Where Does Yeezus Rank in Kanye West’s Discography?


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Kanye West shocked the world with the release of his sixth solo album, Yeezus. And by shock the world, he truly threw it for a ‘loop’.  For most of us, Yeezus was NOTHING like we expected it to be.  Like the motto of reality television show Big Brother, ‘expect the unexpected.’ That is exactly the precedent that should be set for any Kanye West release.  By now, all Mr. West fans should know he’s unpredictably musically, matching his idiosyncratic personality and questionable, um… tact (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people…”).

For critics, it has become standard practice to give the controversial, rapper/producer high marks and regard.  If any one Kanye West album were to divide critics, it would have been Yeezus. Surprisingly,  West’s ambition and arguably the ‘shock’ of the album kept critics favorably on West’s side. Some of my buds, the consumers, were more mixed.

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Now the question is, how does Yeezus stack up next to West’s rich and diverse discography? Honestly, as a portion of West’s discography, it fits perfectly because it shows the rapper’s eclecticism and evolving artistry.  But if you were to set it side-by-side, there are certainly better rounded efforts and more ‘important’ ones that shaped the ubiquitous juggernaut that is Kanye West – aka people know him and he’s kind of a big deal.  In other words, when most of the albums you release are triumphs, a great album will still probably rank low comparatively.

So here’s the arduous task of ranking the West solo discography,  and YES that means Watch The Throne is omitted since it’s a collaboration with his “Big Brother” Jay-Z.

6) 808s & Heartbreaks (2008)

Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak © Roc-A-Fella Records

Let’s be honest, this was the easiest effort to rank.  808s & Heartbreaks is easily Kanye West’s worst album – more divisive than Yeezus.  It sounds like a harsh assessment when you say that about a ‘Kanye’ affair, but this was not your standard rap album.  Really, could it even be called ‘rap’? This was where the autotune began to plant itself firmly within West’s work, which is notable when compiling characterizing aspects of his musicianship.  In addition to the prominence of the infamous vocal effect, the game plan for 808s & Heartbreak was its minimalistic approach to production.  The lack of ornate details and true flashiness set it apart from everything else.

While its very ‘odd’ to say the least, 808s & Heartbreaks has its redeeming moments.  “Say You Will” overstays its welcome at over six minutes in duration, but at least they’re an epic six minutes.  “Heartless” was a big hit and triumph for West. “Love Lockdown” remains bizarre to this day, but the tribal-drum driven cut peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.  My personal jam was “Amazing”, which got some extra hip-hop cred from Young Jeezy’s guest spot.  Did I like the album personally? I wasn’t crazy about it, but I appreciate West’s willingness to experiment.  Still, it’s arguably West’s least important album, autotune experimentation or not.

★★★

5) Yeezus (2013)

Kanye West, Yeezus © Def Jam

Now you understand why I gave that whole spill about great albums being ranked lower within a stacked discography.  Basically, that’s Yeezus’s dilemma.  I won’t rewrite any earlier reviews – you can read it for yourselves – but basically, this is truly an experimental effort for West compared to his past save for 808s & Heartbreaks.  It isn’t for everybody, but also, I don’t think West’s willingness to experiment and evolve should be criticized.  Controversial, West dabbles in racism (“Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”), ‘false idolatry’ (“I Am A God”), and ‘the nasty’ (“I’m In It” and “Send It Up”).  His eccentricities come together most cohesively on “Blood on the Leaves”, which might be considered a classic in the future.

One last thing that to remember about Yeezus – it had the ‘tall’ task of proceeding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album many would argue is Kanye West’s best.

★★★★

4) Graduation (2007)

Kanye West, Graduation © Roc-A-Fella

“Excuse me, was you saying something? Uh uh, you can’t tell me nothing!”  An album that sells 957,000 copies in a week has to have some sort of significance doesn’t it? Even more impressive, guess who the runner up was the same week? 50 Cent (Curtis), who sold nearly 700,000 copies himself.  Graduation had the monumental task of proceeding Late Registration, one of the greatest albums of the 00s.

While few albums could match up, Graduation did so extraordinary well, delivering such gems as “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, “Flashing Lights” (featuring Dwele), “Barry Bonds” (featuring Lil Wayne), “Good Life” (featuring T-Pain), and arguably most important, the Daft Punk sampling number one hit, “Stronger”.  Also for you Grammy buffs, Kanye and fellow frontrunner Amy Winehouse both lost the coveted Album of the Year award to Herbie Hancock… easily one of the biggest shockers ever.

★★★★½

3) The College Dropout  (2004)

Kanye West, The College Dropout © Roc-A-Fella

“God show me the way because the devil trying to break me down!” Too low considering this was the album that launched ‘Mr. West’? Probably, but I’m going with my opinion.  Historically, this album is number one without question, but personally I believe the two efforts ahead of this one either match it / slightly overshadow it in some respects.  That said, Kanye West made it cool to put Jesus on the airwaves (“Jesus Walks”) and certainly gave Syleena Johnson a temporary career lift (“All Falls Down”).

But what about other early West classics like “Through the Wire”, “Spaceship” or even a reprisal of “Slow Jamz”, a number one with Jamie Foxx and Twista? This album is of utmost importance and exceptional quality and yet it may not even be West’s very best! That’s actually a compliment.

★★★★½

 

2) My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy © Def Jam

Like The College Dropout, this elite offering could have easily been number one.  It’s that stacked.  One reason why this particular effort shines is because West successfully balances conceptual experimentation with accessibility, something he didn’t do as well on the preceding 808s & Heartbreaks. Something else West did here is he was unafraid to opt for longer records that were less focused on radio airplay.  Every track is special and different, which just further incites outrage in my mind this effort was shut out of the Album of the Year category (it won Best Rap Album, beating out Watch the Throne).

Highlights? “Power” samples King Crimson masterfully (“21st Century Schizoid Man”), as West boldly proclaims key lyrics like “No one man should have all that power” and “More specifically they can kiss my a$$hole / I’m an a$$hole? You n***as got jokes!”.  Then there’s “Monster” with one of the most addictive hooks of his career (“Gossip, gossip, n***a just stop it / everybody know I’m a motherf**king monster… ”) where one Nicki Minaj absolutely slays her verse.

Then there’s the star-studded “All of the Lights”, “Devil in a New Dress”, and of course “Runaway” where West suggests “Let’s have a toast for the douche-bags / let’s have a toast for the a$$holes…” etc.  Something could be said of each and every track, which makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy stand among Wests strongest and most important albums.

★★★★★

1) Late Registration (2005)

Kanye West, Late Registration © Roc-A-Fella

While The College Dropout was West’s ‘introduction’,  perhaps Late Registration was his coronation.  Sure, The College Dropout had its fair share of innovation and importance, but on arguably the most anticipated sophomore album of 2005, West flipped the script – nothing sound like a carbon copy from a triumphant debut.  My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy arguably shows even more progression, but Late Registration set the consistency of albums to follow you might say.  Oh, and it sold 860,000 copies during it’s first week, nearly twice as much as The College Dropout moved.  AND… did I mention he collaborated with composer Jon Brion, who has collaborated with Fiona Apple? Who in rap music does that?

Like most West albums, there is a host of highlights.  “Gold Digger” (featuring his buddy Jamie Foxx) gave West a commercial triumph, remaining number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks.  For a comparison point, 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and “Candy Shop” sat atop for nine weeks each.  In addition to “Gold Digger”, “Touch The Sky” brilliantly sampled Curtis Mayfield and featured one intellectual Lupe Fiasco, who was just beginning his career.  He reached across the aisle collaborating with soulful Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine on “Heard Em Say”, which was a moderately successful single in itself.  And then of course there were those “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, in both original and a remix with Jay-Z.

★★★★★

So there is plenty of room for debate about how to rank West’s discography.  Debate is good because it compliments the wealth of work that West has produced.  Ultimately, in my opinion, this is how I currently view each album by the MC, but views constantly change over the course of time.  Yeezus’s impact might cause it to be ranked higher in the future, but for now, it sits in fifth place in a very competitive group of albums.

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