Love him, hate him or just undecided, it’s impossible in this day of social media and smartphones to avoid the outspoken superstar that is Kanye West. Ever since he released debut album The College Dropout in 2004, my personal favourite, Kanye/Yeezus/Yeezy/Ye hasn’t shied away from controversy, most notably storming on stage during Taylor Swift’s VMA win to become the biggest meme of 2009 and was ridiculed immensely by the media including South Park who dedicated an episode to him. A personal favourite Kanye moment of mine was in 2005 when, during a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina, West went off script to say “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” The look on Mike Myers face alone is enough to make it absolutely priceless.
Anyway seeing as it’s his birthday, I thought it would be a fitting way to celebrate by choosing my favourite songs by the critically and commercially successful musician and if for any reason I miss out any of your favourites then feel free to leave them in the comment selection below.
Family is something that’s important to anyone, regardless if you’re a multi millionaire or working 30 hour shifts at a supermarket. It’s a theme that comes up in a lot of Kanye’s works but Family Business is one of the earliest examples of this, featuring on The College Dropout. Starting off with some beautiful piano keys that act as the backbone to the song’s sound, you have the melodies formed by singers of polarising ages that help to create the image of a family singing along. All that glitters is not gold/ and all gold is not reality/ real is what you lays on me is repeated throughout the song, showing how even though Kanye tends to rap about his money and other materialistic belongings, his relationship with his family is the thing he values the most. Beautiful.
Whereas some artists manage to get to where they are due to things such as winning talent shows or their looks, this track off third album Graduation sees Kanye claim that his outrageous personality and controversy is what got him where he is. Featuring another enjoyable set of piano keys as seen on Family Business, Everything I Am sees Kanye talk about how he’ll never be “picture perfect Beyonce”, someone with a clean public image unlike the man himself. However this doesn’t bother him as he repeats during the song everything that he’s not made him everything he is, an inspiring and blatantly simple message that’s rarely seen nowadays in music.
Yeezus was a polarizing album which is fitting when you remember who this article is all about. Personally I love the new sound Kanye went after, capturing a futuristic year 3000 vibe that New Slaves perfectly represents. Not only is the sound unusual yet soothing, the lyrical content is some of his best. In society nowadays racism is still prevalent and Kanye calls out America for this which isn’t the first he’s done so, see Who Will Survive in America for more, as he names off the harsh yet true stereotypes that POC face more than 50 years after the work of Martin Luther King. As the bridge of this song repeats, Kanye would rather he tell the truth and be criticised rather than hold back on his thoughts and lie, something we all know too well.
I could have easily put every song off of Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on this list. Regardless if The College Dropout is my favourite album by West, MBDTF is Kanye’s pinnacle, his Dark Side Of The Moon or Mona Lisa. If you asked anyone their favourite track you’d get a different answer and reason for their answer every time. It might be the anthematic POWER, a song that took 5000 hours to craft and it shows with its expert sampling and delicately place synths alongside some of Ye’s best lines (Got treasures in my mind/ but couldn’t open up my own vault). Maybe it’ll be the star studded All Of The Lights that succeeds a piano encrusted interlude, man Kanye does love his piano, which is definitely one of the album’s highlights.
However for me, my favourite track is Blame Game which, at 7 minutes 49 seconds seems like a daunting listen. Regardless of how long the track goes on, I can’t skip this track whenever it comes on due to the lyrical content. Sound wise the song is fairly simple, sampling Aphex Twin’s Avril 14, but when you manage to incorporate a poem like the one below that perfectly sums up the heartache and emotional turmoil of romance then you deserve all the praise you get.
Things used to be, now they not
anything but us is who we are
disguising ourselves as secret lovers
we’ve become public enemies
we walk away like strangers in the street
gone for eternity
we erased one another
so far from where we came
with so much of everything, how do we leave with nothing
[L]ack [O]f [V]isual [E]mpathy equates the meaning of L-O-V-E
hatred and attitude tear us entirely
The song also features a hilarious outro by comedian Chris Rock which is very much needed due to the depressing nature of the song, something that you should experience yourself with the headphones on and the lights off.
It’s weird to think that if Kanye had never left college to pursue a career in production and eventually rapping then we wouldn’t have some of the best tracks to come out of hip hip this century. This track off his debut album perfectly sums up how he felt at the time, feeling troubled and having no idea what to do to achieve what he wants to do. Does he stay at college and get a degree even though it isn’t what he wants to do or does he leave and risk it all? Obviously now we know what happened and this year West graduated so it’s nice just to listen to this track and reminisce on how far the Chicago born rapper has came and how it’s all came full circle. Again, another track that has a vague enough message that it can apply to pretty much anyone in any situation.