Regardless of whether you love Kanye West, hate Kanye West or constantly fluctuate based on whatever his most recent newsworthy situation is, it’s hard to deny the musical brilliance of Kanye West. Few musicians in the last decade have impacted our cultural consciousness the way that Mr. West has. He’s gone from working at the Gap to talking about running for president and has even had two sitting presidents discuss his antics. But the artistic side of the man can’t be forgotten, despite the headlines. Kanye is, simply put, one of the last iconic musicians of our generation—a man who refuses to be defined by terms as simple as “musician” or “producer,” even if he’s one of the best at both.
With West’s newest album Swish supposedly on the way, let’s take a look back at the man, the musician, and the self-proclaimed god Kanye West by ranking the songs from his six solo albums in anticipation of whatever iteration of Kanye we get next.
72. “Drunk and Hot Girls” featuring Mos Def, Graduation
Kanye rarely sounds like he has as little to say as he does in “Drunk and Hot Girls,” an ode to picking up intoxicated girls at clubs, having to put up with their “bullshit,” then getting them pregnant. “Drunk and Hot Girls” feels like a waste of good ideas, with Mos Def trying to add a slight bit of romance and a pretty great Can sample, but the combination of these elements in probably Kanye’s worst and simplest song.
71. “Drive Slow” featuring Paul Wall & GLC, Late Registration
“Drive Slow” starts off as a warning to not attempt to rush life, but through verses by Paul Wall and GLC, the track quickly devolves into bragging about cars. Kanye’s verse uses his childhood friend Marley’s car as a metaphor for moving too fast, but Paul Wall and GLC seem to counterbalance that by showing off their rims, paint jobs and disco ball grills, leaving a mixed message by the end.
70. “Crack Music” featuring The Game, Late Registration”
Another not quite great metaphor, here Kanye compares hip-hop to drugs, which works at first, but falls apart the further “Crack Music” goes on. Kanye says that much the way Reagan attempted to stop the Black Panthers through crack and in return, Kanye and other artists are giving back addictive music. Like what happens so often with Kanye’s ideas, the interesting intent is there, but the delivery of that idea isn’t quite as strong as it should be.
69. “Champion,” Graduation
Usually Kanye is a master of using samples, yet in “Champion,” the use of Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” overwhelms the song, repeating the hook over and over and dragging it into the ground. “Champion” is saved by Kanye’s lyrics, which goes into the expected cockiness and proclaiming of greatness, but then goes into praising his father’s support and Kanye’s attempts to just make the world better for his kids.
68. “Bad News,” 808s & Heartbreak
As a whole, 808s & Heartbreak is Kanye at his most vulnerable and destroyed, trying to find some solace after a relationship has ended. “Bad News,” the weakest track off 808s, has Kanye repeating the recently discovered news of a lover cheating on him, almost as he can’t believe it. Yet, it lacks the depth of his loss of love that the rest of the album is able to convey, becoming repetitive instead, even though the instrumental that concludes the track is quite gorgeous.
67. “Breathe In Breathe Out” featuring Ludacris, The College Dropout
Kanye famously got his start making beats for other rappers and “Breathe In Breathe Out” sounds like it would belong more on a mid-2000’s era Ludacris album than on Kanye’s debut. In his first verse, Kanye says, “always said if I rapped I’d say something significant, but now I’m rapping about money, hoes and rims again.” The College Dropout is at its best when he talks about the former, but unfortunately “Breathe In Breathe Out” is the rare time Kanye raps about the latter.
66. “Never Let Me Down” featuring Jay-Z & J. Ivy, The College Dropout
“Never Let Me Down” marks the first time that Jay-Z and Kanye collaborated on one of West’s albums, and while it should be a landmark track, at this point it’s just sort of a letdown. On Jay’s verse, he brags in order to stay relevant, and Kanye’s verse shows that he’s already one step closer to taking the throne while he’s still in the process of introducing himself to the world. Also having J. Ivy reciting his own poetry in the middle of the song feels very out of place, as his over-enunciation is more obnoxious than it is powerful. Thankfully, Jay and Kanye’s collaborations would only grow stronger from here.
65. “The Glory,” Graduation
Graduation might be Kanye’s least interesting album so far in his career. It’s not bad, but it feels like Kanye sort of tired of the college trilogy theme he started. Kanye’s second verse on “The Glory” has him asking what he’s supposed to do now and the song itself does sound like Kanye spinning his wheels, focusing on the most boring of his topics—his clothes and his possessions. “The Glory” is basically Kanye stating he’s rich and that other people are faking, but he does this by almost acting like the rappers he’s trying to take down.”