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.
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.