Kanye West once again set the hip-hop world ablaze on the day of St. Valentine, 2016. When The Life of Pablo dropped listeners could only enjoy it through Tidal’s music service, leading many to ignore the album until it agreed to terms with Spotify and Apple Music this past week.
Lo and behold, Hip-Hop’s savior has returned with TLOP. For those of you who waited until it’s release this week, congratulations. You missed out on all of the unfinished drama circulating and jumped straight to the good part.
Now that some time has passed and we’ve had time to digest the music, let’s go ahead and compare The Life of Pablo to some of Kanye’s other works: starting from his lowest ranked LP to his best work.
2013 – Yeezus (327,000 first week sales)
Yeezus takes our bottom spot on the list of Kanye West LP’s. Not to knock the CD, but this was the first time the world heard a Kanye release and didn’t know how to feel about it. This minimalist approach to production produced a few clubs bangers and thought provoking tracks in a slimmed down forty minutes.
But I vibe with Kanye on this one. Ye wasn’t going for commercial success on this release. He had just been burned by Nike, having to switch to Adidas for his Yeezy Season 1 release. He was getting bashed in the media for his frequent outbursts and hadn’t released any relevant music to hush the haters in a few years.
But this CD still bangs. The last of Kanye’s physical releases, Yeezus represents elements of baroque art rap, grime and Chicago drill music. It’s a hard album to rate, but the public consensus is out: this is a good, not great album. For Kanye, such an accolade is underwhelming. This speaks volumes on the body of his work across his career.
Songs like “Blood on The Leaves” and “I’m In it” are straight bangers while “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” start more arguments than they answer. With it’s controversy included, this is definitely a Kanye album.
Favorite Tracks: Blood on the Leaves, Bound 2, New Slaves
Most slept on: I’m In It
2005 – Late Registration (860,000 first week sales)
Late Registration suffers from the same reasoning that keeps 808’s so low. Late Registration is easily one of the dopest, most ill hip-hop releases of my lifetime. The problem is that it was released so soon after College Dropout that it felt like a continuation of Kanye’s first release. But don’t take its position on this list as any indication of its greatness.
This album marked a change in Kanye West’s public demeanor. No longer was he the hopeful yet cocky kid from Chicago. He had a platinum album under his belt and as such he was feeling himself. This is the same Kanye who said that George Bush doesn’t like black people. Kanye’s ego, a beast of mythical proportions, was born here. And greatness followed.
We got “Gold Digger” from this album. Lupe Fiasco’s career was launched from this album. And Kanye taught us that genius is simply another form of insanity with this release. Hype from The College Dropout helped make this Kanye’s second bestselling LP, back when people still waited in line to buy physical copies.
Favorite Tracks: Crack Music, Heard Em Say, Touch the Sky
Most Slept on: My Way Home
2008 – 808’s and Heartbreak (450,145 first week sales)
It’s hard to place 808’s and Heartbreak this low on the list. But with that caveat, this position only speaks to Kanye’s musical legacy and competency as an artist. As far as influential albums go, this album ranks as number 2, only behind College Dropout. The part that drags this release down is it’s singular focus and aversion to Kanye rapping.
To place context, this was the first release by Mr. West after the death of his mother, Donda and his break up with longtime girlfriend Alexis Rainey (We’re talking since College Dropout). Kanye was in a dark place. Luckily for us music fans, dark places can conceal some incredible lights.
Ye shocked the entire hip-hop community by releasing an entire LP that feature no rapping, only the autotuned crooning of a mourning son with a broken heart. Although not initially successful, 808’s influenced a generation of artists and shifted the narrative of hip-hop even further than Graduation. Not only did you not have to sell drugs or commit other crimes to sell your records, but you could also have feelings and speak openly about them. Mark my words: Without this album there would be no Drake, Kid Cudi or the Weeknd.
Favorite Tracks: Love Lockdown, Heartless and Coldest Winter.
Honorable mention: See You in My Nightmares
2007 – Graduation (957,000 first week sales)
Graduation is special because it represented Kanye’s evolving taste in music. Here we heard Kanye start to introduce autotune and other vocal effects into his music. The braggadocios nature of Late Registration exploded, leading to the last of the Dropout Bear albums, Kanye’s long time musical mascot. This was also the album that killed gangster rap as the popular choice in hip-hop. People cared less about how hot the block was and more about real lifestyle issues at this point. This was illustrated by 50 Cent’s now seemingly audacious claim that his numbers would best Kanye’s.
Songs like “Stronger” and “Flashing Lights” broke Kanye out of the mold of sampling soul melodies and into the realm of electronic rhythms and pop star ballads. His tours became more intricate in their stage presence and his sound evolved to a point of no return. Modern Kanye, flaws and all, was born of this album and he was smelling himself extra heavy.
Favorite Tracks: Stronger, The Good Life, Flashing Lights
Most slept on: I Wonder
2016 – The Life of Pablo (Unable to determine)
The Life of Pablo finally brings Kanye fans back to the feel good vibes and sharp rhymes of College Dropout while narrating his life at all new heights. Originally a Tidal exclusive, West brings his A game in what is his best LP in six years. In a recent interview, Ye talked about wanting to take his time on this release, an approach reminiscent of MBDTF.
Part Gospel record, cookout and soul music, this LP is an instant classic in the pantheon of Kanye albums. West blends the nation’s recent obsession with trap music with his traditional approach while still recruiting hip-hops hottest artists to feature. Kanye’s prowess as a producer and lyricist are on full display here. Some of the tracks are disjointed and unpolished still, but even it’s raw state this is one of Ye’s best releases.
This is what Kanye does. He gets us hyped by any means whether it be to “Slow Jamz” or “Jesus Walks”.
This album also may be the first in a line of digital only releases. Kanye has already said this LP wouldn’t be on Apple Music, EVEEEER. But if that were the case I wouldn’t be writing this review. So until we get a physical copy, this album could start a trend.
Favorite Tracks: Wolves, 30 Hours, Famous
Most Slept on: Father Stretch my Hands (Pt 1 & 2)
2004 – College Dropout (441,000 first week sales)
“WAKE UP MR. WEST!”
If you read that in the voice of an older African-American man and imagined yourself dozing off in the middle of a U.S. History 101 course then this album still resonates today. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t exactly have that same imagery ready and on hand: this record is for everyone.
Anyone who listens to College Dropout and any of Kanye’s newer material can hear the difference. This was the Kanye that spoke to children of single black mothers everywhere. This album was the story of a kid with a backpack and some headphones, ready to play you his beats he spent all summer creating. This Kanye was still biting off chunks from Talib Kweli and Mos Def, while trying to balance his newly acquired Roc chain. Every Kanye fan presses play hoping that it’ll sound like this.
If we’re going to speak about golden standards, then look no further. I can’t imagine Kanye on a college classroom nowadays but I sorely remember dancing to College Dropout like I was on campus at Howard. This iteration of Kanye West was hungry and out to prove that he could be a lyrical force, as well as a dope producer. This was back when nobody wanted to hear Kanye rap. What a weird thought, huh?
Favorite Tracks: When It All Falls Down, Through The Wire, Slow Jamz
Most Slept on: Two Words
2010 – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (496,000 first week sales)
MBDTF is Kanye West’s most inclusive, ambitious and well executed pieces of work. Not only did ‘Ye blast us with 13 tracks that emphasize a rollercoaster of feels. He did it while maintaining a narrative lended from the accompanying short film he released alongside the album. And while we’re not exactly lauding Mr. West’s acting chops, it was a beautiful visual piece at the very least. Bad acting aside, if it weren’t for MBDTF, we wouldn’t have such interactive and inclusive projects like Childish Gambino’s “Because the Internet”. This is the kind of album that I can listen to with skipping any tracks. That’s the gold standard.
This album combined all of the different Kanye Wests fan grew to know, hate and love. The brooding genius from 808’s and Heartbreak teamed up with the backpack rapper in College Dropout to produce the most cohesive Kanye release. Remember though, this album came after ‘Ye had to exile himself to Hawaii after the Taylor Swift incident. A sign of a good Kanye album to come is when Yeezy has to prove himself.
Favorite Tracks: Monster, Runaway, All of The Lights
Honorable Mention: Blame Game, Lost in The World