Continuing my recently revived Rate The Albums feature, I'll be taking a look at another act that's set to hit Dublin soon, the endlessly creative and controversial Kanye West. Anyone who has followed my writing over the past few years will know my opinion on the man- beginning with The College Dropout in 2004 all the way up to Yeezus last year (which I named album of 2013 in December), West has been nothing short of consistently groundbreaking, an artist operating on his own level for the past decade and innovating the genre of hip-hop quite like no one before or since. If you follow that line of thought then you'll agree that the 7 albums below are to be counted among the finest releases of the 21st century, but how exactly do they rank from worst to best? Here's the countdown:
7. 808's & Heartbreak (2008)
808's is perhaps the most misunderstood of West's output over the last 10 years. An experimental project steeped in auto tune and lacking in rap verses, 808's & Heartbreak was the result of a tragic year in the life of its creator, who had lost his mother and gone through a major relationship break up before the recording process began. When it dropped in 2008, reception was polarized with several critics complementing the innovative style and others dismissing it for the same reason. 808's has gone on to shape the careers of major artists such as Drake, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, and public opinion has eased up on the record in the last few years due to it's increasingly pronounced legacy and influence. In site of this factor though, it must be said that Kanye's 4th album is certainly his least prolific.
Best Tracks: Say You Will/Welcome To Heartbreak/Heartless
6. Watch The Throne (2011)
When Kanye and Jay Z finally teamed up for a full length project in 2011 it was obviously going to be epic, and the resulting album delivered a hyperactive celebration of both rappers lifestyles as they indulged in their respective talents with a series of perfectly executed tales of wealth, prestige and glory. There's an argument to be made that West outshined his mentor over the course of the record when Kanye's production is considered on top of his impassioned verses but whether you're more of a Ye or Jay fan is irrelevant in the end- Watch The Throne is straight up entertainment for all fans of hip-hop, and a celebration of the culture and success of the rap movement by two of it's greatest ever.
Best Tracks: No Church In The Wild/Niggas In Paris/Murder To Excellence
5. Graduation (2007)
Graduation was a watershed moment for hip-hop in many ways; as the subject of a much publicized sales battle with 50 Cent due to the a coinciding release date with his third effort Curtis, Kanye's completion of his college trilogy is now recognized as an altering moment for the rap landscape as fans set record breaking album sale statistics upon its release, confirming that gangsta rap was dying and conscious rap was growing like never before. This is reflected today in the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake and an endless sea of like minded artists, many of whom were hugely influenced by the sound, style and themes of Kanye's original trio of albums and for this reason alone, Graduation stands as one of the rapper's most significant achievements to date.
Best Tracks: Stronger/Good Life/Can't Tell Me Nothing
4. The College Dropout (2004)
Kanye started work on his debut album all the way back in 1999, and before its eventual release in 2004 had received a sort of recognition for production on The Blueprint by Jay Z in 2001. When it finally dropped it was clear to the rap world that this was the arrival of a significant talent, although the true scale of greatness that West was to achieve was yet to unfold. These 21 tracks showcased a rapper who was hungry for fame and success yet desperate also to convey a message of social inequality and paint a picture of struggle and morality that he perhaps hasn't captured as vividly since Late Registration just a year later. Kicking off a trio of albums that would steal the world's attention with their thoughtful yet abrasive nature, The College Dropout remains one of the finest rap albums of the past decade without doubt,and is rightfully still counted among Kanye's greatest releases.
Best Tracks: All Falls Down/Slow Jamz/School Spirit
3. Yeezus (2013)
Last summer, Yeezus blasted by in 40 minutes of mercilessly gripping noise that melted the brain and shocked the senses without apology as it pinned you back against the hardcore wall of noise that served as the backdrop to Kanye’s maddening raps, which took his ferocious ego to the next level.
The sense of chaos that Yeezus instils in the listener is representative of West’s restless artistic vision, something which, truly for the first time, he refused to hone or filter, allowing a total explosion of noise that symbolized a brief glimpse into the mind of a self-confessed mad man. The fact that this is currently the standing point of Kanye's discography after 10 years shows exactly how progressive and unique West has been since day one, and if Yeezus is anything to go by, then there's at least another decade to come from its artist, and we may just be at the beginning of a period of further exploration and innovation in the music industry.
Best Tracks: New Slaves/Blood On The Leaves/Bound 2
2. Late Registration (2005)
The magnum opus of Kanye's college trilogy was perhaps the first moment when it became clear that the industry was not dealing with an ordinary rapper or musician, but one who could potentially shape a landscape for the future of the business. With its flawless production and addressing of social matters in an even deeper and more engaged manner than before, Late Registration came at a time when rap music was in a kind of limbo and it paved the way for the sounds we're hearing from a range of incredible artists today in 2014.
On top of the depth already described was the fact that this was an album stacked from head to toe in sensational pop music and late Registration spawned without doubt the finest selection of singles taken from a Kanye album bar none- ''Heard 'Em Say'', ''Touch The Sky'', ''Gold Digger'' and ''Diamonds From Sierra Leone'' sent mainstream audiences crazy worldwide while further inside the industry critics universally proclaimed genius for tracks like the astoundingly beautiful ''Hey Mama'' and triumphant finale ''Gone''. Late Registration marked the true arrival of Kanye West with a then definitive, almost unbeatable record.
Best Tracks: Touch The Sky/Hey Mama/Gone
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Just six years ago Kanye West’s next move was near impossible to predict following the problematic release of 808’s & Heartbreak, as detailed above. The polarized reception of that record meant that for some, West’s moment at the top was coming to an undignified end, and how easy it would have been for him to slip into a downward spiral of releases, and settle into a legacy that would already have been classed as legendary for his original trio of classic albums.
Instead he returned with his magnum opus and possibly the greatest album of the 21st century with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an exquisite blend of pop, rock and hip-hop music that can stand alongside any great popular musical achievement since the 1950’s. With Dark Fantasy, Kanye came as close as possible to perfection on an album that stuns and amazes from first second to last, as West explores an excessive range of genres and subjects over the course of 68 minutes that makes essential listening for every modern music fan.
Dark Fantasy is Kanye at his most ambitious and extravagant (and considering the outrageous ego of the man that's quite a statement indeed), making the result an work of such grand scale and maximilism that it's noticeably difficult to capture the triumphant nature of it through written word. Instead you'd be better off pressing play and letting an album of such magnificence take you on a musical journey for the ages. Put simply, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a moment of utter perfection not only for Kanye West but hip-hop and all music itself. It's the reason we listen to and love artists who create challenging, inspiring and affecting music, and nobody in the world right now is doing it better than Kanye West.
Best Tracks: POWER/All Of The Lights/Runaway
Next: The Arcade Fire