Over the last 20 years, Kanye West has been the most revolutionary figure in hip-hop, and he’s an artist whose music has helped make the world a far superior place.
Before he was behind a microphone, West first made a name for himself as a producer, just like Pharrell Williams. It’s a standard route to take in the hip-hop game, and it allowed Ye to build up an impressive contacts book which would later prove beneficial when he began to release music under his own name.
However, it was far from a shortcut to success, and in the beginning, industry executives failed to take him seriously. West had to claw to get his first break, and once he earned that opportunity, there was no way he was letting go.
Throughout the 2000s, West couldn’t put a foot wrong, and he proved himself to be a modern pioneer. His story began with his seminal debut, 2004’s College Dropout, and Ye’s continued to evolve as an artist with every project since.
Below we chart his career through his five best songs from across different eras of Ye.
Kanye West’s five best songs
‘Through The Wire’
Kanye’s debut single, ‘Through The Wire’, was a brazen way to begin his journey and an extremely personal one. His production is also on-point, with the track built around a stunning Chaka Khan sample, which West sped up.
The track was written in the wake of a car accident in 2002 after falling asleep at the wheel. As a result, his jaw had to be refigured, and Ye saw his life flash before his eyes. While in his hospital bed, he heard ‘Through The Fire’ by Chaka Khan, and ‘Through The Wire’ was a cathartic way for Ye to deal with the traumatic experience. It also created a buzz around him and his debut album, The College Dropout.
Following The College Dropout, Ye proved he was rap’s new superstar with his mightily impressive follow-up, Late Registration, and he then finished up the trilogy in 2008 with Graduation. With this release, West proved that there was nobody else operating on his level, and the opening track, ‘Good Morning’, got the album off to a rollicking start.
It sets out the theme for the rest of the record and features an innovative sample of ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ by Elton John, which works beautifully. It’s an honest reflection from the heart about his journey and Kanye doing what he does best. Although it was never selected to be a single, it’s undoubtedly one of his five finest moments and a fan’s favourite.
West had a point to prove following 808s & Heartbreak, on which he slightly pivoted towards electronic music, and also the controversial incident with Taylor Swift at the MTV VMA’s. He needed to make sure his return was fire, and Ye didn’t miss on ‘Power’.
He took himself off to Hawaii and put the hours into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which many consider his opus. In 2020, Ye surprisingly disregarded the song and said it was the weakest single in his repertoire because he “felt like it was bowing to the expectations.” However, in the same interview, he also called ‘Power’ “the ultimate Kanye West song”.
Speaking about the lyrics in 2012, he once said: “Even a song like ‘Power,’ I spent 5,000 hours writing it, and it’s really the psychology behind the lyrics; it’s not just blatantly, ‘I’ve got all the power’ — ‘No one man should have all that power.’ It’s worded it in a really sensitive way that opens it up for everyone. Even if I use first person and say ‘I, I, I,’ it’s always for everyone.”
When West released Yeezus in 2013, he’d transcended rap music and became the biggest artist on the planet. There was nobody else who could match the star power which he emitted. However, Ye needed to back up the talk with his new music, which he did with the powerful, ‘Black Skinhead’.
West premiered the song in the most grandiose way possible during an appearance on Saturday Night Live. While it was chosen as the lead single, according to co-producer Mike Dean, it was nearly dropped from the album altogether because it sounded “too much like a soccer song.” Thankfully, Ye was persuaded to keep it on the record, and it marked a step forward in his dynamic career.
After Yeezus, Kanye managed to keep his hot streak alive with his 2016 album, The Life Of Pablo. In truth, this was his final masterpiece. While there have been flickering moments of greatness from West since, ultimately, he has failed to maintain that level of artistry throughout a whole record.
‘Ultralight Beam’ opened The Life Of Pablo and marked the start of Ye beginning to lean towards gospel music and implement his faith into his artwork without compromising his unique sound like with later releases. It’s the clear highlight of the record, and Chance The Rapper’s cameo is also illuminating.