This album smashed records and is widely considered to be West’s magnum opus or greatest and most influential work. It is regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time and even is considered one of the best albums of any genre of all time. Billboard and Complex both ranked it as the number one album of the 2010s.
The events that led him to create this work could not have been more influential on the piece. When Kanye took the microphone from America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift, mid-speech at the 2009 VMA Awards show, the world was stunned. Then, President Barack Obama proceeded to call him a “jack-ass”.
The entertainment world shunned him; Roc-A-Fella Records even recommended he leave the country for some time.
Which he did.
And after touring much of Rome and historic Europe, he returned to the States. Well, technically. He went to Hawaii, and for 6 months spent 12 hours in the studio recording music and beats. He brought in some of the hottest names in the music industry, such as Pusha T, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Elton John, Alicia Keys, and even Drake just to sing a chorus.
And then he returned. More motivated and passionate than ever, he released the album that shook the hip-hop culture to the core.
The single All of The Lights became an immediate radio hit as a song talking about the ups and downs of life with an anthem, stadium sound. LeBron James would choose it to be on the NBA2k14 soundtrack. POWER provided a boastful theme song that was Kanye’s acceptance of the impact he has on society and the unmatched amount of power he holds over it.
Monster was an overflowing and angry track with features from Minaj, JAY-Z, and Ross. Ross and West then collaborated on the slow and smooth Devil in a New Dress, which has since been considered one of West’s best songs to date. Hell Of A Life featured heavy electric guitar chords and more confident West bars.
Blame Game was a look at his failed relationships through a glass that we can all see through. With emotional, pain-driven lyrics, he ponders how he can move on before the song ends with a two-minute long Chris Rock sketch that represents a new guy with Kanye’s ex-lover.
But perhaps none are more meaningful than Runaway: a nine-minute toast to “the scumbags” as he so eloquently puts it. This song is the most retrospective on the album, and also arguably in his career. He acknowledges his mistakes, that he isn’t the ‘good guy’ and also that he isn’t the perfect role model. He apologizes for his mistakes to no one in particular, but, as I theorize, he apologizes to fame for being cruel and taking his throne for granted. And while that is not the response many people were hoping to find, it is what he needed to say. It reinserted him into the limelight with an album so good that everyone would have to listen, or at least acknowledge his greatness. He put himself in a hole, but he built and lifted himself even higher than before all the while accepting a villain role in society. He was no longer the sweet Kanye in the pink polos.
He was the villain. The antagonist. And that is a beautiful change that he executed without complaint. A little dark and twisted. But still beautiful.