Kanye West’s cryptic tweet from earlier in the week is still being debated. The date could be the arrival of baby KimYe, his new single, or anything in between. Regardless, a new Yeezy album is definitely on the way, if not this summer then certainly by the end of the year. Therefore, it’s only fitting to take some time to put Kanye’s previous efforts in perspective. You’d be hard-pressed to find many rappers who have amassed a stronger five-album catalogue than Mr. West, but even in a sea of great music, there are varying degrees of GOOD.
5) 808s & Heartbreak
Kanye’s genre-bending fourth album is undoubtedly his most polarizing. The loss of his mother put him in a place where he could not simply go in the booth and rap. He had other emotions he needed to convey, be it through singing, tribal drums, or arctic-cold soundscapes. The album’s most telling point comes on “Coldest Winter.” In contrast to the heart-warming “Hey Mama,” this record finds Kanye distraught and angry over the loss of his rock. Though not the album’s highlight, the song encapsulates 808s & Heartbreak perfectly: Kanye was attempting to work through his grief, regardless if it resulted in successful records.
Graduation was the turning point for Kanye. Following two skit-heavy albums, he delivered a succinct 13 tracks. His rhymes were more polished and he was clearly more focused as an MC. The album was also the start of the more experimental Kanye we know today. However, he had a few misses on this album, and on a smaller tracklist, those misses are more noticeable. “Barry Bonds” was nowhere near the lyrical monster one might have thought it would be, as we were clearly on the way out of the Mixtape Weezy era. “Drunk and Hot Girls” not only sounded like the 2am ride-along music for all date rapists, it also broke up the flow of an otherwise very coherent project.
3) College Dropout
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression and Kanye certainly didn’t need one. At the time of College Dropout, he was a producer trying to make a name for himself as a rapper, crafting hit after hit to back up his bravado. College Dropout boasts several iconic Yeezy records, including “Jesus Walks” and “Workout Plan.” The most special thing, however, is the brief glimpses of vulnerability exhibited, like on “Through the Wire.” Kanye proved that he not only had the hit-making ability to get in the door, but that he also had the substance to stay.
2) Late Registration
While most people were quick to predict a sophomore slump for Kanye following a classic debut, he was once again prepared to prove everyone wrong. He showed up as a hungrier, more polished MC and still delivered radio hits, perhaps none bigger than “Gold Digger.” In retrospect, the tracklist is still bloated, especially with 4 skits, an intro, and an interlude. Not to mention Kanye was still getting lapped by big brother’s on the “Diamonds” remix. Nevertheless, Late Registration would prove to be the statement that Kanye West wasn’t going anywhere.
1) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
By 2010, if Kanye West wasn’t public enemy #1 he was living right next door. He had incurred the wrath of every late night talk show, skit show and internet show following Swift-Gate. He was still grieving over losing his mother and he had ended a long relationship with Amber Rose. But, as is true with most artists, his best work comes out of suffering and tribulations: Kanye flew to Hawaii and crafted a masterpiece. With the help of an ensemble cast, we were privy to a darker, hyper-experimental Kanye West. He came across at once lost and right where he wanted to be. MBDTF is far from Yeezy’s biggest success on radio or the charts, but it connected with fans and critics alike. While some supporters still clamored for the return of the sample-loving, backpack-wearing Ye, the realists knew that version was long gone. “Power” was years of packed aggression in 5 minutes of venting. “Runaway” and “Blame Game” showcased that the vulnerability still lived in the man, yet he was growing as a person. “Monster,” “So Appalled” and “Gorgeous” proved that Kanye could rap his ass off in case anyone had forgotten. While MBDTF certainly lacked the radio hits and soul everyone came to expect from a Kanye West album, it replaced those with pain and triumph balled up into a frantic, maniacal opus.
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