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Few public figures have been as polarizing as Kanye West. Except, polarizing isn’t a strong enough word. The producer-turned-rapper is a living dichotomy. From homegrown Chicago churchgoer to ultimate egomaniac (even calling himself a messiah of sorts) to self-proclaimed sinner burdened by demons to gospel choir director. Kanye is all over the place. And I haven’t even gotten into his numerous public outbursts. But I’m not here to talk about Kanye’s 10 craziest statements on live TV; I’m here to talk about his music. And musically, he’s a genius. So here are the best Kanye albums ranked from good to great.
Kanye West Albums Ranked
11. Yeezus (2013)
Coming at a weird gap in Kanye’s career, Yeezus is experimental and rocky.
Experimental. This word could describe any of Kanye’s albums, but Yeezus is especially so. It’s the boldest, if not the strongest, of his records. Still, the album would pave the way for the next generation of rappers, which you can especially hear on Blood on the Leaves.
Some critics were enthralled by the sound of Yeezus, with the project even receiving a nod for best rap album and the admiration of Lou Reed shortly before his passing. Yet, with a discography as impressive as Kanye’s, even these accolades aren’t enough to boost it above 11th out of 11. That said, there are still some fresh beats and transformed guitar riffs worth listening to, as well as some solid lines from Ye, as always.
- Blood on the Leaves
10. Kids See Ghosts (2018, with Kid Cudi)
The duo proved to be a tasteful collaboration, but their greatest albums have come each from their own minds.
The Kanye West / Kid Cudi partnership began in 2008 when Kanye recruited the up-and-coming Cudi to be on his GOOD Music record label. This album, while at times depressing, is never repressing. It flows freely with the thoughts and emotions of two artists who have gone through mental health issues and remain the icons they’ve worked so hard to become.
With a runtime of 24 minutes, Kids See Ghosts barely feels like an album, and you can hear some of the rushed touch Kanye usually conceals. Throughout the album, it’s Cudi’s hums that give the album a feeling like daydreaming in space, most evident on Fire and Reborn. In 4th Dimension, the twisted Louis Prima sample and shrieks seem to be the ghosts the title alludes to. Even among the company of ghouls Kanye’s clever wit is present.
Might need an intervention for this new dimension4th Dimension
That’s too new to mention, or fit in a sentence
If I get locked up, I won’t finish the sent—
Kids See Ghosts brings together a mentor and mentee who always make magic when they pair up, and this album is no exception. But it pales in comparison to the rest of their body of work together.
- 4th Dimension
9. ye (2018)
ye is a reminder that new Kanye will never be old Kanye, but he will always be Kanye.
ye came out exactly one week before Kids See Ghosts, and what’s even more astounding is that Kanye produced three more albums, all five of which dropped within a single month. Kanye has always been busy, but he was scrambling during the infamous Wyoming Sessions.
I got the mind state to take us past the stratosphereWouldn’t Leave
I use the same attitude that done got us here
The track Ghost Town finds unparalleled freedom in a future hope surrounded by rock guitar and shrill organ, ultimately powered by high-flown vocals from 070 Shake.
In the end, ye was one of the stronger projects to come out of the Wyoming Sessions. Its sincerity, stellar production, and use of guests make up for the sometimes incomplete feel of the album. It may lack the Kanye-like intensity his albums usually have, but it isn’t counterfeit Kanye by any means.
- All Mine
- Wouldn’t Leave
- No Mistakes
- Ghost Town
8. Jesus Is King (2019)
Gospel choirs sing the praises of a different King on this heavenly album as Kanye searches for that Ultralight Beam he was once on.
To many, it seemed off-base for Kanye to drop the sinner persona in place of the saint. Yet, taking a deeper look into Kanye’s discography, one finds gospel influences have been present in his music since College Dropout.
What emerged after a troubled promotion was a gospel choir-backed rap album. Lyrically underwhelming, but sonically fascinating. Many elements motivate each track, while the theme remains the same. The drums on Selah propel the track forward and heavenward. Traditional 808s styles sit in the background of Follow God and On God.
In Use This Gospel, Kanye brings the rap duo Clipse, made up of Pusha T and No Malice, back together for the first time in nearly a decade. This is the kind of thing Kanye does. If this wasn’t enough, No Malice’s passionate verse comes right before a Kenny G saxophone solo.
A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged thoseUse This Gospel
And in my arrogance, took a camera pose
Caught with a trunk of Barry Manilows
They sing a different tune when the slammer close
Overall, Jesus is King shot for the stars and landed among the clouds. An album with a beautiful choral sound that we’ve heard hints at in past albums. One that opens up a new genre to play around in for Kanye.
- Follow God
- On God
- Use This Gospel
7. The Life of Pablo (2016)
Eccentricity is in high demand these days, and Kanye is ever the supplier on this groovy rap album.
Welcome to a new era of Kanye. Following Yeezus, The Life of Pablo was a return to vintage Kanye. Toeing the line between unadulterated egoism and sincere gospel from track to track, The Life of Pablo brings the bars and pulsating excitement of a classic Kanye album. While the brash lyricism of Life of Pablo alone isn’t enough to carry the album, it’s supported by powerful percussion and an impressive production team.
The album is one of Kanye’s most epic, like a monument built unto himself, with anthems like Waves and Ultralight Beam as its foundation. Chance the Rapper’s verse hammers it home in ULB.
You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in brailleUltralight Beam
Tubman of the underground, come and follow the trail
I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to Hell
I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail
The album is simultaneously serious and silly, likely as Kanye intended. Amidst the anarchy, a great album was born in a tumultuous time.
- Ultralight Beam
- Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1
6. Watch the Throne (2011, with Jay-Z)
For a reminder of who runs the rap game, look no further: a collaboration to be performed in colosseums.
What can be said about a collaboration from two of the greatest rappers and hip hop producers of all time? It delivered. The whole concept of the album was that Kanye and Jay-Z are on a playing field of their own: untouchable. Every song drives into this icon status, this higher thinking, and it’s a majestic piece that should be in the Louvre.
No Church In The Wild features a dulcet Frank Ocean chorus, a sinister beat, a bridge by The-Dream, and fiery verses from Ye and Jay. That and the well-known Ni**as in Paris will have you ready to run a marathon or watch Blades of Glory, which it samples.
Kanye comments on the classic coming of age flick before Jay chimes in on Gotta Have It:
Who gon’ act phony, or who gon’ try to embarrass ya?Gotta Have It
I’ma need a day off, I think I’ll call Ferris up
Bueller had a Mueller, but I switched it for a Mille
When it comes to rap duos, it’s safe to say this short-lived one is going to be up near the top for a long time to come. Regarding everyone else, all they can do, is simply watch the throne.
- No Church in the Wild
- Lift Off
- Ni**as in Paris
- Gotta Have It
- Murder to Excellence
- Made in America
5. Late Registration (2005)
A sophomore effort that did quite well in its attempt to live up to the hype of a collection of pure hits for a debut.
By his sophomore album, having started to experience fame to a greater degree after the release of College Dropout, Kanye has seen both the positive and negative outcomes from the lifestyle. The album is a clearly-spoken word to the world through the newer medium of alternative hip hop. Late Registration, more than its predecessor, is a portrait of a Kanye unclouded by all the chaos that would ensue.
Hey Mama is his beautiful homage to his mother and the struggle of raising her son in dire circumstances. Ye and Lupe Fiasco teamed up for Touch The Sky, speaking to the progress Kanye has already seen and the limitlessness of his success.
I gotta testifyTouch The Sky
Come up in the spot lookin’ extra fly
‘Fore the day I die, I’ma touch the sky
Gold Digger interpolates Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman” with some help from Jamie Foxx, combining for witty a track bound to be played over the airwaves for years to come.
Late seems to capture the tone and rhythm of this album.
If I can catch the beat then slow down the tempoLate
Just throw this at the end if I’m too late for the intro
Late Registration is in simple terms, undisturbed. It’s the most chill Kanye album, best listened to on a late night drive. Just make sure to drive slow, homie.
- Heard ‘Em Say
- Touch the Sky
- Gold Digger
- Diamonds from Sierra Leone
4. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye explores his pain through the instruments of autotune and a wild imagination in this boundary pusher.
When Paul McCartney first met Kanye at the European MTV Awards, the former Beatle was going through a rough divorce. Kanye pulled out his phone and they listened to some of the unreleased 808s & Heartbreak together and shared a moment.
This album is the first time Kanye actively tries to relate to his audience. It’s with a longing he’s mourning because of the loss of his mother and a breakup with his fiancé. Welcome to Heartbreak and Heartless set the tone for the project. You can hear the hurt and pain behind it in Coldest Winter:
Memories made in the coldest winterColdest Winter
Goodbye my friend, will I ever love again?
Many, including Ye himself, classify 808s as a pop album, and it’s hard not to hear it. He had previously worked with T-Pain on Graduation and took it upon himself to master autotune, which he does throughout the album.
The result of the project was almost a new genre entirely. I need to be in a certain mood to listen to 808s & Heartbreak, but when I am, there’s really nothing comparable. And it’s cheaper than therapy.
- Welcome to Heartbreak
- Street Lights
- Coldest Winter
3. Graduation (2007)
Notably mellower, yet not lacking in heat, Kanye’s third album has a high position in his progression.
In his widely acclaimed third album and common fan favorite, Kanye brings the heat. The legend of the album began with beating 50 Cent in the highly publicized album sales competition when Graduation and 50’s Curtis dropped on the same day. Kanye had just come off touring with rock band U2, and playing stadiums seemed to put him in the mindset to create music meant to be performed on the largest possible stages.
Good Life is one of those feelin’ fly tracks to crank on a Friday after work, or any day of the week if you’re Kanye West. On Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Kanye reflects on his growing hubris and how he’s handled it up this point:
I feel the pressure, under more scrutinyCan’t Tell Me Nothing
And what I do? Act more stupidly
Bought more jewelry, more Louis V
My mama couldn’t get through to me
Kanye tells us just how easy it is to make hits in Barry Bonds, but history told us Barry cheated and Kanye worked his ass off as the primary artist, writer, producer, and executive producer on this album. Flashing Lights is self-explanatory and predictable, but he manages to spit bars nonetheless:
In my past, you on the other side of the glassFlashing Lights
Of my memory’s museum
I’m just sayin’, hey, Mona Lisa
Come home, you know you can’t roam without Caesar
This album was right in that rare space of having reached super stardom but before the tortured genius stage that we see on 808s.
- Good Life
- Can’t Tell Me Nothing
- Flashing Lights
- Everything I Am
- The Glory
2. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
MBDTF has a wide array of tracks from thrilling and fantastic to frightening and flagrant.
This album encapsulates many of the things Kanye has rapped about in his career into one work. It does so in an sinister way that leads one to be concerned for and enthralled by Kanye West. MBDTF (worthy of an acronym) combines the previous four albums for a Kanye concoction that won’t soon be forgotten.
I believe each of the five words that make up the title of this album particularly correspond to a certain track, so here they are.
“My” – POWER: Kanye supposedly worked 5,000 hours on this one record that could be considered a masterpiece. It’s not just about him, it’s 100% his.
“Beautiful” – All of the Lights: While the theme is situationally quite ugly and sad, it’s the inspirational, phoenix-like rise this track brings out that makes you want to silence all of your haters (if you have any):
Turn up the lights in here, babyAll of the Lights
Extra bright, I want y’all to see this
“Dark” – Dark Fantasy: Makes sense. This song touches on sins committed with devilish imagery.
“Twisted” – Gorgeous: Documents the justice system’s warped treatment of black people.
“Fantasy” – Hell Of A Life: The dirty dance of the night, shameless and raw.
The orchestra in All of the Lights alludes to a truth: Kanye is a composer and conductor, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is nearly his magnum opus.
- Dark Fantasy
- All of the Lights
- Blame Game
- Lost in the World
1. The College Dropout (2004)
The pinnacle of Kanye’s career came at the beginning, and it was game changing. But it’s hardly been a decline since.
Yes, his first was his best. Keep in mind, Kanye spent four years recording this album, having been producing and writing for six prior to its release. It’s the freshest, most impressive Kanye album. The College Dropout is the first introduction of the higher education theme, which was carried through Late Registration and Graduation. Every sample, every drum hit, every note on this album feels like it’s in the right place.
In Through The Wire, Kanye had literally just come out of a near-fatal car accident resulting in a fractured jaw that had to be wired shut. He raps with his mouth still wired shut. You can hear his muffled tone on the track.
Spaceship hits the vein of the possibilities beyond the stars but within reach. New Workout Plan is one of the funnier tracks on the album, with that distinctly Kanye sense of humor:
(AH!) What’s scary to me isNew Workout Plan
Henny makes girls look like Halle Berry to me
I could tell you that Rolling Stone ranked this album the 19th best debut album of all time. I could tell you that it changed ushered in a new era of rap and hip hop. I could tell you College Dropout made popular the chipmunk soul style, effectively changing the landscape of R&B and hip hop. But I’d rather let the music speak for itself.
Your “Best of Kanye West” playlist must include several tracks from The College Dropout. The education theme was ingenious because, while Kanye has received multiple honorary degrees, he never graduated from college. Yet, he’s been schooling rappers since ’04.
- We Don’t Care
- All Falls Down
- Jesus Walks
- Never Let Me Down
- Get Em High
- Slow Jamz
- Breathe In Breathe Out
- School Spirit
- Two Words
- Through the Wire
- Family Business