Happy birthday, ‘Ye! Kanye West, rapping guru and music industry mogul, turned 42 on Saturday. In honor of the Chicago legend’s day of birth, here’s a ranking of all of his rap albums. To keep it simple, I’m only ranking the major studio albums that were solo releases, so Kids See Ghosts, Cruel Summer, and Watch the Throne will not be included. Other projects that he had a major hand in producing, like Daytona, will also not be included. Here’s a ranking of Kanye’s discography, from College Dropout to Ye (sadly, Yandhi cannot be ranked just yet).
8. The Life of Pablo
The 2016 release of TLOP was highly-anticipated, but ultimately fell short of the high expectations we all have for ‘Ye. The gospel-style music is very well-produced, and the album as a whole has some enjoyable moments. His lyricism, however, can be described as lazy at best for the vast majority of the album, and while the shots at Ray-J and Taylor Swift were fun, they didn’t really make a lot of sense.
At times, the album felt thrown together, with no cohesiveness between the first third and the last. The best moments of the album come when Kanye the producer lets his music speak for himself, meaning it will rank at the bottom of any list that values lyrics equal to production.
Ye is an important album to understanding how Kanye’s personal development has progressed over the last five years, but ultimately falls flat in the wider view of his previous music. He opens up lyrically in a way he hadn’t since 808s and Heartbreak, discussing his struggles with bipolar disorder, and the tone is set early with the poignant I Thought About Killing You.
The production of the album is below the quality we’re used to, and at only seven tracks, there just isn’t enough time to establish a flow or rhythm within the album. While it’s an intriguing listen as the self-reflection of one of the most divisive figures in music at the time, there isn’t nearly as much substance as one would think from such a piece, and felt rushed through and through.
6. 808s and Heartbreak
808s is Kanye’s most influential album, but that doesn’t mean its his best. It’s an open wound of an album, coming after his mother’s death, and you can feel the anguish in the lyrics he puts out. It can be heart-wrenching at times, but the music is where this album flourishes, and why it’s considered a benchmark album for the current age of hip-hop. The electro-pop sound and perfection of auto-tuned choruses set the stage for the next decade of hip-hop, and continued to demonstrate that rap albums which stray from the tried-and-true formula of gangster rap that got the rap game off the ground in the 90s can still succeed.
As an introspective piece about the price of fame, the layers within the lyrics would create an entire genre of rappers and pave the way for artists like Drake to become commercially successful without having to follow in the footsteps of Jay-Z or The Game. It’s written from the heart, which means it isn’t as well-polished as his other albums, and while the production was important in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t always land. An exceptionally important album in the landscape of rap, but far from Kanye’s best work.
5. Late Registration
Anyone who’s argued with their friends about Kanye West’s music knows there’s two types of Kanye fans: the ones who love Graduation, and the ones who love Late Registration. As you can tell from the rankings, I’m a part of the former group who believe that, while Late Registration is a high-quality piece of work, falls behind Graduation in the grand scheme of things.
But don’t get it twisted. This is a fantastic album, filled with hooks that are still stuck in my head ten years after the fact and remains one of the ideal crossovers of hip-hop and pop, a revolutionary concept at the time. It’s not strong wire-to-wire, with some forgettable mashed-together tracks that drag near the end, but most of it still bops to this day. A great album with timeless tracks, but not his best in terms of cohesiveness.