Has there ever been a figure in hip hop – or pop culture for that matter – as polarizing as Kanye West?
My feelings on him are just as schizophrenic as everyone else’s. One minute, I’m in awe of his talent – there’s no doubt that he’s a musical genius. The next minute, I wanna slap him following one of his absurd outbursts.
I just wrote about his latest misstep – incorporating the Confederate flag into hip-hop fashion. That’s not gonna work, Ye.
But for every president slandering, paparazzi punching, pop-star dissing misstep, he follows it up with some of the best music created in the past decade. He’s one of only a handful of artists in any genre to release and honest-to-God classic album in this century. And he’s also released one of the worst albums of this century, but more on that trash later.
Like I said, Kanye’s far from perfect.
As we often do around this time, let’s look back at Ye’s complete discography, ranking them from worst to best. This list only includes Kanye’s solo albums, so don’t look for mixtapes, the Watch the Throne collaboration with Jay-Z or G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer set.
Kanye’s already a legend and he knows it. These albums prove it.
6. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Soul In Stereo rating: 2 stars out of 5 (read our review here)
Edd said: “People have defended this travesty of an album for years and for years I’ve reminded them that it’s an utter embarrassment. If your idea of a good time is listening to a rapper attempt to sing neo-soul through autotune, this is the album for you. But the rest of us with functional eardrums will pass. A couple songs are somewhat listenable but it’s mostly 52 minutes of robotic whining. And as an added insult, it led way to the Auto-Tune Era, truly the darkest days of hip hop. This is the album Satan listens to when his girl won’t return his texts. I’ll pass.”
Forgotten treasures: Playa please.
5. Yeezus (2013)
Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (read our review here)
Edd said: “It’s weird that 808s has so many defenders but this album gets such a hard time. While 808s was lazy Transformer emo trash, there was at least an attempt of artistry here, as Ye explored racial and religious cultural divides. It’s not a very accessible album, though – the screaming and lazy wordplay can be a turnoff. But give Ye credit for attempting something different.”
Forgotten treasures: “Bound 2,” “Guilt Trip,” “New Slaves”
4. Graduation (2007)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5
Edd said: “This album might be on the low end of Kanye’s discography but that just shows how stellar his other releases are. On its own, Graduation is fantastic, serving as the send-off to Kanye’s original soulful sound before getting all experimental on us. There are a couple of embarrassingly weak songs (I’m looking at you “Drunk and Hot Girls” and “Barry Bonds”) but overall it’s classic Kanye – fun, yet defiant music we call can relate to.”
Forgotten treasures: “Everything I Am,” “I Wonder,” “Champion”
3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5 (read our review here)
Edd said: “After wasting his time auto-tuning, Ye finally got back to basics. Sorta. This album saw the return of many of Kanye’s calling cards – namely, the soulful orchestration that made him a phenom in the mid ’00s. But this time, true to the album’s title, everything’s much more dark. It’s a fine album but is still a bit overrated. The album can be as pretentious as its creator, bogged down by songs that are three and four minutes too long. Yes, it’s preposterous but it stretched the boundaries of hip hop. Give Ye props for that.”
Forgotten treasures: “Dark Fantasy,” “So Appalled,” “All of the Lights (Interlude)”
2. Late Registration (2005)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: “Coming off of a landmark debut, Kanye prepared for a showdown with the dreaded sophomore jinx. And as history has proved, he walked away victorious. Late Registration took all the elements of Kanye’s debut and made everything grander. It was like a Sundance film getting a summer blockbuster budget. Best of all, the impassioned soulfulness of its predecessor was just as strong here. The album was a bit too bloated (the usual Kanye weakness) but otherwise it was a rousing success.”
Forgotten treasures: “Late,” “Bring Me Down,” “We Major”
1. The College Dropout (2004)
Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5
Edd said: “People always ask me what makes an album a classic. A classic album isn’t just ‘an album that came out last week that you like a whooole lot,’ it’s a piece of work that is not only strong, but influences future works. The College Dropout changed the game. In a genre that had become cold and processed, Kanye injected soul back into the art form, something that had been missing since the heyday of A Tribe Called Quest. From bottom to top, the album was flawless and inspired producers to dig in the crates for their own soul samples. Remember all those “chipmunk” soul samples circa 2005? Kanye is a trendsetter, which is why this album is a true classic.
Forgotten treasures: “Family Business,” “Spaceship,” “Breathe In, Breathe Out”
Agree with the rankings or did I shortchange your favorites? Speak out in the comments.