There are more than a few endless debates amongst hip-hop heads around the world that never seem to resolve themselves. In light of his upcoming album, we decided to revisit one of our personal favorites; What’s the best Kanye West album? Everyone has their own opinion and after releasing 6 platinum albums in a row, TrueToo decides to reminisce on their own favorites.
CJ Maruyama – Los Angeles, CA
Not many people knew of Kanye West in 2004. I always think of the Dave Chappelle interview with Jimmy Fallon when he describes Kanye’s first ever performance on television by quoting a young Kanye: “Cuz my life is dope, and I do dope shit.” This was before he had dropped any records, before he was producing beats for every RocAFella album, or even before your mom knew about Kanye. It was like he knew that he would go on to become the most famous rapper of his generation when he released College Dropout, justifying his confidence. The product as a whole is polished to perfection; the samples are on point, the features are diverse and tasteful and as always, the production value rivals that of the greats. The storyline and timed skits portray Kanye’s personality and worldviews in a logical manner.
Quentin Yarolem – Iowa City, Iowa
College Dropout was the first hip-hop album I ever listened to, and it was one of the only things outside of Pearl Jam and Nirvana that my father would play in the car. Whenever I listen to the album I get really nostalgic because it takes me back to a simpler time of being a kid and hanging out with my dad. When I first moved away to college, I found myself listening to College Dropout a lot. At first, I thought I was doing it to be ironic, but as time moved on I realized that it was because it was a way to be close to my family while still being so far away. I do understand, however, that in a real world sense it’s one of the most influential albums ever. It brought life to a genre of music that was dying and brought it into the mainstream. Without College Dropout, we don’t have pop-rap at all. Kanye literally paved the way for today’s hip-hop with this album.
Christopher Ng – Sydney, AU
Late Registration was the first album that made me truly fall in love with hip hop and in particular, conscious rap. I couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13 at the time and it was because of this album that my love for hip hop blossomed. I’d always liked hard hitting west coast beats but when I heard the soul samples mixed with the orchestral feel of the production, I instantly fell in love. This got me more into jazzy beats and that’s where my love for J Dilla, Pete Rock, DJ Premier etc. came from. 10 years later, the album is still relevant by touching on issues like racism, classism and materialism.
Keelen Wolfe – San Francisco, CA
Kanye West’s sophomore album, Late Registration, is by far my favorite of his discography. West took the success he had with The College Dropout and built on it, creating a unique blend of multiple genres and using live orchestration as part of the production for the album. He accomplished this all while remaining as soulful as ever. Features from Nas, Jay-Z, Adam Levine, Common, Paul Wall, Jamie Foxx, and many more only add to the masterpiece that is Late Registration as well as a memorable verse from, at the time, up-and-coming Lupe Fiasco on “Touch The Sky.” The themes of materialism and hood politics blend nicely with glimpses into Kanye’s past and help create a cohesive album along with the classic Broke Phi Broke skits. “Gold Digger” also helped boost Yeezy into a whole new spotlight as the song’s popularity led people of all ages to hear Kanye for the first time (including my parents). Ye’s greatest live performance, Late Orchestration, was also born from this album and if you have yet to watch the jaw-dropping performance I urge you to check it out.
Chris Robinson – London, UK
In a moment perhaps foreshadowing later collaborations with the fabled Beatles front man Paul McCartney, Yeezus took to London’s famous Abbey Road studios to record a one-off live show in front of 300 (yes, like the Romans) personally-invited guests and fans. Accompanied by a seventeen-strong all-female orchestra, Kanye performed a selection of songs from his first two albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration. There are a few reasons why I chose Late Orchestration as my favorite Kanye album, the first being that it was the first album of his I actually took the time to listen to back in 2006. It has more going for it not only because it tends to be overlooked in his extensive catalogue, but really I simply find it to be his most engaging listening experience, even when compared to 2013’s Yeezus. Just 13 tracks long, Late Orchestration evinces everything we love about Kanye, his breathless, powerful vocal performance, utterly sumptuous live strings and fantastic guest appearances from John Legend, Lupe Fiasco, GLC and Consequence. The greatest thing about this album, however, it its ability to serve as a time capsule for what some may consider Kanye’s peak as both an artist and performer. Many I’m sure will disagree, but it’s my opinion that Kanye plateaued in the 4 years between Late Registration and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, only to reach even higher heights in 2010. As a corollary, this one live recording captures so much of that compositional perfection and visceral flow that embodies the production and lyrical output of early Kanye. Really though, it should serve as proof enough that I took a break halfway through writing this to enjoy this album once again that Late Orchestration remains, and perhaps always will be, my personal favorite Kanye album.
Micheal Charlebois – Ottawa, Canada
If you asked me to name a beautiful rap album I would pick this one. It’s a testament to Ye’s brilliance as a producer. Most producers who bring out such musty samples usually turn it into a dated sound rather than a gorgeous one; but not Kanye. Of the fourteen listed samples on the Wikipedia page, one comes from 1958, two from the 60’s, and eight from the 70’s. Kanye and Brion’s incredible ability to wipe the dust completely off these samples and make them sound as fresh and timeless as possible is representative of the greatness of this album. Better than Dropout because the beats are much more monumental. Better than MBDTF because there’s still a hint of humor and light-heartedness in Kanye’s personality. The ego is still there but it doesn’t center itself around the album. Kanye reaches the perfect eclipse of underdog and superstar, and backs it up with some of the most gorgeous production of his career.
Ross Perkel – New York, NY
In September of 2007, I was just starting 8th grade and my goal that year was to become “cool.” In classic middle school fashion, this meant changing everything about myself to fit in with my peers from the movies I watched to the music I listened to. The first hip hop records I ever bought were Tha Carter III and Graduation so the album will always be tinged with nostalgia for me. Graduation is ‘Ye at his most introspective, examining what it means to be in the spotlight and coming to grips with the realization that he is now an icon. The beef with 50 Cent not only marked the end of “gangster rap” as the dominant force in the zeitgeist but it also showed West at his most vulnerable; “Big Brother” is a J Cole level baring of his soul while “Champion” acknowledges humble upbringings and shortcomings in his family. Without “Stronger,” would we have Chance the Rapper and Skrillex collaborating? Anyone can make a convincing argument for almost every song on Graduation being essential to his catalog and even though the same could be said about any of the albums in the “‘Ye-ducation” trilogy, Graduation still stands above The College Dropout and Late Registration. ‘Ye, to me, has always been at his most compelling by discussing his failures rather than discussing his successes. Don’t you prefer the Kanye still wondering how he could sell out stadiums, the Kanye who listened to Bob Dylan and Radiohead to improve songwriting, the ‘Ye who admitted that he surprised himself by becoming the “hood favorite” dropping hits like Barry Bonds; that’s the swagger that can only come from a Graduate.
Jeffanity Elliot – New Haven, CT
When asked which of Kanye’s albums was my favorite I said, 808’s & Heartbreaks. I chose to preface that with an admittance that it isn’t his best album. I give that consideration to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Almost instantly one of the other writers jokingly asked if I was sad a lot. To his point, this is a sad album, however, the album never had that effect on me. It all started with my unrealistic obsession with “Love Lockdown.” There was something about the way the beat broke out that I just needed to listen to it again and again. At the time, the album came through the game with all types of fucked up. This is due to a representation of an autotune artist and a hot off a break-up Kanye coming through with a 12 track lament. This album is so far removed from his previous and tremendous works and I am all about it. The album boasts features from heavy hitters Lil’ Wayne and Jeezy back when he had Young in his name on tracks “See You in My Nightmares” and “Amazing,” respectively. When considering this album among his many, the narrative begins to tilt towards the darkness we would soon see on MBDTF. More importantly, you get Kanye doing something very Kanye and by that, I mean whatever the fuck he wants.
Yousef Fatehpour – Bay Area, CA
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is just as amazing as everyone who praises it says it is, but never for the same reasons. MBDTF is special because it’s the album that set a new standard for Hip Hop, the album that taught almost every listener what a “lush sound” is, and the album would be nothing without every fucked up flaw it has. For such a great album, it seems to be mastered poorly but based on his prior works you can conclude that that was his intent. The strings on “So Appalled” need to crackle. Some songs are so repetitive that you could actually listen to them for hours upon hours (see “Gorgeous”). The last four minutes of “Runaway” is just distorted mumbling run through autotune. Everything that no one else could pull off, Kanye did.
Doc – Brooklyn, NY
Okay, do you remember the second half of 2010? Kanye was the pop culture boogeyman. The general public was outraged by his ego, his fans were turned off by the direction of his previous album, and even the president had called him a jackass. It was a tough time to be Kanye. And then we started hearing the music. First the bombastic “Power” and it’s mythology-inspired video. Then, Kanye returned to the VMA stage to premier the remorseful “Runaway.” From a studio in Hawaii, The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Yeezus was dropping a new track every week through the G.O.O.D. Friday series. When the end of November rolled around, Kanye didn’t disappoint. From the opening of the title track, you could tell that this was something big. The emotions on display were as varied as the musical influences, ranging from the triumphant to the introspective. By the time “Lost In The World” fades into the “Who Will Survive In America” spoken word outro, you know you’ve experienced something uncommon. For me, MBDTF will always be Kanye’s masterpiece.
Isaac Biehl – Ames, IA
Musical masterpiece. Genius. Moving. Beautiful. Legendary. Those are just a few of the words I would use to describe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I recently just made a trip to Chicago and played this album once on the way there and once back; needless to say I fell in love all over again. When I listen to MBDTF I can’t help but feel like I’m a part of history. The album suspends time and leaves me in a moment of raw excellence. The interlude to “All of the Lights,” a track of epic proportions, is to this day one of the most pleasing intros to a track I’ve ever heard. The last 15 seconds of the track whispers just as much beauty as the intro. It brings back that softness and purity after the explosion of sound that is “All of the Lights.” It’s these type of minute details that can’t go overlooked, really bringing MBDTF to life. From the fairytale opening on “Dark Fantasy” to the spiritual feeling on “Lost In the World.” Front to back, this album is one of the best collections of sound ever made. So much so that my roommate, who really isn’t a fan of hip-hop, actually enjoyed the music on this album. Kanye transcended all elements of music and art on this project, something not easily done. MBDTF changed the way I hear music. It set a new standard for me. What can I say? Yeezy taught me.
Ryan Trumbach – San Diego, CA
Kanye’s previous albums took him from being a man to a myth and a legend, but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his ascension into Godhood. Lyrically, Kanye is at his most unfiltered and most complex as he takes us through his dark thoughts and stories of power, corruption, love, legacy, and battling one’s own demons. The list of features is insane from Bon Iver, Raekwon, John Legend to Gill Scott-Heron (and I can still go on), yet none of them outshine Kanye. They only compliment him. The production is next level, incorporating everything from psyche rock, to gospel choir while still sounding soulful. The recording session for this album was so plentiful that Kanye released what could have been a full and solid LP worth of material through GOOD Fridays, and the creative energy transferred directly into Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer. Even the imagery has gone from being dope to being statements of art: from the cover art, the moving painting music video for Power, to the short film companion, Runaway. This album takes the soulful honesty of The College Dropout, Late Registration’s orchestral lush, Graduation’s meticulous polish, and 808’s and Heartbreak’s stripped down emotion and melds it together to form a masterpiece.
Vince Cammarota – San Diego, CA
An album with almost no ability to be played on the radio, Yeezus is a big middle finger to the world from Kanye West. With that being said I believe this to be his best and also my favorite of his albums. This album showcases some of Kanye’s best musical talents. Before we go into the music I believe it’s important to look at the social impact of this album. Anticipating the release of his sixth solo studio album Kanye was at the top of his game. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy blew everyone away and brought Kanye back into the limelight. After releasing Cruel Summer and Watch The Throne which solidified his spot at the top of the rap game, where could he go from there? Instead of making a record for the radio or for suburban moms to be ok with their kids listening to, he went to a crazy dark place for the greater good of Hip Hop. This album pushed the boundary of what a “Rap” album is. Starting off with chaotic synthesizers, this album is ludicrous from the beginning but with amazing production, eye opening track themes, and overall social influence, this is Kanye West at his best. “Blood on the Leaves” is a fine example of this and one of the hottest beats over any Kanye track. I understand that this isn’t the most pleasant of his albums and can’t be played at a Sunday picnic but it’s innovative, it helped shift culture, and it’s from a “God.”
Both My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Late Registration received the same amount of votes being the elected favorites here at TrueToo. Although we didn’t find a clear favorite, it’s apparent that all of his albums have affected us in one way or another. Whether it’s a primer for different sub-genres of hip-hop or an appreciation for appropriating soul, his albums leave a mark which makes you wonder just what will The Life Of Pablo sound like?
What is your favorite Kanye album? Let us know in the comments!
Thank you to Reddit User Macbarron for the featured image.