These days we know him as the super famous belligerently outspoken other half of Kim Kardashian-West slash style maven behind one of the most hyped and coveted high fashion streetwear brands YEEZY by Adidas. Or maybe you see him as the crazy musician constantly in the center of controversy that once said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live television slash the the same guy that interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV VMA’s with the mind shattering announcement “Imma let you finish but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” There is also the possibility that you know him as arguably one of the best rappers of all time and one of the most influential artists of this generation having amassed 21 Grammy awards while simultaneously selling over 32 million albums and accumulating more than 100 million streams.

Either way, you know who he is, and like it or not, it is for good reason because this gentleman has truly changed the fabric of hip hop music and to be frank, the music industry as a whole with his brilliant, ambitious and effectively ostentatious and beautiful artistry. Kanye Omari West, born June 8th 1977 is quite possibly one of the greatest multi-hyphenates to come from the bellowing city of Chicago, Illinois. As a producer Mr. West has crafted hits for literally everyone. From Keyshia Cole to Madonna, Jay Z to Cam’Ron and Lil Wayne, the list is never ending. As a rapper and solo artist, Kanye has reshaped the framework of the industry and has time and time again set and raised the bar in all aspects of creating music from selling records to crafting the most complex and sophisticated audio engineering this world has witnessed.

On an even more sort of hate or love it tip, Kanye West has effectively introduced and or shaped the careers of hundreds of critically acclaimed artists time and time again and has managed to build from the ground up one of the most powerful and successful Hip Hop focused record labels with G.O.O.D. Music. And to think, this all started because a stubborn hot shot  Roc-A-Fella producer wasn’t happy with just producing hit records for Alicia Keys and Jay Z because even before we knew it, he knew that he was the greatest and most influential artist of this generation.

And even in current times when there are both doubts about Kanye West’s sanity and rumors of estate and affairs in shambles, if there is one thing that we should take away from his career or his work it’s this; Kanye West dedicated his life to  gifting the general public with both the opportunity and the product of advanced creativity and without his purposeful guidance, things within the realms of fashion, music and pop culture probably wouldn’t be as vibrant. So here’s to celebrating his distinguished legacy with a very special edition of essential tracks that represents everything from his mainstream hits to his cult favorites. We are sure you will feel like Pablo when going through this list.


Through The Wire/All Falls Down

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Through The Wire”/”All Falls Down” Feat. Lauryn Hill

The College Dropout is in the top tier of classic debut albums up there with projects like Nas’ Illmatic, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and more because of the shear will and unrelenting nature of the release of its lead single “Through The Wire.” While people have recently credited Kanye West for revolutionizing the album release process with his seventh studio album The Life Of Pablo, in reality the nature of that release is no different than that of the release of his debut in 2004, which in real time too about two years with one of the foundational moments being the October 2002 car crash in Los Angeles that resulted in Kanye West fracturing his jaw and having his entire mouth wired shut to heal.

Though many people know that The College Dropout started with “Through The Wire” not many know that the record was recorded two weeks after the car crash that took place in october and was officially featured on Kanye’s Get Well Soon mixtape. Furthermore, it took nearly two more years of recording, development, leaks and revision before the official release we know and love today arrived in 2004.

The moral of the story here fits in quite will with these pair of tracks as well as the mantra of the album which is to not let society make choices for you based on what mold they fit you into. Kanye proved that he was tough enough to step from behind the boards and into the booth when he spit through the wire at the Record Plant Studios. He showed us that even when shit goes awry, as long as you know in you’re soul what your path is, you can stay strong when it all falls down. The album as a whole imbued into the industry a sort of soulful egocentric motivation that said echoed the affirmations of individuality and creativity that have propelled Kanye West forward for the last two decades. And thouroughly so, these two records are expressive of Kanye-to-the’s retrospectively instrumentalized and sample driven sound with the exhalting sample of Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire” and the woeful production behind “All Falls Down.” P.s. Shout out to Stacy Dash for being the ultimate video girl in “All Falls Down.”

Jesus Walks/Slow Jamz

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Jesus Walks”/”Slow Jamz” Feat. Jamie Fox & Twita

The College Dropout is as methodically a masterpiece body of work partially because of its inherent juxtaposition and the success of that internal stoical hyperbole. It’s crazy to think that the same artist that preaches to us on the fourth single of the album “Jesus Walks” is the same one sexually sauntering over the sparkling production of “Slow Jamz.”

But that’s the genius behind this albums narrative and it was something that was so different and unique that it essential lit fire to the already trailblazing path that Kanye West was already steamrolling. “Slow Jamz” earned the trio of artists their first number one hit and “Jesus Walks” went on to go double platinum. Again, people have most recently praised The Life Of Pablo for it’s varying and divisive subject matters when truth be told, Ye was doing this shit on his debut 20 years ago. It’s safe to say that this man was and still is truly ahead of his time.

Diamonds From Sierra Leone/Drive Slow

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Diamonds From Sierra Leone”/”Drive Slow”

When it’s all said and done, Late Registration will be included in any and every list gathering together the best albums of all time because it is a multi-textured melodic master piece exploring the insatiable desire to desire within the confines of an auditory compilation of songs. This album is so much bigger than music, so much grander than the genre it thrives within and it’s because it thoroughly challenges the status quote and never ceases to ask “What the fuck?”

These two records are staunch showings of the moral obligation this album encompasses, but more importantly, these few lines form “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” accurately sums up the materialistic existence that both drives us and fuels Kanye’s discourse and creative aptitude.

I ask, if you talkin’ about classics, do my name get brought up?
I remember I couldn’t afford a Ford Escort
Or even a four-track recorder
So it’s only right that I let the top drop on a drop-top Porsche
Spoil yourself, that’s important
If your stripper name “Porsche” and you get tips from many men
Then your fat friend, her nickname is “Minivan”
Excuse me, that’s just the Henny, man
I smoke, I drink, I’m supposed to stop, I can’t, because—

These lyrics represent more than just skillful wittiness. They are like a gateway into the heart of this album. Late Registration is as much of a pissing contest entry as it is an epiphany evoking, game giving anthology. And that’s where tracks like “Drive Slow” come in to drive the wedge between stunting and meaningful withdraw. So basically, Kanye did “Humble” before Kendrick with “Drive Slow” while at the same time laying the foundation for an album like Damn. or To Pimp A Butterfly with “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.” Also, it’s way too legendary that Kanye featured Paul Wall so this must be forever immortalized somewhere, right?

Touch The Sky/Hey Momma

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Touch The Sky” Feat. Lupe Fiasco/”Hey Mama”

Point blank period, Kanye taught us all how to touch the sky and how to craft the perfect song for Mother’s day on Late Registration with “Touch The Sky” and “Dear Momma.” Firstly, everything about “Touch The Sky” is monolithically grandiose from the magnificent production to the impressive and stunning showmanship of the Quentin Tarantino reminiscent video featuring everyone from Nia Long to Pamela Anderson.

“Hey Mama” is, with forever solace, the most beautiful song in Kanye West’s discography. Though Donda West tragically passed away, at least her spirit can forever live on through this song and the creative work Kanye does through his creative firm DONDA.

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The Glory/Can’t Tell Me Nothing

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“The Glory”/”Cant Tell Me Nothing” Feat. Jeezy

Though The Lord Of The Rings trilogy ranks among the best series in the world, it would be almost a shame to not include Kanye West’s three album epic of The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation as one of those fabled about trilogy efforts because all together, these three projects are as mystical and filled with fantasy as the J R. R. Tolkien epics. It really doesn’t get much better than this as far as artist’s follow-up efforts and with these three projects in particular, we get to se Kanye West both establish himself and his sound as well as grow and mature at a meteoric, yet steady rate.

The Graduation album really marks the beginning phase of Kanye’s experimental period that has spanned the last decade. This is the album we begin to see blatant crossover from neo-soul driven hip hop to more contemporary rap and pop genres as well as we get to see the beginning glimpses of Kanye’s experimentation using his voice as an instrument through means of auto-tune. Tracks like “Good Life” and “Stronger” ring in the new sound of a generation while records like “The Glory” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” act as a graceful transition from old to new while basking in the sunny rays of the limelight his craft created. Both “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “The Glory” are egotistical declarations of awesomeness that both champion Kanye’s sound and shape his aura as an artist.

Paranoid/Say You Will

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Paranoid”/”Say You Will”

808s & Heartbreak is without a doubt the basic imprint of the majority of the soundscape within the genre today. Whilst T-Pain was doing his thing with Auto tune well before Kanye’s 808’s era, there is a discernible difference  between what Kanye was doing and what T-Pain was doing and it is largely because of the nature that Ye used Auto tune to supplement as an instrument rather than a vocal texture.

At any rate, while it took somewhat of a grace period for the world at large to recognize the innovation and celebrate the sound, artists one after another began to utilize the technique in their own way and soon it flooded the industry and helped build superstars like Future and utterly fueled the spurring Trap music trend. In the moment though, Kanye’s 808’s & Heartbreak merged the worlds of rap, pop, dance & electronic and free form composition to create a highly sensitive of love and despair.

“Paranoid” and “Say You Will” fall somewhere in between the cycles of depression and head over heels love and help to describe the range of the entire album. The upbeat synths of “Paranoid” eneergize the soul while the plunging baselines of “Say You Will” entertains the sorrow of the mind. This was a complicated album but as a result, a whole new genre of artists now had an entry point into the industry in what was then a fledging sound in its infancy.

Runaway/All Of The Lights

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Runaway”/”All Of The Lights” Feat. Rihanna & Kid Cudi

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was one of his most conceptually artistic and structurally experimental albums to date. It expanded on his vocal improvisation and coupled his lyrical illustration with his affinity for art and design in a cognitively superb manor while also still maintaining the triumphantly cocky nature of West’s music. “Runaway” is like a hybrid apology and stream of conscience that seeks to give musical commentary on the curse of the creative. This album was very fitting of its title because the aesthetic Kanye presented with this project was convoluted and scenic nonetheless.

“All Of The Lights” is literally just a superstar loaded epic sonic tale that will forever be immortalized in society as one of the most lit songs in existence. And to think this all started as a result of Ye’s shenanigans at the 2009 MTV VMA’s. You have to admit though, it was an unforgettable moment in history when he returned the next year and performed “Runaway” live on the VMA’s with his midi MPC.

Devil In A New Dress/Power

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Devil In A New Dress” Feat Rick Ross/”Power”

This pair of songs round out the illusive effervescence of Kanye’s MBDTF album. In a way, they help to provide context to the the over arching themes of the vast project. “Power” isn’t about power, it’s really about the power of obtaining power and the power trip that comes with it and by this point in his career, Kanye had been dealt blow after blow of the bitter medicine that comes with that quest.

“Devil I A New Dress” is about the love for lust and the unreal fantasies of happiness it begets. Searching for something in nothing, Ye highlights the dismal emptiness within his prose with a preemptive angst that is all to representative of the album.

“Put your hands to the constellations, the way you look should be a sin you my sensation. I know I’m preaching to the congregation we love Jesus but you done earned a lot from Satan. I mean a nigga did a lot of waiting we ain’t married but tonight I need some consummation.”

Blood On The Leaves/Black Skinhead

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Blood On The Leaves”/”Black Skinhead”

Once again, Kanye West proved he could shift the soundscape of the industry upon the release of his sixth studio album YEEZUS. This project proved to be brash, aggressive and advanced in the sort of way that has fathered macro personal expressionism within modern music. Tracks like “New Slaves” and “I Am A God” sparked this idea of elevation of personal self beyond earthly and materialistic bondage. On the other hand, songs like “On Sight” “Guilt Trip” and “Send It Up” provide the rough and uncut backing for the wildly explicit and thunderous sound of the album.

While the album wasn’t received with widespread acclaim like his previous projects, the imprint of the album could be heard and felt almost immediately within the industry. From the layering of the 808’s and polyphonic texture rifts to the harsh lyrical matter, this album pushed things into a new arena. “Blood On The Leaves” and “BLKKK SKKK HEAD” champion the sound of this project and reflect the genuine rage that it encapsulates.

Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1/Real Friends

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

“Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1″ Feat. Kid Cudi/”Real Friends” Feat. Ty Dolla $ign

The Life Of Pablo will likely go down in history as one of the most hyped up and controversial releases ever. Between the numerous versions of the LP, beef over lyrical content and or amount of collaborative contribution, this album caught the attention of the world. One thing is for sure though, through it all, Kanye West delivered an unapologetically Kanye album.

The Life Of Pablo combines almost every era of Kanye into one venue and it’s understandable that the clash of titans is as phasing as the project is from top to bottom. There are gospel tinged hits like “Ultra Light Beam” and “Low Lights” along side heathenesse records like “Highlights” and sound piercing tracks like “Freestyle 4” which combine a post YEEZUS era Kanye with a dually unhinged present day Kanye. At points in this album it feels as though the madness is too much and as though he may lose us but then it’s all wrangled in by tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” and “Real Friends.”

These two tracks are like the ghost in the shell monuments of Kanye West’s career. “Real Friends” feels like something we may have received during Graduation era Kanye but it reaches so far forward that it sounds appropriate for today. “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” is the most sanctimonious and waveringly record we have received from Kanye since his College Dropout debut days. Nonetheless, these records provide insightful fodder for both the road traveled and the road ahead for Kanye, plus, the drop on “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” is single handedly the best drop of 2016 from the moment it hit the speakers in Madison Square Garden during NYFW all the way through the umpteenth update of the digital release. As much as we miss the old Kanye, it’s hard to denounce the new one, if there is any difference between them. 

 

Honorable Mention: We Major

20 Essential Kanye West Tracks

Honorable Mention: “We Major” Feat. Nas & Really Doe

Because honestly, Late Registration is Kanye West’s best effort, and this is one of the earliest showings of his ability to drag a song on four minutes past its prime and it still being able to work through some sort of dark sorcery that only Kanye West possesses.

All in all, by his second album even he knew how majorly he would affect the game and by now we know it to. So here is a toast to this mans unfiltered, off kilter, nuisance of being genius. Thank you Mr. West.