In celebration of Kanye West’s sweeping discography, we have attempted the impossible: finding the best song on every single Yeezy album.
Yeezy. Ye. Yeezus. Kanye fucking West. Divisive, sporadic, impalpable, and yes, genius. From making 5 beats a day for 3 summers all the way to running in the 2020 US presidential election, there isn’t much Kanye hasn’t attempted. Due to his apparent fearlessness, the superstar is seldom ignored by his fans, haters, and of course, the media.
He also never cops a break, which is why we should probably cool down on the meme-ing. Everyone’s got an opinion on his grating opulence, which is why we just can’t stop listening. Ye’s adventurousness naturally extends into his musical endeavours, which has accumulated into a broad discography of both treasures and disasters – depending on who you ask.
If you ask us, there’s plenty of both, but today is about the positive. To celebrate his influence on popular culture and contemporary music, we’ve located the diamonds in the rough – the best of the best, from over 15 years of experimental releases. Keep in mind, this is just opinion, so if your favourite track is nowhere to be seen, don’t panic.
One final disclaimer: collaboration albums such as Kids See Ghosts will not be included because, with nine albums of material, we’ve got our work cut out for us already. So, Good Morning and Welcome To Heartbreak. This is the best Kanye West song on every studio album, oldest to newest.
1. The College Dropout (2004)
Top pick: All Falls Down ft. Syleena Johnson
Before Kanye West embodied unapologetic confidence, listeners of his masterful debut were treated to his early ponderings. All Falls Down offers up a lush beat, driven by a rare acoustic guitar as well as Syleena Johnson’s faultless vocals replicating the magic of Lauryn Hill’s harangue, Mystery of Iniquity.
The result? Not only slick pop/rap sensibility but a powerful statement regarding expectations and consumerism of a mass audience. “We living the American dream, the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem,” Kanye raps in response to the socio-economic complexities dissected in Hill’s original.
Ye’s verses revel in tongue and cheek, but his ability to make the nuanced issues surrounding materialism accessible is seriously impressive for a debut. All Falls Down remains a cruisy listen that explores a relevant cultural issue without exhausting its audience.
Runners up: Jesus Walks, Through The Wire, We Don’t Care
2. Late Registration (2005)
Top pick: Touch The Sky ft. Lupe Fiasco
Late Registration proved that Kanye’s brilliance was only in its inception. Expanding from his debut, Kanye serves up even more bangers destined for the USBs of club DJs all over, while also trying his hand at some compelling string arrangements.
We all know Kanye is the king of sampling but hit single Touch The Sky is the song that earned him his crown. The inclusion of horns from Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up culminates into such an uplifting, effortless groove that it truly is love at first listen.
Mix in some aspirational lyrics (“I gotta testify, come up in the spot lookin’ extra fly, ‘fore the day I die, Imma touch the sky”), some percussive drum-work, and a stellar debut verse from Lupe Fiasco, and you got the ultimate feel-good, self-love anthem.
Runners up: Hey Mama, Gold Digger, Diamonds From Sierra Leone – Remix
3. Graduation (2007)
Top pick: Everything I Am ft. DJ Premier
Probably a controversial pic, considering the unforgettable techno-emancipation better known as Stronger which occupies this record, but allow me to explain why I’m not a hipster fuckwit for backing the down-tempo tune.
Assessing yourself accurately and honestly is incredibly difficult, but Kanye provides the perfect couplet that not only exercises self-awareness but also addresses his social impact: “People talking shit but when the shit hit the fan, everything I’m not made me everything I am.”
This personal reflection is aptly backed by minimal production, a Rhodes piano, and some excessive record scratching that somehow works, as well as a sample of Prince Phillip Mitchell’s beautiful If We Can’t Be Lovers. “Common passed on this beat”, but I’m pleased that he did because Ye tapped into some admirable clarity here.
Runners up: Flashing Lights, Stronger, Can’t Tell Me Nothing
4. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Top pick: Heartless
Regardless of your feelings towards 808s & Heartbreak’s robotic and idiosyncratic experimentation, its influence on hip-hop is incalculable. The grandiose Heartless is likely the most accomplished of these efforts.
In an interview with MTV, West described the hook as a “straight Broadway melody”, which is surprisingly accurate, due to its thematic imagery and bite. “In the night I hear them talk, the coldest story every told, and far along the road he lost his soul, to a women so heartless” has to be one of Ye’s strongest hooks to date.
Even in the midst of a breakup with his fiancée and the passing of his mother, Kanye channels these feelings into a cutting-edge project. He may have upset many of his original followers with an excess of subpar auto-tuned vocals, but the record became seminal for it. I’m looking at you, Drake.
Runners up: Welcome To Heartbreak, Paranoid, Love Lockdown
5. My Beautiful Dark Twist Fantasy (2010)
Top pick: Devil In A New Dress ft. Rick Ross
MBDTF is the sharp zenith for Kanye West, or at the very least, his second wind. Kanye actualises his strengths of ingenious sampling, ambition, confidence, impulsiveness, hedonism, and witty commentary to formulate a project filled with hit, after hit, after hit.
While the humanising Runaway shook the western world with its cinematic 35-minute film clip, the classiest of the tracks is Devil In A New Dress. Ye’s slick flow sounds breezy, but his pensiveness assures it’s packed with enough lyrical provocation for more than a few essays: “We love Jesus, but you done learned a lot from Satan”.
Combine that with a surreal sample of Smokey Robinson’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow? and a winning last-minute feature from Rick Ross tracked in only 30 minutes, and you have a rare gem that shines bright on Kanye’s most celebrated record.
Runners up: POWER, Runaway, Monster
6. Yeezus (2013)
Top pick: Bound 2
Three long years after MBDTF, the anticipation for Yeezus was insurmountable. And surprise, surprise, its content was immediately divisive, as Kanye once again reinvented his sound and style. What we hear on Yeezus feels like an evolution of 808s & Heartbreak‘s production, but far more sinister and mechanical. The lyrical matter unapologetically mixes flavours of self-righteousness with spitting anger and only at the closing track Bound 2, does Yeezus expose its soul.
The contrasting moods of the slow jam’s facetiousness (“one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”) and optimism (“maybe we could still make it to the church steps”) results in a cathartic listening experience that both revitalises and entertains. Plus, you can’t deny those killer pipes sampled from Charlie Wilson’s I Know You’re Tired of Loving.
Runners up: Black Skinhead, Blood On The Leaves, New Slaves
7. The Life Of Pablo (2016)
Top pick: Ultralight Beam
The Life of Pablo’s staggered release, justified by Kanye’s label Def Jam as a “living, evolving art project”, felt like an excuse for a messy project, desperately in need of some fine-tuning. Much like the album artwork, the flow and tone of this album are scattered. But amidst all the chaos lies some of Kanye’s best work; namely, the delicate, gospel-opener, Ultralight Beam.
Kanye wisely takes the back seat, allowing his magical ear for arrangements to synthesise the song’s expansive list of performers into cohesive sonic-bliss. Many salivate over Chance The Rapper‘s incredible feature verse: “my daughter look just like Sia you can’t see her” (which he hasn’t even come close to topping since), but the whole track remains glorious in its intricacy. The powerful ten-piece choir also foreshadows Ye’s fondness for applying gospel music to his own work.
Runners Up: Father Stretch My Hands (Pt. 1), Feedback, Famous
8. Ye (2018)
Top pick: Ghost Town ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR
This might just be Kanye’s most hollow release, with its sparseness and brief runtime sadly feeling more incomplete than intentional. “It’s been a shaky ass year”, he confesses on No Mistakes, reflecting from a rare position of vulnerability. While tracks like All Mine are painfully embarrassing, there’s still lingering excellence – this is Kanye West after all.
One of these is the eclectic Ghost Town, which successfully meshes an array of musical ideas from multiple eras. Frequent collaborator Kid Cudi somehow performs the vocals over The Royal Jesters Take Me for a Little While sample effectively, creating an intertextual enigma of a track.
There’s elements of rock, hip-hop, pop, and soul, all connected through a passionate exploration of feeling. Dynamic lines like “I put my hand on a stove to see if I still bleed” offer a rousing insight into the devastating consequences of declining mental health, Ye’s cornerstone topic.
Runners up: I Thought About Killing You, Wouldn’t Leave, Violent Crimes
9. JESUS IS KING (2019)
Top pick: Follow God
Again reinventing himself, Kanye West emerges from his self-reflection on Ye as an unflinching man of God. Bursting with gospel and religious influence, Yeezy sounds the most passionate he has in years, injecting high energy into every vocal delivery.
Alas, the resounding flaw of Jesus Is King is its substance. For the most part, Kanye avoids lyrical complexity, offering only surface-level observations regarding faith and religion. There’s also that cringe-inducing “Chick-fil-A” line that will haunt this album’s reputation for eternity. Lyrical shortcomings aside, Follow God is the definite exception.
Through an outstanding chop of soul and trap, Ye boasts a punching delivery, allowing his stream of consciousness to unpack what it means to have faith, following an argument with his father. The inclusion of Whole Truth’s Can You Lose By Following God, much like Ye’s early projects, offers a thematically relevant sample that also fits flawlessly into the music itself.
Runners up: Use This Gospel, Water, God Is
10. Donda (2021)
Top pick: Hurricane
Kanye’s reputation has taken a heavy beating following the convoluted rollout of Donda, which disappointingly featured Marilyn Manson (accused of sexual assault) and DaBaby (homophobic remarks) on the tracklist AND at the listening parties. The discomposed artist also recently bombed at the US Presidential Election and got divorced by Kim Kardashian, so, unsurprisingly, his creative compass is spinning out of control.
Donda fails to present a clear vision or cohesive tracklist, sporting nearly 2 hours of uneven material. That being said, some of Kanye’s finest guest appearances bring the heat on Donda, namely, The Weeknd on Hurricane. A track nearly three years in the making, Hurricane features some of The Weeknd’s most inebriating tenor, “don’t let me drown”, unforgettably mixed with potent choir backings.
Ye also manages to mix braggadocious and transparency into a passionate verse, highlighting telling habits during his relationship with Kim, “Sixty-million dollar home, never went home to it”. If only the rest of DONDA could have found the same level of clarity.
Runners up: Pure Souls, Jail, Moon