personal favorite music moments include the surprise soul sample in “On Sight”, Frank Ocean’s epic outro on “New Slaves”, the electric guitar in “Hold My Liquor” and the drop in “Blood on the Leaves”. But a lot of these great moments are surrounded by a lackluster effort on Kanye’s part and production that isn’t all that interesting. Kanye’s delivery often doesn’t match the hardcore tone of the production and his cadence doesn’t blend well. Kanye’s lyrics also lack lyrical prowess and there isn’t much cleverness behind the meaning of his verses. Also with a short 10 song album you would expect that there would be misfires. There are several songs here that definitely be cut out to make a really nice Yeezus EP.
#7 The Life of Pablo
A huge proponent for the streaming revolution in the music industry, The Life of Pablo was a musical experiment in the least conventional way possible. Originally only released through Jay-Z’s streaming service, Tidal, “The Life of Pablo” went through several changes even after it was released. Kanye added featured artists mixed things differently and changed the album when it was already out. This idea of an ever-evolving piece is a good way to musically look at “The Life of Pablo”. There isn’t one consistent tone throughout the entire album. Instead, it is a culmination of a lot of the sounds Kanye has explored throughout his years as a producer. There is gospel-flavored tracks, experimental tracks, and everything in between. We even see Kanye lyrically explore his different styles throughout the years. In “No More Parties in LA” we get a focused and tight flow from Kanye to match Kendrick Lamar on the track. Then in Freestyle 4, we get that super simple ready to attack Kanye flow from Yeezus. Some of the best moments we get from this album is Chance the Rapper’s (quite possibly verse of the year) verse on “Ultralight Beams”, the obscure reggae sample on Famous, Kanye’s emotional outpour in “Real Friends”, and the hazy sample in “30 Hours”. Again it feels like there is a lot of extra fat that could be cut off to make this a super tight release that would challenge the conventional idea of how we should treat albums in the modern day.
#6 808s & Heartbreaks
Kanye had one of the most respected album runs in hip-hop at the time, with the dropout bear trilogy. But several personal events would cause Kanye to take a total departure from the sounds he was known for and explore something completely different. 808s feels more akin to an R&B album than a hip-hop album. With its auto-tune melody centric songs synthesized drums it became another dividing album among Kanye fans. A lot of the themes here are centered around loss and separation, making it a very moody album. Some highlights include the strings section in “Robocop” that back up Kanye’s “You’re just an LA girl”, when the vocal backup comes on in “Street Lights”, Cudi’s and Mr. Hudson’s feature, and the sad sweet catchiness of “Heartless”. A lot of the riskiness of this album pays off and most still holds up today. There are some not so great moments, such as Lil Wayne’s verse on “See You in my Nightmares” and “Bad News” is just all around forgettable. But there is enough to salvage here that, if you are ever going through a breakup or anything remotely sad just hit up 808s & Heartbreaks.
The conclusion to the dropout bear era definitely goes out with a bang. Kanye had already sealed himself as a hip-hop icon with his first two albums, but in Graduation, he was looking to seal himself as a pop icon. A lot of the sounds in this record are aiming for a big stadium feel, things to get a massive crowd fired up. Some highlights include the hype behind “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, great use of Steely Dan in Champion, the super chill DJ Premier beat on Everything I Am and the sentimentality of Kanye towards Jay Z on “Big Brother”. Overall it is not a real adventurous album and whenever Kanye does veer off from a mainstream sound (I’m looking at you “Drunk and Hot Girls”) then the product isn’t the prettiest. There is a lot of things that sparkle and shine here and it is a fitting epic ending for the first era of Kanye West.