The Chicago native worked his way up from being one of Jay-Z‘s producers to a pop culture icon. Kanye was a breath of fresh air in rap when he released his first single, “Through The Wire,” in 2003. Unlike his peers who were perpetuating the usual Hip-Hop stereotypes, Kanye’s overconfident yet heartfelt lyrics spoke to a portion of rap fans who were regular people chasing a dream.
Over time, Kanye would walk the line between jerk and genius. His outspoken, arrogant personality made him music’s biggest hero and villain. People applauded his belief in himself but despised his childlike tantrums when he didn’t receive what he believed to be his just due.
Kanye’s music, much like his views on politics, has evolved throughout his career. His sound has gone from sped-up soul samples from the ’70s to full-blown gospel music. His production credits for other artists is a treasure trove of Hip-Hop gems. However, Kanye’s discography as an artist himself is one of the genre’s crown jewels.
Let’s examine the former “Louis Vuitton Don’s” best albums:
The College Dropout
The College Dropout album cover
Rappers are often vocal about their disdain for academics. Almost every rapper has a line or a song expressing how the education system didn’t offer anything substantial. Kanye turned a societal stigma into a term of endearment with his first album, The College Dropout.
Though the title suggests a hatred for higher learning, Kanye’s debut put his love for family, spirituality, and designer apparel on a mainstream level. West’s witty rhymes, self-produced bangers, and features from his elite emcee friends (Jay-Z, Common, and Twista, to name a few) made The College Dropout an instant classic.
Late Registration album cover
After his first album received critical and commercial success, Kanye West earned the right to be cocky. The shameless promotion of his greatness wasn’t empty self-praise anymore. The question became, “Can he do it again?”
West avoided the sophomore jinx with Late Registration, which he used as an opportunity to showcase his skills as a producer. West’s ability to manipulate samples already put him on the top tier of hip-hop producers but the inclusion of Jon Brion as co-producer helped Kanye’s follow up to his debut become a musical masterpiece.
Late Registration sold over 800,000 copies in its first week and won the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.
Graduation album cover
The publicity for Kanye’s third album, Graduation, would have ensured the project sold a million copies. The album was released on September 11, 2006. The same day as 50 Cent‘s Curtis, which was coincidentally also his third album.
Graduation’s sound took Kanye’s unique sampling ability and meshed it with futuristic production. Kanye made it apparent that each album he released wouldn’t sound anything like the previous.
Not only did Graduation earn Kanye another Grammy for Best Album, but he would win the sales battle against 50 Cent selling 300,000 more albums in the first week.
808s & Heartbreak
808s and Heartbreak album cover
Before the release of his fourth album, Kanye West experienced a devastating loss. His mother, Donda, passed away from complications during a cosmetic procedure. Kanye sighted his mother as being one of his biggest supporters. Many believe her death was the catalyst that eventually led to his recent mental health issues.
808s & Heartbreak wasn’t considered a Hip-Hop album when it was released in November of 2008. The album is a pop-art inspired R&B album that didn’t contain any rapping from Kanye. Kanye’s auto-tuned crooning about the ups and downs of love was a turn-off to your average rap fan. Ironically, 808s & Heartbreak experimental vibe has now become the standard sound in 2021, once again indicating that Kanye has always been ahead of the curve.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album cover
Released in November of 2010, MBDTF takes its cues from Late Registration with its movie score-like production. A short film titled Runaway (named after one of the album’s singles) was released a month before the album. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy visually and sonically transcended Hip-Hop. But, it still won a Grammy in 2012 for… you guessed it…Best Rap Album.
Yeezus album cover
Unlike his past albums, Yeezus didn’t have radio-friendly singles that historically came standard with a Kanye West album. In fact, the album is more industrial rock than rap. The beats had a sinister tone, and West’s lyrics were brooding and anarchistic rather than witty and lighthearted. However, Kanye proved yet again that he was ahead of his time. Yeezus’s minimalistic production style frequents today’s rap music.
Did we leave out your favorite Kanye album?
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