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***


10 Thoughts About Kanye West and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy When The Rainbow Isn’t Enuff

Let’s start at the beginning – this album is a classic. And if the term classic is too nebulous for  you or you think that no album can be called as such until its lasted the test of time, then let’s just call a spade a spade…

…the only person who could even come close to making an album better than this is Kanye West. Not Dre. Not Jay. Not Lil Wayne. Nope, Kanye’s only competition at this point is himself. Lucky for him that’s probably still too much competition for him so he’ll probably  have a heart attack challenging the mirror to an album-off, die of exhaustion, and then go down in the annals of rap history as the best producer of all time. OF ALL TIME!!!!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way here are 10 things to think about.

1) This album really is the best produced piece of work I’ve heard in years. Kanye swung for the fences and might finally get that Grammy for Album of the Year that he wants so badly. Dramatic production, actual musical arrangements, crystal clear mixing, full and developed compositions, technically sound, risky, etc. In a time of what seems like the most minimal beats possible catching our imagination, Kanye does the complete opposite and gives the most body and volume we’ve heard since Dr. Dre produced Doggystyle and The Chronic.

2) Which leads to this minor problem – just minor – Kanye gets lost a lot in the music. It’s so heavy on the production side that Kanye almost becomes an afterthought, which is easy when he stops rapping 3 minutes into a song that lasts for 7 minutes.

3) If the only song on this album was “All Of The Lights” I’d still say it was a classic album and would go on the television circuit and say it over and over again. I can’t tell you how much I love this song. I want to fornicate with it and make little flourescent children. I want to sing sweet lullabyes to it while I rescue Chilean miners. I want to sweep with it while I put on an apron that says #1 Booklover. I hope to one day feel about a woman the way I feel about this song.

4) The aforementioned song would be even better if Kanye rewrote his verses. Instead of an odd song about baby-daddy situations on one of the most triumphant beats ever, perhaps he could write about something more fitting, like himself. He does that so well, why pick THIS song to take off?? That Kanye, what a card!

5) I have to wonder why he gave it such a gaudy title. Most classic albums – and I’m sure if anybody knew what he was doing it was Kanye – have very easy to state short album titles (nowadays anyway). Like The Blueprint, Aquemini, etc. Like how do we even shorten this. We’re ninjas, we call ninjas named DJ “D” for short. Do we call it Fantasy? My Beaut? Darky? Sexxy Two Piece? Me no know. And why now does he decide to go gaudy after the rest of his albums had rather pointed titles.

6) Kanye has officially placed himself in a lane all by his lonesome. There is no other producer out there who can say they are doing what he’s doing. I felt like the Quincy Jones/Stevie Wonder comparisons were premature before. Now they’re apt. And for you geniuses out there, that’s not shorthand for apartment.

7) I have no idea why “Monster” AND “So Appalled” made this album. Not together. It reminds me of the time in college when these twins wanted to be Kappas. They were carbon copies of the eachother down to the grades. So for that line (which was only taking 5 seniors and they were seniors), either they took both and lose out on somebody else or none. Like how do you distinguish between ninjas who were literally the same. That line? Choose neither. Kanye did the opposite.

8 ) I’m vastly underwhelmed by the Pusha T experience thus far. But in fairness, I never liked him that much to begin with. He’s rather boring and you could replace him with any other rapper and probably have gotten more excitement. Except something called a Cyhi Da Prince who adds nothing either. No jester.

9) I’ve honestly never been as impressed with an album as I am with this one. In fact the only word I could mutter after listening it through the whole way through the first time was “f******************ck”. I actually yelled out my car to an old white lady, “was that as good for you as it was for me?”

I got her number.

10) I think Kanye leaked this album himself. For three reasons: 1) It’s the clean version; radio stations can (and have) run hogwild with the sh*t well before its release and drum up more excitement; 2) Kanye ain’t even the least bit pissed and  has been on Twitter telling folks his favorite songs; and 3) Kanye isn’t as concerned with money as he is his legacy so he can do that and realize people will still purchase it. He’s one of a few artists that will sell ESPECIALLY once people hear how great it is. Plus he’s already rich and dates racially ambigious birds AND women.

Oh, and listening to this album does not make his video make any more sense. But the music is as brilliantly vivid as the imagery and color he used in the video.

Thank you Kanye for making an album that I want to lay down and caress and touch and massage. I’d lick this album’s toes. Thank you Kanye for making me want to lick toes.

Any thoughts? I know you heard it. And if not? Holler at somebody.