Kanye West Albums Ranked

This essay was written before the release of Yeezus (2013). It will be updated… sometime. I will say this: I like Yeezus. It will probably rank at four or five.

Before Kanye West was an ostentatious superstar, he was a bright, conscious, and endearing rapper. Before that, he was a producer for Jay-Z, Nas, Talib Kweli, and all your other favorite rappers. Of course, Kanye is still active in and outside of the booth, but he’s often passed off as a moronic jerk with thoughtless, over-produced music devoid of the elements of good hip-hop. Sure, his latest collaborative efforts favor a mainstream sound over the lighthearted but wholesome sound characteristic of his early work, but his solo career to date is worth respect and attention. Even as he grows out of that distinctive early sound, his mature works prove his versatility as he successfully executes different methods of delivery and composition. Except for 808s & Heartbreak, that album sucks. Which makes this album ranking particularly complicated—four out of five Kanye West albums are great; the other is abominable.1. Late Registration (2005)

People always rant and rave about the purity of Kanye’s debut The College Dropout, but I wonder: have they even given its follow-up a proper listen? Amidst the College Dropout hype, people have overlooked Late Registration. It is everything College Dropout is but more: soulful samples turned chiming hooks, sharp and amusing lyrics packed with double entendres and creative rhyme schemes, and the introspection of a defiant young intellectual. With Late Registration, Kanye hones the approach he initiated in the debut. Don’t believe me? Have some friends over and put on “Celebration.” Blast “Hey Mama” and “Roses” when you’re feeling emotional; play “Drive Slow” when you’re feeling like a boss. And dissect the lyrics to “Gone” if you feel like discovering true genius.

2. The College Dropout (2004)

How do you enter the rap-game successfully and with critical acclaim? Listen to “Last Call,” Kanye will tell you how.

3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye West’s magnum opus. If it’s such a masterpiece, how can it be ranked three and not one in an albums-ranked list? This is a list ranking the albums of a hip-hop artist; College Dropout and Late Registration are hip-hip albums. Fantasy is not an album of hip-hop, it’s an album of music. Whereas College Dropout and Late Registration are comprised of tracks, Fantasy is comprised of songs—elaborate, textured, grandiose songs. The focus is less on how Kanye is saying what he is saying, but what he is saying and how the music he has built around these sentiments help to convey it. It’s a work of art, but in the class of hip-hop—where the focus is (as I see it) the content and delivery of lyrics in correspondence with the selected or created beat—it is behind College Dropout and Late Registration. That said, this record is great. Try putting it on in your car, going for a long drive, and not getting completely absorbed in its themes, sounds, emotions, and general atmosphere.

4. Graduation (2007)

I love Graduation and I hate to put it so low in the list. Like I said, it’s tough to rank albums when there are four that are great and only one that is bad. But, I guess there are reasons why the above three are better. Graduation is a departure from the mood set in the first two records but a preservation of Kanye’s rapping style and charming attitude. If you don’t feel blissfully content listening to “Good Life,” you probably suck; if “Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” don’t hit you with punches of passion and exhilaration, you’re probably a robot. In addition, “Good Morning” is debatably the best opener in the discography, in terms of establishing feel and sound. Unfortunately, “Drunk and Hot Girls” made the cut (sorry Mos). Special shout out to bonus tracks “Goodnight” (thanks Mos) and “Bittersweet Poetry.”

5. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

Ah, Kanye complaining that all he has is a “brand new sports car” in contrast to his friend’s daughter’s “brand new report card” with the auto-tune dial set to five million. This album is stupid.


5 thoughts on “Kanye West Albums Ranked

  1. I think 808s is pretty good…it’s just different. You say MBDTF is an album of “music,” I feel the same way about 808s. I think it has some excellent production; it’s eery, intense, sorrowful.

  2. Well gabe you did a pretty good job describing each album. You nailed MBDTF because it isnt really just a hip hop album, every single person who is on that album is there for a specific reason, because they fit perfectly for the song that they are in. It is a masterpiece of musical genius. That being said, i would still rank it as #3, possibly even #4 behind graduation. As far as your top ranking, you know im going to have to disagree with you. College Dropout is not only his best album, it is one of the top 10 hip hop albums of all time in my humble, well educated opinion. You didnt say much about it in your description, but damn near every song on that album is a classic. “All Falls Down” is my favorite Kanye song, aka his best song, and although Late Registration has its fair share of classics, if you tried to match song for song, College Dropout would win 10 times out of 9. And no, thats not a typo. Plus “Last Call” is easily the best outro ever created. Fact not opinion. But overall, bravo, a job well done. If we were all perfect, we’d all be me.

    • Hahaha. Thanks for the feedback Woodman. “All Falls Down” is the perfect song, and I know how you like to shake your butt to “Family Business.” The albums are very similar, Late Registration just tops it for me. I don’t think anyone could have expected Kanye to match College Dropout, but he did, and it was a banger. To each his own.

      Edit: Song for song is nowhere near a shutout. Late Registration tracks slay it. Heard ’em Say, Touch The Sky, GOLD DIGGER, Drive Slow, Crack Music, Roses, Addiction, DIAMONDS, We Major, Hey Mama, Celebration, Gone. BOOM!

  3. This was an enjoyable read. Funny at times. I agree with your selections, the reasoning is well-stated. Personally, the “College Dropout” and “Late Registration” are deff in the number 1 & 2 spots… could go either way for me.

    Think ‘YE came out with a new album recently, I haven’t listened to it all. Did you get a chance to check it out?

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mike. Much appreciated.

      Yeah, G.O.O.D. Music released a collaboration album, Cruel Summer. I kind of think it’s garbage. Certainly no Watch The Throne! Too much spacey over-production and boring raps. It’s mostly other rappers/producers though.

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