RANKED! Kanye West Albums (Including ‘Jesus Is King’)
Say what you will about Kanye West – he’s creatively impulsive, he’s a controversy magnet, he’s a mercurial egomaniac – one thing is undeniable: the man can make music. While not every album the rapper has put out over the course of his high-profile career has been astounding, he is a master of reinvention, meaning he never gets pigeon-holed and fans never get bored. And if you can see past his overinflated ego (a difficult undertaking, we know), you’ll find some of the most brutally honest, and cloyingly clever, lyrics in hip-hop history paired with groundbreaking production. In honor of West’s latest album, Jesus Is King, we took a look back at his catalog and ranked the albums of what might indeed be the “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” (His words, of course.)
Cover Photo: Timothy Norris / Contributor (Getty Images)
11. 'The College Dropout'
Many artists have a bangin' first album that they’ll never surpass with subsequent releases. Luckily for West, his 2004 debut full-length was pretty ho-hum (though, oddly, critically acclaimed). It suffers from too much narration, plodding beats, and a church hymn (“I’ll Fly Away”) that sticks out like a sore (if lovely in another context) thumb. It features little to none of the originality West would later become known for. Save for the memorable track “Falls Down,” this album is rather unremarkable.
Fans waited with bated breath for West's new album in 2018...and were disappointed to receive this 24-minute expletive-laden experiment gone wrong. While there are a couple of bops, and the rapper does bravely address his mental health issues, the pressures of fame, and how he's embarrassed his wife with comments like "Slavery was a choice," the ego was so big on this release it left little room for genius. "Sometimes I scare myself," Yeezy sings on "Yikes." Indeed, Ye. Indeed.
9. 'Jesus Is King'
So music's biggest megalomaniac is a born-again Christian...and, apparently, a gospel rapper now? (Though longtime fans know he's been singing about Christianity in one form or another for his entire career.) "I've been looking for a new way / I'm just really trying not to really do the fool way," he sings on "Follow God." A spiritual 180 certainly makes for a compelling story surrounding the new album, but whether or not it's legit -- and if fans will follow him to the Holy Land of rap -- remains to be seen. If this album's mediocre rhymes and slapped-together production are any indication, they might not.
West came out swinging on this fierce and fast-rapping album. It's so intense and confrontational, it's hard to listen to at times. Is West attacking us or is this a glimpse of what it sounds like in his head? Either way, stand back. "You see there's leaders and there's followers / But I'd rather be a dick than a swallower," he sings on "New Slaves." Ahem. OK, then.
7. 'The Life of Pablo'
This album kicks off with a religious-themed, choral-backed, gospel-like rap. And it works! Heavy on sampling, West shares his softer side (and sincere emotions) on “Real Friends” and gets goofy meta on “I Love Kanye,” in which he sings, “I invented Kanye / it wasn't any Kanyes / and now I look and look around and there's so many Kanyes.” It’s a solid effort, and certainly a heartfelt one.
6. 'Kids See Ghosts' (With Kid Cudi)
This album is a classic case of how two rappers are better than one, and more than the sum of their parts. Brothers in mental health struggles, West and Kid Cudi aren’t afraid to go to the dark places in their lyrics (“Fire”), or admit how much they’re searching for redemption (“Reborn”). Vintage sounds and haunting vocalizations make this an atmospheric, and wholly satisfying, listen.
5. 'Watch the Throne' (With Jay-Z)
What happens when two hip-hop giants collaborate? An amazing, inimitable album that you’ll have on infinite repeat. It kicks off with the thumping, thought-provoking track “No Church in the Wild” and hits a fever pitch with the infectious (and surprisingly funny) “Ni**as in Paris.” Yes, there’s plenty of designer name-dropping and self-referential lyrics, but these two are so good together, you won’t even care.
4. 'Late Registration'
West began to expand his horizons -- and his inner circle -- on this album with multiple collaborators. His ego also expanded, but only just enough to add appealing swagger to his songs. Tracks like "Gold Digger" were instantly radio-ready and got airplay on popular radio stations, making this the album that made all kinds of music lovers fall for West.
Once upon a time, West was an optimist. Yes, it's true. His music was positive and uplifting. You could play this album in elementary school classrooms to inspire students. (OK, maybe just the radio edits.) Tracks like "Champion," "Stronger," and "Good Life" are genuinely motivating without being cheesy.
2. '808s & Heartbreak'
Stripped down and emotionally raw, you can feel the cold, lonely emptiness that followed West's breakup with his fiancée and the death of his mother in every song of this slow-jam album. It won't make you feel like dancing, but it will make you feel all the things.
1. 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'
This album was undeniably West's masterpiece. Expansive, operatic, and yet still cutthroat, the impeccable album spanned the rap style gamut yet still felt like a cohesive whole. From the tribal "Power" to the elegant and timeless "Runaway" to the feral "Monster," West stretched himself artistically and lyrically -- and it paid off, in spades.