Kanye West is many things. He's controversial, a bit on the egotistical side, and he's a superstar of the likes rarely seen in pop music. He's also a musical genius capable of some of the best music the public has ever heard. There's a reason that even after all the drama and scandals, his albums are often hailed as masterpieces, and forward thinking in a genre where that concept isn't always accepted. With maybe two other artists, Arcade Fire and Radiohead, he's probably the most important musician or band creating music right now. Without a doubt, Kanye is simply amazing, and at the very least, his presence in hip hop and music in general is a blessing to music fans everywhere. Here's the top ten songs by the awesome, powerful Kanye West.
10. Good Life, Graduation
One of the more positive, summer time feeling songs, “Good Life” finds us at number ten on the countdown. This song to me is the epitome of fun. The beat is super fresh and clean, and a perfect example of what fun time rap can be when it's done properly. I mean seriously, don't you just imagine being on a yacht or some gigantic ship with the people closest to you as you rock out and enjoy the weather?
9. Flashing Lights, Graduation
Known for his creative videos as well as his music, this one has it all. The video is arresting to the eye, and it's simple plot really helps the music along. The song itself though is great. The song demonstrates the difficulties in a relationship, and the usage of the “Flashing Lights” theme throughout suggests the disorientation of being lost in a situation you can't control. The metaphor of “Like Katrina with no Fema” is a perfect one to explain the helplessness that the subject of the song feels at that moment. You feel powerless to help, but if you take the images of the video with the song, it makes it much easier to watch the downfall of a man.
8. Jesus Walks, The College Dropout
One of the key songs that made Kanye a household name. “Jesus Walks” is still a powerful song even a decade after it's release. And it's not hard to see why. The song's beat is masterfully done, and the lyrics, which are more or less serious in nature, is a indictment of a person trying to stay pure and good but also dealing with the incredible pressures of the music industry. Also this is the first instance of Kanye dropping hints and lines that are taken straight from really cool sources(I'm looking at you “Happy Gilmore” reference). The last chorus though, where the topic of how mentioning Jesus isn't prevalent in music is still dead on. You really don't hear it mentioned often, which I find strange considering most musicians thank the Lord after they win anything. Just some food for thought.
7. All of the Lights, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It's really too bad Rhianna makes tons of money making her own marginally interesting msuic, when every song she guests on is a killer track. “All of the Lights” is perhaps the best example of this. The horns open up and her face rises above and beyond to drop this amazingly bumpy beat. It's just one example of how monumental this album was. Almost every song on it works, and this is one of the most clearly awesome tracks. The pain, anger, and resentment in the song are palpable, and you feel as though Kanye is walking through the track in a rageful haze. Imagine the camera work when Denzel Washington moves in the floating effect in the Film “Malcolm X” and tell me that same effect wouldn't work here. Maybe that's an obscure reference, but every time I hear this track I think of it.
6. Gold Digger, Late Registration
Before we talk about the potency of the track itself, it must be mentioned how ironic it is at who this impeccable artist is married to. Now, easily she's one of the hottest women on earth, and has done amazing things in her business, but I can't be the only one who finds the relationship a bit perplexing, especially considering this song and the tone it has. On to the song though, it was a giant smash, and with the chorus “She ain't messin' with no broke niggas,” Kanye as a force to be reckoned with had arrived. Seriously, do you remember how insanely popular this song was? The Ray Charles sample is also as vital to the song as the lyrical content is. It makes the song, and the inclusion of Jamie Foxx in the video was excellent. The lyrics here though are really the highlight. This fucking dude from Chicago with Polo's and a backpack showed up and murdered everyone with an album, and in less than three years he was the king of hip hop, a trophy I think he still has.
5. Blood on the Leaves, Yeezus
One of his most poignant, and honestly brutal songs. When I say brutal, I don't mean in the way that it's violent, but it's a song that is so cold, and uncompromising that you can't really distance yourself from the effects. Elements of the song differ greatly from the rough nature of the rest of the album, but that may be why the song works so well. It's a stark, wintry songs, and the horns are effective in the building of tension. Much of the album is West at his angry, intense best, but this song might be among the most concentrated in terms of musical anger. The VMA blackout performance was the perfect way to showcase the privacy of the song, and it's easily one of the best live Awards show performances I've ever seen.
4. Can't Tell Me Nothing, Graduation.
“Wait til I get my money right” is the absolute perfect opening to the song, and within seconds you find yourself bending your knees with hands in the hair swaying to the beats. This song is a clear portrayal, I think, of how West sees himself in everyday life. He completely recognizes how the public see's him, and he's aware of his transgression in the very public eye, but you get the impression that for one, he doesn't give a fuck, but also that his mind is so set on the finished product of his music, that anything else is of little importance. The female “ oh oh oh” highlighted through the song is likewise a great little added moment in the song that brings out the brilliance of this man to be album to mix and add touches here and there that most others wouldn't think of.
3. Black Skinhead, Yeezus
Right here, the ultimate collaboration between West and Daft Punk. The drumbeat is untouchable, and the hurried breathing's indicate a pace that is tough to catch up to. This is KW at his most racially dangerous, and he's unleashing his brilliant beast of lyrics on the unsuspecting public. He's totally unresponsive to the needs of others here, but that's what sets the song up to be so great. When he says “I'm aware I'm a Wolf,” you totally get that not only is he feasting on furious beats, but his hunger will not be laid to rest until he's damn good and ready. This album was polarizing, mostly because of the unabashed nature of the tracks, but even on an album of unrelenting tracks, “Black Skinhead” stands out as the ultimate warning cry of his career.
2. POWER, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
When I first heard this song, I really couldn't believe it. The skill at which he manages the beats, the chants, and the clapping only adds to the strength of the song. And also can we toast a motherfucker who has the depth and knowledge in music to use a King Crimson sample in modern rap music? That's why he's the best. He's not using tired or predictable anything in his creations, and that's the reason time after time he's hailed as one of our most important musicians. No one is doing anything near his league, and on song's like “POWER” he explains why he's at the top. He also has the gift of being completely honest with himself and how he's aware of the way the world perceives him, at least when it comes to the way in which he sometimes handles himself. While it only gets to number two here, it's a song that shouldn't be ignored, and is an all time classic in his career.
1. Runaway, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The performance of this at the VMA's a few years ago signified that one, West knew the wrong's he had committed, and also, that his music was about to go to another level. The honesty in the song is tough to comprehend, possible because no one in music is as honest as Mr. West is. You also get the feeling that as harshly as the public perceives him, it's nothing compared to how hard he is on himself when trying to stay relevant and push his music to the next height of originality. His art is everything. On “Runaway” the piano beat and shouted samples are as important as the lyrics are. The piano keys steadily moving through the song keeps the tempo at a unnerving pace, but this song isn't meant to be a love filled track. This song is an announcement of the mistakes he's repeatedly made, and the struggle he finds himself him. “Runaway” remains West's crowning achievement, and likely the only form of apology the world will ever get. That apology is fine though, because we're lucky to have him around to make compelling music, and I get the impression he's only getting started.
Thanks for reading, see you Wednesday.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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