Over the past 14 years of his career, no name has been as controversial or as influential as Kanye West. From stealing mics to redefining genres, Kanye has always found a way to make headlines. After 21 Grammy’s and 58 platinum certifications, Kanye has earned the status of a legend in the rap world. Today, we sit down and give the definitive ranking of Yeezy’s albums.
7. The Life of Pablo
After going quiet on the music world for three years, Kanye came back in the most Kanye way possible. Promising the album would be dropping “soon” for over a year, The Life of Pablo finally released in February 2016 and shut the world down. The reason Pablo takes the last spot on our list is because this success can be credited more to Kanye’s status as a cultural icon than his artistry on the work. Tracks like “Famous,” “Facts,” and “I Love Kanye” feel more like viral placements to create twitter interactions than original Ye tracks. Lacking a consistent flow or general sound, the album jumps from slow contemplative pieces like “Ultralight Beam” to party hits like “Father Stretch My Hands,” but it works. This being said, it’s hard to deny the beauty and innovation behind tracks such as “Ultralight Beam” and “Waves” as some of the veteran’s best songs. Showing where Kanye’s mind is at after years under a constantly beaming spotlight, The Life of Pablo may not be fully complete, but it is still a tremendous showcase of a legend past his prime.
West’s most experimental album by far falls to six on our list for a number of reasons. While a work of production genius from a group of the finest today’s music industry has to offer, no one knew how to take the album when it released, and many still don’t. Mixing genres that were previously seen as untouchable for rappers, especially of Kanye’s magnitude, Yeezus was ambitious beyond anything released at the time. Despite this complexity, it’s influence can already be seen today. Albums like “Rodeo” by Travis Scott and even “Blonde” by Frank Ocean would not be the genius they are without the foundation set by the production of Yeezus. While it may be toward the bottom now, it would be very surprising if it doesn’t fall near the top by the end of Kanye’s career.
5. 808’s and Heartbreaks
Possibly the most pivotal album of Kanye’s already storied career comes in at number 5. Before Yeezus broke music barriers, it was 808’s and Heartbreaks that defined Kanye as one of the most boundary pushing artists of this generation. After losing his mother and ending an engagement with his long time fiancée, West was more broken than ever. Instead of running away from his new found stardom or continuing to make chart topping singles, Kanye choose to show the world just how vulnerable he was. From the intensity of Love Lockdown to the beautiful simplicity of Say You Will, Kanye showed that that he was much more than a pop star. Before Drake made millions on rapping about his feelings, there was Kanye creating new styles of production while deeper into his struggles than of the albums many copycats.
4. Late Registration
After breaking out to the world with one of the best albums of the decade, Kanye returned only a year later with Late Registration, and cemented his status as a serious player in the music world. While not an ambitious project compared to the majority of West’s work, Late Registration is still a beautifully put together piece, showing us who Kanye was and who he would become. From teasing his turn toward pop that would come later with the Adam Levine featured “Heard ‘Em Say” to putting Jay-Z and Nas on consecutive tracks at the height of their feud, West shows the team building skills that would go on to make the huge success of G.O.O.D. Music for the first time. After impressing again with all of these tracks, Kanye then shows that he’s not afraid to talk about his feelings on the beautiful and touching song “Hey Mama.” Featuring hilarious skits to guide you through the lengthy project, Late Registration showed us then and now just how enigmatic and influential Kanye really is.
The album that defined Kanye as the biggest musical act of this generation comes in at number three. Embracing pop sounds for the first time, Graduation was Kanye’s first complete domination of the charts. After beating 50 Cent in a highly publicized battle for number one album, Kanye’s reputation couldn’t be any higher. While many view this album simply as Kanye’s pop venture, it rarely gets the credit it deserves as some of his best artistry. Grabbing T-Pain and Chris Martin for songs does point toward a sales based mentality, but songs like Good Morning and Everything I Am show that Kanye can still hold down real songs while owning the charts. Featuring his highest charting song to date with Stronger, Kanye finds a way to make even his singles stand out as some of his most complex and well produced songs. From I Wonder to Flashing Lights he owns the contemplative pop piece like no one else. Closing out his College themed trilogy, the album is a beautiful mix of what we knew Kanye as at the time, and what he would become.
2. The College Dropout
With his debut album Kanye ushered in a new sound for hip hop. Eminem and 50 Cent’s hard hitting aggressive rap now had a new competitor. While Kanye had been making beats for some of the biggest names in the game for years before the album debuted, nothing compares to the sample heavy sound of The College Dropout. Slowing things down and bringing the focus back to rap, it is hard to find any album that came out this year that hasn’t taken a note from this project. Lyrically, The College Dropout is by far Kanye’s best work. From We Don’t Care to Jesus Walks Kanye came out the gate bolder than anyone had before. Not afraid to talk about anything he felt was important, whether it was Jesus or racism, no one could slow him down. It seems almost redundant to talk about just how influential the album was almost immediately. The idea alone of glorifying the life of a college dropout, and to do it so well was something the world had never seen and we’re so happy it did.
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
No album truly showed us the depths of the mind of this generation’s most influential artist like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Coming in the fourth quarter of 2010, Kanye was at the height of his career. His last two albums, Graduation and 808’s And Heartbreaks, had established him as both the world’s biggest star and most innovative artists. Blending both in one album, MBDTF is West’s magnum opus of emotion. Starting with the soaring vocals and fast paced production that lace Dark Fantasy, Power, and All Of The Lights Kanye gives us a look at superstardom from his perspective. While never outright criticizing or giving disapproval to the lifestyle, Kanye places an undertone of sadness in each track. While listening, you can’t help but realize how trapped West feels. As the album moves forward, we delve deeper and deeper into his psyche. By the time Devil In A New Dress and of course Runaway come on, Kanye has hit us full force with his darkest and most personal issues. While some claim the album is scattered and has no real direction, this is exactly the point. The album shows us what the world has done to the mind of one of it’s most talented artists, jumping from party anthems to peak emotional instability in a matter of minutes. He is no longer the focused mind behind The College Dropout, but a highly unstable and sporadic example of who we all are. Showing the greatest heights and the darkest lows, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is masterpiece of human frailty and the greatest example of why the world will always need a Kanye West.