Kanye West is one of those rare artists who always seems to be in competition with himself. With a career spanning nearly two decades, let's take a look at his top five albums of all time.
5. "Graduation" (2007)
"Graduation" holds an important place not just in West's discography, but in hip-hop and pop culture. With "Graduation," West separated from the soul-based sounds of his previous two records to focus on a new aesthetic for his music. West collaborated with lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin, for a love letter to Chicago on “Homecoming.” West intended to expand his sound by interweaving genres throughout the album. With "Stronger," a track that required over 50 mixes before the final product, West landed his first No. 1 hit. "Graduation" was a proper name for the record as this album elevated West more than any other record he’s released.
4. "Yeezus" (2013)
"Yeezus," in its distorted minimalistic glory, is on the more experimental side of West's releases. With West and Rick Rubin both being executive producers on the album, we get a stripped back version of West's inner rage. Guided by an explosive energy, "Yeezus" creates moments that teeter on the line between insanity and passion. You can hear the electronic influences in their most jarring form on tracks like the Daft Punk co-produced intro “On Sight.” Built around a saw synth and a drum machine, the track moves like a wooden roller coaster. West opens the album with just a taste of the destructive atmosphere to come after. As his most rage-fueled album, it only makes sense that "Yeezus" stands out with its energy compared to his other records.
3. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (2010)
In a self-imposed exile after the backlash of the infamous Taylor Swift incident, West took to Hawaii to attempt perfection. Achieving an artistic peak with this record, West shows us what a hip-hop opera would sound like. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" is an auditory explosion of some of the most fantastically crafted instrumentals in West's discography. With tracks built around themes of egoism, West matches that ego with songs that take on cinematic showmanship. From “Power" chopping prog-rock into a modern hip-hop song about the struggles of fame to “All of the Lights” turning a custody battle into an uplifting anthem, West covers a diverse set of topics while maintaining his larger-than-life presence on the record. In an attempt to pursue perfection, West collaborated with the likes of Elton John, Bon Jovi and Kid Cudi, just to name a few.
2. "808s & Heartbreak" (2008)
After the death of his mother and split from his then fiancé, West channeled that energy into an album that would change the blueprint of hip-hop for years to come. With chilling auto-tuned vocals that sound like a human being played through an '80s synthesizer, West creates a soundscape that exists within heartbreak. Even after ten years, it’s safe to say that the influence of this record stretched far and wide. Modern rappers embrace synthesized vocals and more emotionally charged songs with strong electronic elements. Taking heavy influence from T-Pain's use of auto-tune, West provided a new take on it. Auto-tune wasn't just a vocal effect, but a melodic instrument to elicit powerful emotions. With its undeniable impact on the soundscape of hip-hop, "808s & Heartbreak" has to be looked as not only a landmark album in West's career, but a landmark album in hip-hop history.
1. "The College Dropout" (2004)
They say you have your whole life to make your first album, and it certainly sounded like that kind of time was put into "The College Dropout." From the sugary chipmunk vocals to the dusty boom bap clap you hear throughout the album, listeners get an intimate look into the mind of West, not only lyrically but his influences as well. Songs like “Last Call,” “Through the Wire" and “Jesus Walks” all base their song structures around chopped vocal samples, and West plays off of them in a clever way. With something to prove, West brought a hunger to the record that he hasn’t matched since.