I Am A God: A Kanye West Retrospective
Is Kanye West one of the most inflammatory pop culture figures of the 21st century? Probably. Is he also one of the most gifted musicians of the 21st century? Definitely.
With the much-hyped release of Yeezy’s new album, “The Life of Pablo,” it felt appropriate to take a look at the evolution of his music—not at his crazy antics for once. But to be clear, we’ll be looking purely at his six main studio albums—sorry “Watch the Throne” fans.
So without further ado, let’s educate ourselves, because first up we have…
The College Dropout (2004)
After years as a producer, a young rapper known as Kanye West—going against the gangster image of the time—recorded this groundbreaking piece of work and—like many trailblazers—this album really, really holds up.
Tackling a wide variety of topics, from drug use and traditional life paths in “We Don’t Care” to religion and the modern media in “Jesus Walks,” there’s a strong amount of ambition unseen in most debuts.
Hell, the guy raps through his jaw wired shut in the legendary “Through the Wire”!
Dropping the formalities, most of the tracks here are downright bangers with excellent production and unique sampling throughout. No better place to start than with this gem.
Notable tracks: We Don’t Care, Jesus Walks, School Spirit, All Falls Down, Through the Wire
As far as follow-ups go, this one ain’t half bad.
While not entirely changing the game like “The College Dropout,” “Late Registration” succeeds by building on what made it work, most notably the social themes. The production received a notable upgrade with strings now being incorporated, signaling a shift in the scope of West’s music.
Tracks such as “Gold Digger” also increased his crossover success guaranteeing that Ye wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Not too much to say about this one. A solid follow-up that led to bigger and better things.
Notable Tracks: Heard ‘Em Say, Touch the Sky, Gold Digger, Drive Slow, Diamonds from Sierra Leone
Now this is how you up the ante.
After playing it safe with “Late Registration,” Yeezy decided to go much bolder by graduating to a larger-than-life, stadium-style sound.
The socio-political lyrics may have been toned down, but they’ve been replaced by a deep sense of introspection that shines through in tracks like “Stronger” and “Champion”.
It was really with this album that Kanye started to establish himself as one of the biggest and boldest voices in hip-hop, and he was only gonna get bolder from here.
Notable Tracks: Good Morning, Champion, Stronger, Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights
808s and Heartbreak
When Kanye first debuted some tracks from his next album, audiences were dumbfounded. Why was Kanye suddenly singing, not rapping, through a auto-tune modulator? Why were most of the tracks backed by bizarre primarily electronic synth beats?
Little did they know 808s would be one of the most groundbreaking hip-hop albums in a while, and in my opinion, Kanye’s very best.
Conveying raw human emotion like never before, 808s hops genre quite a bit to great effect. You really feel the titular heartbreak.
In a sense, Kanye changed what could be expressed through hip-hop. How could he possibly top this? According to many, he did just that with his next album.
Notable Tracks: Heartless, Amazing, Love Lockdown, Paranoid, Robocop
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Where to even start with this one. After a hiatus following “808s and Heartbreak,” Kanye started work on his next endeavor.
Dealing with his growing celebrity and the struggles of fame, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is a spectacle for the ages. None of his music had ever felt this, well, huge before, and nothing else has topped it since.
Songs such as “Power” and “All of the Lights” felt like events with Kanye being our gracious host. In a time where his public image was swiftly falling, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” made everyone ignore all of that.
Considered pretty unanimously to be his best work by many, if interrupting a performer at the VMAs gets us albums like this, then maybe it’s worth the risk.
Notable Tracks: Dark Fantasy, Power, All of the Lights, Monster, Runaway, Lost in the World
Without a doubt Ye’s most divisive album, Mr. West dropped this one with little to no warning in a bare-bones format that didn’t even have album art.
This is fitting because “Yeezus” represents Kanye’s most primal work yet. Working against simplistic (yet somehow still complex) electronic back beats, Kanye runs the gamut of anger.
Many were off-put by West’s latest, but I really appreciate his work here. It’s extremely experimental, and the restrained, grungy format allows West’s ear for sharp lyricism to shine through more than ever.
Like many of West’s albums before, this one was met with slight confusion at first, but I’m sure it will end up being seen as a game-changer, as I can already see the influence it’s having on rap music, particularly in propelling the career of Travi$ Scott.
Notable Tracks: Black Skinhead, Bound 2, I Am A God, Blood on the Leaves, Hold My Liquor
Overall, Kanye West has an unbelievably solid and diverse discography and only time will tell if his latest album “Life of Pablo” will have the same affect.