An Arbitrary, Occasionally Objective, And Frequently Maddening Ranking Of Every Kanye West Album

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In the 10 years since The College Dropout dropped, Kanye West has gone from a guy whose name I used to pronounce Kay-Knee to arguably my favorite rapper (it’s either him or Ghostface) and inarguably the most important person in music today. He is, at this point in his career, cultural icon, cultural arbiter, cultural thermometer, and Kardashian concubine; a singular zeitgeist whose talent is matched by his talent’s ability to partition.

But which Kanye album is the best?

We know which is the most polarizing (Yeezus), the most universally loved (College Dropout), the most critically acclaimed (MBDTF), and the most likely to be re-released by Drake in 12 years (808s). But, if you had to rank each album (and yes, Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer count) which would be first? Or third? Or even last?

Fortunately, I’m here to ask the tough questions you never thought to ask and provide the gritty answers you never really cared to ask for.

(In reverse order)

8. 808s & Heartbreak 

Having an album rate last on a list insinuates you either hated it or thought it just wasn’t any good. Neither is true with 808s, an album whose biggest crime was it being released a year after Graduation. It was such a contrast from what we expected to — and wanted to — hear from him that it became impossible to objectively assess. So we all collectively decided it sucked. Which is a shame because it paved the way for the “Wait, is he singing or rapping? And, wait. Is that even a song?”-style that’s dominated the last five years of pop culture.

7. Watch the Throne 

Easily the most paradoxical album in Kanye’s career.

To wit, Watch the Throne would have been better if it was a Kanye solo album…but the album’s best track (“Who Gon Stop Me”) is dominated by Jay-Z…but the best line on the song ( “Heard she f*cked the doorman/Well that’s cool I f*cked the waitress“) is Kanye’s.

Also, it’s Kanye’s most expensive sounding album…but it sounded rushed…but each of the bonus tracks were hot…but they sounded like they should have been on a separate album.

6. Graduation 

The most overrated album of Kanye’s career, Graduation is the anti-808s because it’s remembered favorably for effectively ending 50 Cent’s career. Which made it impossible to objectively assess. It’s still a very good album with a couple great songs — “Stronger” and “Flashing Lights” are two of the top 20 songs Kanye’s ever created — but it’s not great, and anyone who believes that needs to get their heads out of Angel Melaku’s ass. 

5. Cruel Summer

I know, I know, I know. It’s more of a crew album than a Kanye album, the four best songs were already heard by everyone months before the album was released, and there’s too much Big Sean — the charter school gym class of rap music. And while I could argue that it doesn’t matter when individual singles were released when assessing a collective album, I’ll concede each of those points.

And, while I’m being all conciliatory, I’ll also admit that it only places this high because of my completely irrational and borderline insane white-hot passionate love for “Higher” and “Sin City.”

4. Late Registration 

While (somewhat) neglected historically, Late Registration may be Kanye’s most important album. Not the best, but the most important. It was the follow-up to The College Dropout, an album that while critically and commercially lauded, still felt gimmicky. It wasn’t Kanye’s rapping that made the album. It was the production, the features, and the concepts behind some of the songs. His actual rapping, though, was more “I guess he’s not that bad” than anything else, and there was still a bit of skepticism over whether he could repeat that success.

And while Late Registration had its flaws, it ultimately proved Kanye needed to be taken seriously as a full-fledged rap artist. It also had a video with Nia Long and Tracie Ellis Ross in it, a shout out to Bougie Black Girls everywhere.

3. The College Dropout 

Although Complex already said everything that needed to be said about this album, I’ll add one more thing:

The five song stretch from “All Falls Down” to “Spaceship” to “Jesus Walks” to “Never Let Me Down” to “Get Em High” is the best five song stretch on any rap album, ever.

2. Yeezus 

One of the reasons why Lebron James remains the most fascinating player in NBA history is that he’s completely impervious to prediction. While he manages to maintain his usual 25-28 points, 6-8 assists, and 6-8 rebounds per game average, when watching him play you have absolutely no idea if you’re going to get “oddly disinterested” Lebron who’ll give you a half-assed 17, 6, and 4 or “vengeance” Lebron who’ll have 30, 8, and 9 by halftime. 

My appreciation for Kanye follows the same thought. If Jay Z or Drake or Rick Ross or Beyonce released a new track at midnight tonight, you’d have an idea of what it was going to sound like before you’d even hear it. You’d have even more of an idea after seeing the title of the song and who was featured on it.

I’ve listened to Kanye for 10 years now — hundreds of Kanye-produced and/or Kanye starred tracks. And I still have no idea what new Kanye tracks (and albums) are going to sound like. None.

No album better exemplifies this imperviousness than Yeezus (our clearest journey into Kanye’s id), and no track better exemplifies this than “Hold My Liquor” — a song that features Chief Keef on the hook, Justin Vernon, a minute-long electric guitar solo, references to “Deepak Chopra” and “skinny bitches with no shoulders”, and also somehow happens to be the most beautifully melancholy song I’ve ever heard. It sounds like something Radiohead would have created if Radiohead was from PG County.

1My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I really wanted to put Yeezus first. Like, really, really, really wanted to. And then I listened to “All Of The Lights” again. When done, I listened to “Gorgeous” again.

And then I remembered that Kanye’s single best song, “Hell of a Life”, was also on this album.

And then I came back to my senses.

—Damon Young (aka The Champ)

***At 12:30 today, join John Legend and other special guests (me included) for #DreamRiseDo – a conversation about why we need more Black men teaching***

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Wrong Is Wrong, Even If You Don’t Like Kanye And Kim

***The Champ’s latest at EBONY reminds not to allow a dislike of Kanye and Kim to dismiss the fact that what (reportedly) happened to them was effed up***

I get the urge to dismiss what reportedly happened to him and his fiancee as some sort of comeuppance. Or a publicity stunt. Or maybe you don’t think it was a form of comeuppance or a publicity stunt, but since you just don’t like Kanye and/or Kim, you heard the news and was amused by it. Maybe you even thought it was funny.

I also get the urge to dismiss Kanye as a hypocrite. I mean, he did create a song called “Niggas in Paris.” And he is attempting to “re-brand” the Confederate flag. And, I mean, he is engaged to a White woman. So if touchy race-related subjects didn’t seem to bother him then, why should he allow a simple “nigger-lover” to bother him now?

But, while I guess I get those urges, if you allow your personal distaste for Kanye and/or Kim to dismiss the fact that what (reportedly) happened to them was very wrong and somehow disregard the fact that their apparent response was a very normal and very human one, you — with all due respect — are stupid.

Actually, let me rephrase that. Perhaps you are not stupid. I’m willing to concede that. But you are acting stupidly. And you are doing a great impression of a stupid person.

There is nothing strange or un-understandable about a man coming to the defense of his woman after she was insulted and physically threatened. And, when you include the racial element — Kim was reportedly called a “nigger-lover” — it becomes even more understandable. Was he right to do that? Maybe. Maybe not. Right “in the moment” and right “from a distance” are two different types of rights. And, as much as we want to theorize or speculate about what they should have done, moments requiring an immediate fight or flight response have a way of overriding logic.

And, speaking of logic, for those who feel like Kanye and Kim’s interracial relationship somehow gives people a pass to hurl racial insults at them, do you realize how unlogical you sound? Do you realize you’re arguing that racial epithets should only hurt people who live a life you’ve deemed racially palatable? That, since Kim Kardashian has a history of dating Black men, it’s somehow ok to call her a nigger-lover?

(Read the rest at EBONY)

Three Quick Thoughts On Kanye, Kim, And Confrontation Contemplation

KIM KARDASHIAN and Kanye West Out Dinner

1. A couple is at a mall. She has a couple stores she wants to visit, and he’s hungry, so they separate for a half hour or so while he goes to the food court. While separated, the woman accidentally bumps into a man while she’s leaving a store. She apologizes, but he calls her a “f*cking bitch.” She confronts him after he says it. (“Wait. What the hell did you just say?”) But, he ignores her and keeps walking. Pissed, she leaves the store. The boyfriend, however, is still at the food court. Or maybe he walked to Macy’s. Wherever he is, he’s not there.

With that in mind, If you’re the woman in this situation, do you tell your man about what happened? If so, do you wait until he comes back to meet you? Or do you go find/text/call him immediately? Or do you do none of the above and just tell mall security?

I posed this scenario to my fiancee last night. Her reply was that she would tell me. But not if it meant I would do something about it. Which manages to make perfect sense and absolutely no sense at the same time.

It’s not her fault that it makes no sense. The scenario is pretty much a lose/lose. I understand her urge to tell me. I also understand that she wouldn’t want me confronting (and potentially fighting) random assholes. This is how people (and by “people” I mean “Black men”) get arrested. And worse.

But at the same time, as a man, you can’t not do anything when someone insults your woman like that. So, even if it’s not her intent, telling the man in that situation is basically forcing a confrontation.

My perspective makes just as little sense. You definitely don’t want your woman to keep something like that from you. But — and I think I speak for most men here — you don’t exactly want to have to confront and potentially fight someone either. Of course, you’ll do it if you have to. But it’s just not something you want to have to do. If anything, this could make you more upset at the asshole, because now you’re thinking “Man, why are you forcing me to f*cking confront your silly ass? I’m a f*cking grown up! I don’t want to do this. She doesn’t want me to do this. And, you definitely don’t want me to do this. But now, I have to do this. F*ck!”

With this in mind, after reading that Kanye West reportedly punched a man who called Kim Kardashian a “nigger lover,” I sympathize with him. Although he wasn’t necessarily right, I’m sympathetic to the position an act like that can put a man in. Most men — yes, Black men too — are not actively looking for fights. In fact, while you don’t cower from physical confrontation, part of making it to a certain age as a Black man is learning how to avoid situations where that’s a possibility. So, even if the “nigger lover” comment (more on that later) didn’t get him upset, when someone makes a comment like that, they’re effectively removing choice from the person the comment was directed towards. Yes, you can still choose to turn the other cheek, but he’s forcing your hand by making you have to consider unfavorable options. And, while that may not be enough to punch someone in the face, I understand.

2. I’ve never been called a “nigger” (at least not to my face), and I feel like I’m missing a valuable rite of Blackness by not experiencing that. Now, I don’t want it to happen — I’m happy to continue with my “nigger”-less life — but I do wonder what would happen if it did. I think I’d be more incredulous than anything (“They still make people who call people niggers? Damn! Who knew?“), but I can also imagine putting on an angry act out of principle. Maybe I wouldn’t start throwing shit at the walls, but there’d be some furniture moving. Well, maybe not some furniture. But my brow would be furrowed like a motherf*cker.

Seriously though, although the Glover skit I linked jokingly alluded to this, there really isn’t a wrong emotional reaction to being called a nigger. If it upsets you, that’s reasonable and understandable. If it doesn’t upset you, that’s also reasonable and understandable. I wouldn’t quite call it a racial Rorschach test, but I do think the reaction to something like that says a lot about how you personally view race and racism.

3. Kim Kardashian is known for dating Black men. She has a child by one, and is engaged to that man. Her popularity is also largely due to the fact that she has certain physical features commonly associated with women of color, Black women specifically.

But, as VSB contributor Maya Francis reiterated in a Facebook status last night, she is not a Black woman.

“As black women, many of us get a lecture and/or figure out on our own there’s some things we best keep to ourselves… because police. As in, I’m not calling my boyfriend/brother/father because someone called me names. You call in the army when you’re ready for war, otherwise, hold your head high and block it out. I’m not saying it’s fair (and this is one of those intersectionality moments), but black women (for right or wrong) don’t often call in for reinforcements as a means to protect the men they love.

So here lies Kimmy’s teachable moment about “not seeing race” if she decides to take it that way. I’m not saying that Kim wasn’t within her right to call him. I’m just saying a lot of us wouldn’t want to. I’m not even saying that Kanye’s behavior is extraordinary; I’m sure many a black man would WANT to do exactly what he did under this particular set of circumstances. However.

I’m not sure many of us would’ve made that call. I’m sure many of us would’ve walked in the facility and called security, and told our boyfriends/brothers/fathers before the day was over while explaining why we didn’t tell them when it happened. Is it fair? No. Do black men have the right to defend us? Absolutely. But police.”

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Nerd Rapper Revolution

(The Champ’s latest at Complex on how nerds and nerd culture have dominated rap culture this year)

The most important person in rap today is a kilt-and-leather-sweatpant-rocking son of a college professor. The Best Rapper Alive was a straight-A student and belongs to a collective called “Black Hippy.” Some of today’s most controversial and cringe-inducing content comes from a skateboarder from the Black Beverly Hills. The last rap album I listened to was created by an Asian-fetishizing comedian who has been employed by two separate NBC shows.

The nerds—the kids without traditional street cred, the guys who don’t look and sound like the type of people we’ve always associated with hip-hop influence and relevance—are no longer obscured by the cool kids. They’re not even competing with the cool kids. Now, the nerds are the cool kids.

Attributing nerd culture’s dominance in hip-hop culture in 2013 to a soon-to-be 10-year-old Kanye West album seems like something someone who doesn’t really listen to rap would write. It feels lazy. Perfunctory. Still, it is true. Well, kinda true. The College Dropout is not the best rap album of the 21st century. But it has already proven to be the most influential. What made Ye’s popularity so astounding at the time wasn’t the fact that he wasn’t a street guy who didn’t rap about street shit. The same could be said for OutKast, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and anyone else who found space and grew popular countering rap’s dominant street culture.

What made Kanye’s coolness “cool” was the fact that he wasn’t cool. He was awkward. He wore pink Polos. He was (and still is) a spaz. He talked funny. He didn’t seem to fit the hyper-heterosexual image expected of Black male rap stars, so he was considered soft. Some even derided him as gay (NTTAWWT).

The acceptance of and embrace of Kanye’s lack of cool didn’t exist in a vacuum, though. He didn’t create the wave. He just was lucky enough to get on it. A nerd (Bill Gates) already controlled the way we worked. A nerd (Steve Jobs) was beginning to control the way we consumed culture. A nerd (Mark Zuckerberg) soon found a way to control the way we interacted. A nerd (Sean Parker) forever controlled the way we listened to music. This wasn’t Revenge of the Nerds. It was—and still is—the nerds ordering everyone else to bow the fuck down. Jack Dorsey is no different than General Zod.

Hip-hop’s embrace of nerds was slow. Very slow. Which was expected for a genre built on braggadocio and brawn. The qualities associated with nerdiness contradicted what we expected to hear when we listened to rappers rap. Even if we were intellectually aware that some of rap’s biggest “bullies” were featherweights we could probably take in an actual fight, we still wanted to be bullied by them.

But, as the aughts continued, the nerd takeover became inevitable. Kanye showed us it could be done, and the other nerds were busy shifting culture in a way that changed the barriers to entry and relevance. Soon, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, and 88 Keys started happening. ?uestlove, the “nerdiest” member of the world’s coolest rap band became its most popular member. Street cred and hot singles were still important. But social-media strategy and SEO savvy were even more important. And it wasn’t just that nerds and others outside of the traditional rapper archetype were being let in. Nerds were becoming the cultural arbiters—the ones giving Tyler the Creator and Kendrick Lamar millions of views and Wiki pages before they released any major-label albums and the ones downloading Chance the Rapper’s and Childish Gambino’s mixtapes.

Any doubt that nerd culture has reached a critical mass this year would be quelled by a visit to any inner-city high school. You’ll see jeans too tight to run in tucked into multi-colored sneakers. Oversized and occasionally lensless glasses. Intentionally ironic t-shirts. Suspenders. Bow ties. Knee-high socks with Disney characters on them. I saw these things when I was in high school, too. But the kids with them were getting stuffed into lockers, smacked with spitballs, and friend-zoned-ed by Laura Winslow. Not looking and acting exactly like the most popular rappers and NBA players.

(Read the rest at Complex)

Kanye West And Olivia Pope Meet Outside Of An Apple Store

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It was a Wednesday.

Olivia needed some “time” off the grid that morning after Jake Ballard broke into her shower the night before to show her a sheet of paper. With three numbers on it. That proved that Fitz was a serial killer. Of homeless hermaphrodites. If news got out, Fitz might not get reelected. This upset her. It didn’t upset her nearly enough. She almost smiled that morning when seeing a piece of corn on an episode of Chopped that reminded her of him. But it did upset her. She also really liked how the white iPhone matched with everything she owned. So she decided to change course on her usual 22 mile morning run, allowing her to stop past the Apple store in Georgetown on the way back home.

Kanye was there already. Actually, he wasn’t technically there anymore. He was sleep outside of the store. Well, everyone thought he was sleep. No one actually checked, though. He might have been awake the whole time. He was probably awake the whole time. He’d been there since 1:37 AM, after abruptly ending his show at the Verizon Center. Midway through a rendition of “Hold My Liquor”, he ordered the music to stop, announced to the crowd that he “needed some motherfucking apples,” (His exact words: “I need SOME motherfucking apples”) and left. No one knew if Kanye ever got his apples. Or if he meant that he needed to go to the Apple store. Or why he so urgently needed some apples (or to go to the Apple store). Or if he maybe thought they sold apples at the Apple store. Perhaps, when people like Kanye go to the Apple store, they do provide apples. Who knows? Maybe he does.

Although there was a slight drizzle, and she had just run 19 miles, Olivia was somehow dry. Her skin was sparkling. Her hair was flawless. Her teeth looked like Altoids. Olivia Pope is a vampire.

As she neared the Apple store, she became distracted. By a bench. That reminded her of Fitz. She paused. Her bottom lip quivered. A harp started playing from somewhere. That damn harp. She thought she just came. Yea, she just came. She was happy she was wearing white. So happy. Oh, Fitz! Her bottom lip fell off. She picked it up, reattached it, and kept running.

Four strides later, she tripped over Kanye.

“I’m so sorry about that.” she said. She was lying. She wasn’t that sorry.

“YO, HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME?” Kanye said. He was definitely awake the whole time.

“Excuse me?” Olivia said as she turned around.

“YOU JUST SAID ‘I’M SORRY, KANYE.’ HOW DID YOU EVEN KNOW MY NAME WHEN I DIDN’T EVEN TELL YOU MY NAME IS KANYE WEST YET? DID FRANK OCEAN TELL YOU MY NAME IS KANYE WEST? DID YOU SOMEHOW SEE MY NAME IS KANYE WEST ON MY SHIRT?” Kanye replied.

Kanye stood up to reveal he was wearing a white t-shirt with “MY NAME IS KANYE WEST” on the chest. The letters were black. Close examination showed that each letter was actually 10,000 miniature photos of a pixelated labia. He was also wearing no pants. Like, literally, no pants. No pants. No underpants. Nothing. Just a t-shirt with his name on it. And some red Chucks.

“I never said your name, sir.” Olivia replied. “I have no idea who you are.” This was true. She knew nothing about pop culture. Her father (that bastard) taught her that music was too time-consuming. So, when she listened to it, she only listened to one song: Ted Neeley’s rendition of “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ: Superstar. She loved that song. It reminded her of Fitz.

“ALEXANDER MCQUEEN CALLED ME SIR, ONCE.” Kanye replied. “WE WAS AT A DAIRY QUEEN IN DUBAI TWO YEARS AGO. I ORDERED A PRETZEL AND OREO BLIZZARD. THAT SHIT AINT ON NO DAIRY QUEEN MENUS. NOT EVEN IN DUBAI. CAUSE PRETZELS AND OREOS DON’T NATURALLY GO TOGETHER LIKE THAT. THAT SHIT IS OFF MENU. BUT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT AND ORDERED IT. I INVENTED THAT SHIT!!! ME!!! I CONJURED THAT BITCH!!! KANYE WEST!!! I OFFERED HIM SOME. HE SAID IT WAS NASTY. I WAS LIKE FINE, MORE FOR ME. A YEAR LATER I’M ON A TRAIN IN PARIS WITH ZACH GALIFIANAKIS. I LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER AND SEE A MOTHERFUCKIN PARISIAN BITCH EATING OREOS AND PRETZELS AND ICE CREAM. SHE HAD ON A BABY BLUE IVY JCREW JUMPER AND SOME JORDAN’S. I ASKED HER WHERE SHE GOT THE PRETZELS AND OREOS AND ICE CREAM FROM. SHE SAID EVERYONE IN PARIS EATS PRETZELS AND OREOS AND ICE CREAM NOW. EVERYONE!!! THAT MOTHERFUCKER ALEXANDER MCQUEEN STOLE MY IDEA!!!”

“I’m so sorry to hear that.” Olivia replied. She was sincere. She had experienced loss before. Once, when her and Fitz were playing Monopoly, she lost. He was very good at Monopoly. She could never beat him. This would make her sad. She would cry. Then he’d make her a frittata. Then they would have sex. Like, all night long. They both had great stamina. Then they’d finish eating the frittatas. So yeah, she had experienced loss before.

“Well, Mr. West. It was nice talking to you, but I have to go into the store. Be well.”

“I LOVE YOU!” Kanye replied. No one was sure if he was talking to Olivia or himself. He wasn’t even sure.

Olivia wanted to help him. She needed to help him. He was broken. A broken man. A broken man that needed her, Olivia Pope, to unbreak him. She unbroke broken men. Sometimes, she’d break men just to see if she could unbreak them. That’s what she did. That’s who she was. She handed him a business card.

“Call me if you need anything.”

Olivia went into the store. Kanye nodded his head and laid back down. He was still pantless. But it didn’t matter. He went to sleep.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)