Discography Dive: Kanye West

Kanye West - The College Dropout

Well, seeing that he is supposedly dropping his tenth solo album this upcoming Friday (It’s definitely not dropping), I thought I’d take a dive through the discography of one of the greatest visionaries in modern music, indisputably one of the most influential artists of the past 20 years, one of the greatest rappers of all time, my most listened to artist of all time, and one of my personal favorite artists point blank period: Kanye Omari Muthafuckin West. However, firstly, I need to give some insight into the creation of ‘The College ‘Dropout’. After struggling to make a name for himself producing for more underground acts throughout the 90s, Kanye, now entering into the 2000s, received the opportunity of a lifetime. In 2001, Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’ was released, brimming with production from Kanye. It’s odd to think of a time where something as measly as a production credit would be a big deal for Kanye West, and yet, here we are (or were). While Ye continued to get promising jobs working as a producer, he wanted to be a rapper. Despite many labels rejecting him due to how he doesn’t fit that “gangsta image” which was ever so present in popular hip-hop at the time, Ye was, reluctantly, taken in as both a rapper and producer by hip-hop powerhouse Roc-A-Fella Records.

Fast forward a few years and boom- 2004 comes and producer turned rapper Kanye West drops ‘The College Dropout’, perhaps the best debut album in all of hip-hop. Compared to what was popular and seen as “cool” at the time within hip-hop, ‘The College Dropout’ was more grounded and relatable towards the average person. Issues like Ye’s distaste for the college educational system, his love and devotion towards his family, racism in modern America, consumerism, the car accident he got into two years prior which almost killed him- something he flexes on ‘Through the Wire’ by rapping with his jaw wired shut-, and Christianity are just scratching the
Kanye West - Through the Wire
surface of ‘The College Dropout’. Ye always seems to tackle these topics in a witty fashion and whenever he drops a bar they are consistently clever. Ye doesn’t perpetuate a persona he isn’t on this record and doesn’t make himself out to be ahy more than he actually is, once again something that many of hip-hop’s most widespread rappers weren’t doing at the time. He was down to earth and just seemed like a man who was trying to make his name known with a love and passion for music rather than someone who was hungry for money.

Kanye can also be credited for basically inventing- or at the very least pioneering- the genre of chipmunk soul. Chipmunk soul basically consists of hip-hop which uses sped-up soul samples as the basis for instrumentals. On ‘The College Dropout’, chipmunk soul is at its best. ‘Jesus Walks’, ‘Never Let Me Down’, ‘Two Words’, 'We Don’t Care’, ‘Family Business’... all these songs (and many more on ‘The College Dropout’) are phenomenal showcases of chipmunk soul. These soul samples weren’t the only style featured on ‘The College Dropout’, however. You got that fuckin’ slick-ass guitar instrumental on ‘All Falls Down’, the choir sample on ‘Jesus Walks’, contemporary hip-hop with ‘Get Em High’ and ‘Breathe in Breathe Out’, skits that have actually aged well, and whatever the fuck is going on in ‘New Workout Plan’ is.

Eclectic, ground-breaking, intelligent, forward-thinking, and a straight masterpiece… ‘The College Dropout’ is everything a great Kanye record should be.

Favorite Tracks: We Don’t Care, Graduation Day, All Falls Down, I’ll Fly Away, Spaceship, Jesus Walks , Never Let Me Down, Get Em High, Slow Jamz, Breathe In Breathe Out, School Spirit, Two Words, Through The Wire, Family Business, Last Call, All the skits
Worst Track: The New Workout Plan (if I had to pick one)
Kanye West - Late Registration

One of my favorite things about Kanye West is that no matter what album you pick as your favorite, there is no “wrong” answer. Ok, well, maybe a couple, but still… he was like 5 or 6 amazing-ass albums that go unparalleled by nearly every rapper. Well, for my money… ‘Late Registration’ is Kanye’s best album. One of the few albums that I, personally, would perhaps call flawless. Maybe it's because I’ve subjected myself to it so many times, or maybe it's because it’s just that great, I’ll never be able to know. But one thing I do know is that, in my humble opinion, ‘Late Registration’ is one of the single best musical experiences one can subject themselves to.

The record feels like the logical next step following ‘The College Dropout’; whereas ‘The College Dropout’ felt like Kanye talking his shit, proving that he’s got it in him to make a record that is both perfectly produced and rapped, and cementing himself into hip-hop hall of fame with just one album, ‘Late Registration’ is Kanye saying “Motherfucker I’ve made it.” It’s Kanye’s victory lap, and what a victory lap it is. In one word, this album is: rich. Orchestral production comes in the form of stunning string arrangements, there are some gorgeous and lush piano sections, somehow even better sampling than ‘The College Dropout’, and SO MANY TRIUMPHANT AND LUXURIOUS JAZZY HORNS! FUCK! Songs like ‘Crack Music’, ‘Touch the Sky’, ‘We Major’... AHHH fuck I just wish Ye made more jazz-rap tracks, I could rave on for hours about how good these songs are honestly. Jazz rap isn’t the only thing on this album, however- it doesn’t even makeup nearly half the album.

You have club bangers like ‘Gold Digger’- a song that is especially prominent in popular culture for its famous Jamie Foxx sample-, the inclusion of a lot more beautifully textured electronic on songs like ‘Celebration’ and ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’, even the chipmunk soul pioneered by Kanye on ‘The College Dropout’, just with
Kanye West - Diamonds from Sierra Leone
a more wealthy and “night-time” feel to them. Speaking of that, alongside the more lavish tone of this project, this album also differs from ‘The College Dropout’ in its super “dark” and “nightish” feeling, at least from its instrumentals. I’ve always envisioned ‘The College Dropout’ as more of a drive around your hometown during the day and ‘Late Registration’ as a slow nighttime drive through New York City or somewhere, with the city lights beaming on your eyes. While chipmunk-soul is still incredibly prevalent here, it is soooo different that it's a near impossibility to mistake a ‘Late Registration’ track for a ‘The College Dropout’ track.

There’s also a certain level of artistry and attention to detail here- like the absolutely perfect track flow or how progressive the song structures are- that wasn’t there on ‘The College Dropout’, as amazing as that album is. I think I’ve talked enough about Kanye’s production though, let’s talk about Yeezy himself. Kanye’s pengame has somehow stepped up. This album is not as relatable or introspective as ‘The College Dropout’, but lemme tell you, this is not a single line wasted here. ‘Touch the Sky’, ‘Drive Slow’, ‘Crack Music’, ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone O.G./Remix’, ‘We Major’, “Roses’, and ‘Late’... all of these tracks have some of the best hip-hop verses OF ALL TIME dropped from Kanye. His bars are oftentimes braggadocious, confident, celebratory, and lethal, no one was comparing to Ye’s humorous yet always witty way of writing at the time. And that’s not even mentioning all of the many storytelling tracks that are sprinkled throughout this album- all of which contain some of the most engaging storytelling in all of hip-hop. Many of ‘The College Dropout’s topics such as racism, drugs, and that “fuck the haters” mentality pop up all over ‘Late Registration’ too.

But perhaps one of the most commendable things about ‘Late Registration’ era Kanye is that he, despite how
Kanye West - Heard 'Em Say
rich and famous he is now, still stays grounded. Like on ‘Heard ‘Em Say’ where he talks about people who have doubted him or on ‘Hey Mama’ where he adorably talks about how much he loves his mother, a woman who tragically died only a few years after ‘Late Registration’s release. But… listen. Despite this being Ye’s “I made it album”, he doesn't forget his roots. Many of the tracks in which he is flexing his new success and saying “We made it”, he is also reminiscing on where he has come from and how it helped him. In spite of how rich he is, he still loves his family and wants to shout out where he came from, virtually nothing- something I found very lovable about Kanye :)

Also wanna give a shoutout to Common, Lupe, Jay-Z, and Nas for dropping goated verses, plus all of the neo-soul features on here for giving your A-Game. I should probably stop here, I think I’ve said enough here. I could go on and rave about this album for many tireless hours, but I’ll stop here. 2nd greatest album of all time, just… fucking… listen to it.


Favorite Tracks: FUCKING ALL
Worst Track: Fuck up
Kanye West - Graduation

Yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, ‘Graduation’ is the worst in Ye's “school” series. However, I think it’s also an incredibly important album for elevating Ye’s star power to unforeseen heights. Right now, I just want you to look at the tracklist. ‘Stronger’, ‘Good Life’, ‘Flashing Lights’, ‘Homecoming’- these are still songs I hear people playing to this day. On Spotify, LR has 2 songs with 100 Million+ streams, TCD has 3… ‘Graduation’ has 7 and it’s only 13 tracks. This album is QUINTUPLE PLATINUM. I mean, it’s obvious that this would be more popular than LR and TCD, right? ‘Graduation’ appealed to a more commercial audience, which is both for the better and the worse.

‘Graduation’ has its wonderful moments, don’t get me wrong, but ‘Graduation' also feels a tad bit too trendy. There’s nothing wrong with going for a trendy release and appealing to what’s popular per se- however, with that, a complication comes up… ‘Graduation’ is kinda sorta dated. The “late 2000s pop-rap” aesthetic has aged pretty poorly, something that is apparent with songs like ‘Good Life’ and ‘Barry Bonds’. There’s also ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’ which is just… bad, has always been bad.

So yeah, ‘Graduation’ suffers from nothing more than being a hip-hop album from 2007, a product of the times. Not trying to make it out like it’s bad or anything. Most of the material here is amazing- ‘Good Morning’ with its epic beat buildup that leads into one of the most “Kanye” verses Kanye has ever dropped, ‘Stronger’s iconic Daft Punk sample, the flamboyant verses on songs such as ‘Champion’ and ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’, and ‘Flashing Lights’ which is my favorite Kanye song… the bulk of this album is fantastic, I only give it a lot of shit because of how solid the other two in the school series were.

Light 8/10
Favorite Tracks: Good Morning, Champion, Stronger, I Wonder, Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Flashing Lights, The Glory, Homecoming, Big Brother
Worst Track: Drunk and Hot Girls
Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak

Ughhh… this is the sad one. After the release of 2007’s ‘Graduation’, Kanye was at the top of the world- one of the most famous rappers, rubbing elbows with his idols, being looked up to by the same people he would look up to, he was… unstoppable. That was until 1 month and 30 days after ‘Graduation’s release… because tragedy struck. Kanye’s mother, Donda West, sadly passed away. She died following a surgery she had a day prior. It’s unknown the exact cause of death, but it's said that she collapsed inside the house the evening following the surgery. Kanye blames himself for her death, specifically saying “If I had never moved to L.A. she'd be alive.” Kanye was also engaged with Alexis Phifer… but, sadly, their relationship came to an end around the same time Ye’s mother passed away.

Ye felt like rapping had its limits, and that rapping couldn’t fully portray his incredibly heavy emotions. So, Kanye West began to create a sad pop album… something that seemed incredibly weird in a time where most mainstream pop was pretty happy-go-lucky and carefree. Now, do I need to tell you ‘808s & Heartbreak’ is not only the most influential album of the past 20 years, but also a cultural milestone that’s proving itself to be more and more important to music as every year goes on? You’ve probably heard it a million times at this point. This entire wave of “autotuned sad boy pop” or even just pop that’s more focused on pessimism and expressing your sorrows that has only been growing bigger each year? Yeah, very little of that would exist without this album.

The music itself? While it can’t hold a candle to the album’s legend, it’s still pretty great. Bad songs are definitely here; ‘RoboCop’ is incredibly corny, ‘See You In My Nightmares’ is pretty fine until Lil Wayne comes in and does his singing thing, ‘Say You Will’ has a great first four minutes but then kinda just… meanders for the remaining
Kanye West - Paranoid
two, and I’ve always just hated the sound of ‘Street Lights’. However, highlights here are incredibly high too. ‘Coldest Winter’, ‘Heartless’, ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’, and so, so many more tracks on here are the electropop that was so prominent in the mainstream 2008 pop scene but filtered through a man who was filled with nothing but misery and sorrow. It has a unique, incredibly frigid atmosphere that Kanye hasn’t even tried to replicate since which makes it a very novel moment in Kanye’s catalog. Ye’s autotuned wails and cries beautifully illustrate the lack of hopefulness and happiness within Ye at the moment. It’s truly an album that will never be replicated in Kanye’s discography, one that’s constructed from pure dejection and emotions, and one that inspired a whole generation of musicians.

Strong 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Welcome To Heartbreak, Heartless, Amazing, Love Lockdown, Paranoid, Bad News, Bad News, Coldest Winter, Pinocchio Story
Worst Track: RoboCop
Kanye West - Nah Nah Nah


-----ALBUMS: 12-----


3. GRADUATION (2007)
4. 808S & HEARTBREAK (2008)

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July 2021 Playlist