By Ryan Croke
Kanye West, the polarizing figure that he is, is without a doubt a musical genius. He has dominated the hip hop and music scene over the 21st century, beginning with his debut in 2004. He became a national favorite for his different style, sampling soul beats and adding a trendy, new sound to the beat that created a completely different sound to the gangster era that had been dominating the genre for the last decade. Over the next two decades, he became an incredibly polarizing and captivating figure, with many people today being able to agree on his craziness and poor mental state. Regardless of your feelings towards Kanye, any person who has listened to his discography cannot deny the talent that he brings to the table. He has produced 9 solo albums, with fans anxiously awaiting his tenth, and the variety of sounds he has explored is vast and expansive, and there is something for everyone inside of Kanye’s discography.
In this article, I will be ranking each album from worst to best, providing a brief analysis of each album. I will be excluding all of his collaborative albums, so KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Watch the Throne, with Kid Cudi and Jay-Z respectively, will be excluded. Which album will top them all? Let’s find out.
9: Jesus Is King
Kanye’s most recent studio album is nothing short of disappointing, and 99 out of 100 Kanye fans would tell you this is their least favorite. Kanye expands on his newfound faith in Christianity, and attempts to use some gospel sounds to create a heavily christian influenced album. Unfortunately, the album falls flat on its face, and has left some wondering what direction Kanye will take next. The album is not horrible, but realistically, I would much rather listen to any other Kanye album than Jesus Is King. I listened to it once to complete my journey of listening to every album from West, and have yet to revisit it. His catalog is so strong that this album seems much worse than it is, but regardless, it’s not a great album, and it is definitely Kanye’s worst solo album.
Favorite Songs: Follow God
8: The College Dropout
Kanye’s debut album shook up the rap genre forever, and kicks off the college trilogy. It influenced a massive shift in sound to a more soul influenced and lighthearted type of music, and is definitely a turning point in the history of hip hop. That being said, I do not like this album as much as others do. It has a lighthearted feel, and I appreciate that, but it doesn’t feel as refined as other albums from West do, and it feels extremely dated to me. Some Kanye fans will call this their favorite album from him, and I do not understand why in any way. I find this to be the most overrated Kanye album, and personally, I have no real care for it. There are some notable songs on this project that should not go without mention. The album won him multiple grammy awards, and Jesus Walks won him best rap song of the year. Through The Wire is a classic track, and is really responsible for Kanye’s early fame. This song has a lot of backstory. In 2004, after a late night of writing, Kanye was driving home on the highway at 3 am when he fell asleep at the wheel, drifted into another lane, and collided head on with another vehicle. He nearly died, and his jaw was broken in three places. Doctors wired his mouth shut to help him heal, and he couldn’t move his mouth for six weeks. While the wire was still in place, Kanye made Through The Wire, and it is an all time favorite Kanye track for many, myself included. Overall, The College Dropout is definitely one of if not the most important albums in Kanye’s discography, but for me, it doesn’t resonate as strongly as it does for others. It has its moments, but lacks consistency.
Favorite Songs: Through The Wire, Jesus Walks, Family Business
7: 808s & Heartbreak
As Kanye’s first release after the death of his mother, 808s & Heartbreak is a cold, chilling album which shows the emotional pain Kanye was in after his mother’s tragic passing due to surgery complications and the dissolvement of his 18 month engagement to Alexis Phifer. The album has a cold, rough tone, and uses a gritty form of autotune to convey the sadness in Kanye’s life. Featuring heavy collaboration from Kid Cudi, 808s saw Kanye explore a completely new tone and type of music, different from his energetic and genuinely lighthearted work on his college trilogy. 808s is a very good album, but falls victim to a lack of variety of sound. It gets a little repetitive, but overall, no songs are horrible here. Welcome To Heartbreak is one of my top five Kanye songs, and is definitely a standout from this album. I do like this album a lot, and it has some hits, but isn’t as impressive as other albums in Kanye’s catalog.
Favorite Songs: Welcome To Heartbreak, Heartless, Coldest Winter, Love Lockdown
6: Late Registration
The second installment in the college trilogy, Late Registration, is a much more improved version of TCD, and uses the sounds of jazz to make a much more impressive album. It has a pretty wide array of sounds and features, but I still find it a bit overrated. Many Kanye fans will call this his best work, but I couldn’t disagree more. While it builds on the themes and sounds established on his prior release, it lacks the depth and production from later albums in his career that I value so highly. Diamonds From Sierra Leone, another all time favorite of mine, is on this project, and features two versions; one with a guest verse from Jay-Z and one with an extra verse from Kanye, so I have to take that into account. Again, there are standout moments here and there, and is much more consistent than the albums previously mentioned, but I don’t find myself wanting to go back to this album often, and that is for good reason. It has some apparent flaws, but was an important step in Kanye’s career that cannot be ignored.
Favorite Songs: Diamonds From Sierra Leone, Touch The Sky, Roses, Hey Mama, Late
If you can’t tell by now, my takes on Kanye’s music, particularly the college trilogy, are highly controversial. This is where we see a massive leap in my liking for each album, and I genuinely believe you can arrange the next five in any order. Unfortunately, one must be fifth, and that goes to Graduation. Kanye explored electronic sounds with this album, and is a massive improvement from the first 2 installments in the college trilogy. This album features some of the best Kanye songs of all time, but also some of the worst, and is definitely one of the more inconsistent Kanye albums. However, I don’t hate the commonly despised songs on this project, and I am a bigger fan of it than most. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put it over some of the albums that will be mentioned later on. The electronic sounds are great, Kanye’s lyricism drastically improves, and it makes a much more complete album in my eyes. Homecoming, Flashing Lights, I Wonder, and more are all iconic Kanye tracks that find themselves at home on this album’s tracklist. Unfortunately, when stacked up against other Kanye albums, this album’s consistency issues become ever more apparent, and it is enough to dock it down to fifth place.
Favorite Songs: Homecoming, I Wonder, Flashing Lights, Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Good Life, Stronger, Everything I Am
Kanye’s 2018 solo release definitely earns the title of the most underrated Kanye album. Standing at an incredibly brief 24 minutes, with only seven tracks, it’s easy to see why this album gets overlooked. The album focuses mainly on Kanye’s struggle with Bi-Polar disorder, with the album cover featuring text that reads, “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome”. I love this album, and is the first album on the list I consider giving a 10/10. It is a chilling, intriguing, and engaging listen, and includes some extremely underrated tracks, along with fan favorite Ghost Town. It does lack the length and content the albums ahead of it possess, and this is really my biggest dock on ye. If it had three or four more tracks, it could definitely be propelled into the top two, but alas, it finds itself comfortable at number four. Many people forget this album’s greatness, maybe due to the brief length, but more likely due to the months leading up to the release of this project, in which Kanye made many fans mad by tweeting his political support for Donald Trump and took a massive fall in the public eye. This is definitely a big reason that this album is so slept on, but it is a gem in Kanye’s discography, and I keep coming back to ye.
Favorite Songs: Ghost Town, Violent Crimes, I Thought About Killing You, Wouldn’t Leave, No Mistakes
3: The Life of Pablo
This one hurts. It is so close to topping the next album, but consistency is a small issue, the frequent interludes are dreadful, and some songs are just a little underwhelming. Regardless, I love TLOP. The variety of sounds here are amazing, The features are good, the tracklist is better, and it features the best Kanye song, Saint Pablo. It has lots of great tracks, the chilling Real Friends, the gospel heavy Ultralight Beam, the iconic Father Stretch My Hands, and many more tracks are absolutely incredible. But, as it features the longest tracklist in Kanye’s discography, there are bound to be some duds. Freestyle 4, Feedback, and a few others are quite disappointing, and the simple removal of these, along with all of the interludes, would make for an almost perfect album that would be enough to top the next album. I have fallen out of love a bit with TLOP, but it is still an incredible work of music.
Favorite Tracks: Saint Pablo, Father Stretch My Hands, Waves, Wolves, Ultralight Beam, Real Friends, Fade, 30 Hours, FML, No More Parties In LA, Famous
Easily the most polarizing Kanye album, Yeezus features a sound unlike any other, and many fans were appalled upon hearing this album for the first time. It is a very aggressive listen, and can be challenging for some to listen to. It is definitely an album that grows on you over time. I was listening to an episode of the Dissect podcast, a Spotify podcast that delves into the deeper meanings of albums in seasons. The newest season covers Yeezus, and in the intro episode, host Cole Cuchna makes an analogy to Bob Dylan playing a rock and roll song at a folk festival and received massive backlash from fans because of this. But over time, people grew to fall in love with Dylan’s exploration into rock and roll, and Cuchna says that artistic progression is always met with backlash and criticism, and that is exactly what occurred with Yeezus. Years ago, if someone told you this was their favorite Kanye album, they would be laughed at and called a joke. Nowadays, it is perfectly acceptable for this album to be your favorite Kanye album. It is certainly unique, and I have fallen in love with the sound. It is such a repeatable album because of its uniqueness, but the album is also home to great songs. Hold My Liquor, Bound 2, and New Slaves are some of Kanye’s best songs of all time, Black Skinhead is my all time favorite workout song, On Sight is incredible, and Blood On The Leaves is another great Kanye track. There are no consistency issues on this album, hence why it is at the number 2 spot.
Favorite Songs: Hold My Liquor, Bound 2, New Slaves, Black Skinhead, On Sight, Blood On the Leaves, I Am a God
1: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
You had to expect this. I did say previously that this is Kanye’s best album, and it is. MBDTF is an absolute classic. The features, production, backstory, lyrics, everything about MBDTF is almost perfect. Almost. Unfortunately, MBDTF does have its flaws, at least to me. Gorgeous is a little too repetitive, The album ends in a less than ideal way, and the final three tracks are easily the worst three tracks on the album. If they were removed, I would be placing this a number one and calling it the greatest album ever conceived. But consistency is a bit of an issue here, and it is solely because these final three tracks exist. Despite this, Devil In A New Dress, Runaway, Dark Fantasy, All of the Lights, Power, So Appalled, and Monster are all classics, and are enough to propel this fan favorite into the number 1 spot. This is one of the most iconic albums ever created, and certainly one of the best.
Favorite Songs: Devil In A New Dress, Runaway, Dark Fantasy, So Appalled, Monster, All of the Lights, Power
To sum it all up, Kanye West has an incredible discography, and you can rank his albums in almost any order possible. It is a testament to his greatness as an artist that fans have such a tough time ranking his albums, and I know I definitely did making this list. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Kanye’s music, I promise you it will not disappoint.