Welcome to the round-table. In this latest redleafgoldteeth series, we will take a look at different general opinion questions regarding music and urban culture, and see if we can reach some sort of consensus. The beauty of a site like this, is that we have so many opposing views, representing many different segments of the culture. Through round-table, you will get a little insight into how each of our writers view the state of the game.
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RLGT Round-table: What’s The Best Kanye West Album?
On the dawn of #Yeezy2020, Yeezy Season 2 debuting, and the imminent release of SWISH, we decided to ask ourselves the unthinkable: What is the best Kanye West album, ever? Follow us below as we attempt to come to a conclusion.
Husson’s (#rare) pick: 808s and Heartbreak
Without hesitation, I can make an unwavering declaration that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best musically composed album of the 21st century, across any genre of music. Chances are, if you don’t agree (or at least consider it) I won’t be taking your opinion on this topic very seriously. With that beings said, it’s important to note that excellence in musical composition isn’t necessarily transitional to personal preference.
Let me take you back a few years to set the scene on how I formulated the opinion that 808’s and Heartbreak sits atop the list of my favourite Kanye West’s albums.
It was summer of 2008, and I was a little late to the party on Kanye’s music. I heard the singles of course; you couldn’t be a kid in the early 2000’s without having heard “Jesus Walks” or “Stronger” on the radio more than a few times. The path that leads me into becoming a die-hard Kanye fan actually came from the direction of my other favorite artist, Kid Cudi. I listened to A Kid Named Cudi first. Quickly became fanatical with the direction that the project took and from there, I listened to the very first Cudi and Kanye collaboration, “Welcome to Heartbreak.” That introduction set up the anticipation for Kanye’s next project, and I wasn’t met with any disappointment.
It was little over seven years ago when Kanye was reeling off a series of misfortunate events including everything from the demise of his (at the time) engagement to the death of his mother, Donda West—who we all know the utmost importance of—and his one and only response to this adversity was courageously unique conception of what we now know as 808’s and Heartbreak. It was introspective, it was minimalistic, it was electro-pop, it was shakily sung, it was stylized by heavy auto-tune, it was sad, it was angry, it was an intimately composed cry for help that millions of fans were happy to answer with their lending ears.
In 2008 I was a 14-year-old kid and I was completely ignorant to any kind of emotional or traumatic experiences, yet, I felt this empathetically inclined connection to the sincerely saddening message that this album conveyed. This initially formed connection served as the catalyst to an obsessive musical infatuation that I still intimately hold within my life to this day.
If you take a step back however; and you make the effort of thoroughly immersing yourself within the Kanye West discography, you start to come to terms with the illogicality of choosing 808’s as your favourite Kanye album. The album quite honestly sticks out a sore thumb amongst its world-renowned counter parts.
If we’re talking strictly musical composition, then yes I agree, as I mentioned earlier, MBDTF is by far the runaway victor in that category. However, sometimes the lasting impact an album can create for a specific culture trumps the critical acclaim an opposing album can generate. Any fan of hip-hop is well aware of the transitional phase the genre went through just a few years ago into a more subjective and melodic direction, and the unique nature of an album like 808s and Heartbreak in the discography of someone as influential as Kanye West, served as a significant landmark that allowed this transition to unfold. Pioneers of this transitional phase include artists Kid Cudi and Drake (amongst many others) both of whom owe plenty of their success and more importantly, acceptance into the genre, to Kanye West and the receptive passageway that was created with the introduction of 808s and Heartbreak.
Thomas Yum Soup’ Pick: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
On November 22, 2010 I drove my shitty Grand-Am to the Future Shop by my house and copped the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy CD. Kanye was already my favorite artist at this point, and my zero bullshit pick for greatest artist of all time (any genre, medium, planet, universe, etc.). I already owned all his albums up to that point. I had played every one of his G.O.O.D. Friday drops on constant rotation in the preceding weeks, even the one with a pre-pubescent Beiber. It’s cliché, but there’s a distinct “pre” and “post” MBDTF in the narrative of my life. There are 13 tracks over the course of its 68 minutes and 36 seconds. There’s 21 separate vocalists. 10 co-producers. A Chris Rock cameo. Kanye neither opens nor closes the album. All things considered, it should be a mess. There’s a folk singer that made a breakup album alone in a Wisconsin cabin sharing a posse cut with Ye, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z, where the former two put what are maybe (read: definitely) the best verses of their careers. “All Of The Lights”, the pre-eminent club banger of the century, has 14 vocalists; Alicia Keys, Alvin Fields, Charlie Wilson, Drake, Elly Jackson, Elton John, Fergie, John Legend, Ken Lewi, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Ryan Leslie, The-Dream & The World Famous Tony Williams (go ahead, check their most popular Genius songs, it’s always in the top three). He interpolates the former king of pop on “Lost In The World.” He calls himself a douchebag and talks about his dick pic on the nine-minute centerpiece. “Devil In a New Dress” pitch shifts Smokey Robinson, squeezes an acid guitar solo in between two of Kanye’s most heartbreaking verses and Ricky Rozay’s best and somehow manages to be the perfect song. Through all that, it remains perfectly curated, and singularly concentrated based on West’s impossible vision. There’s not a wasted second, and anything extra would have been overkill. It’s the most succinct portrayal of living in the 21st century; life with no privacy, where fame is as loathed as it’s sought after, where minorities are treated like third rate baggage by what’s supposed to be a first tier country. He made a concept album about being a famously conceited asshole sound tragic. An album about being a 21st century schizoid man, a hopeless romantic, a womanizer, and a good person struggling with his sins. I.E. a universally relatable album.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the greatest album of all time. More importantly, it’s Kanye’s best album. It’s more important because Kanye is the greatest artist of all time and that would rightfully place it as the greatest achievement of the man who’s made the greatest achievements. You may not like him, but you have to respect him.
This is the album I go to literally every time I’m upset, excited, nervous, or just too drunk. I’ve cried listening to it and I always smile listening to it. It made me see music as more than a hobby. It made me want to be a writer. It’s loud, unrelenting, bombastic, and unflinchingly, uncomfortably, honest. Just like the man himself. He says it himself on the lead single “ At the end of the day, goddamn it I’m killin’ this shit.” Who will survive in America? Who knows? But Yeezy taught us with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that demanding works of art don’t have to necessarily be challenging. And goddamn, Yeezy taught us well.
G-Daddy’s Pick: Graduation
Hospey’s Pick: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As a Kanye fan, my journey starts pretty late. I can’t claim that I was one of those people who has been listening to ‘Ye since the beginning like some of my comrade’s can attest to, because that would make me just like the people who I started this website to combat against (AKA the 20 year olds who SWEAR they grew up on Pac, Big, Nas, and all the classics. Fact, you were a 6 year old white-Canadian, you were a huge Shania Twain fan, sit your ass down). My journey didn’t truly start until about 2 years ago while all of the Yeezus hype was beginning to build up, when I realized I really didn’t know much about the Kanye West discography. I went home downloaded every damn album, and played ’em through over a couple weeks, and was twice as engulfed as ever imagined.
When picking my favourite ‘Ye album, I was able to narrow it down to 2 final picks: Late Registration & MBDTF. The thing about Late Registration for me, is that it had the same effect on me, as it would have on anyone who listened to the album RIGHT when it dropped. Having been my one of my first full, real listens to a ‘Ye project, I was amazed. “Hey Mama” almost single-handedly won it for me, but then we take a look at MBDTF. This, is an album I can actually recall coming out, and can recall listening to when it dropped. Though I probably still didn’t listen to the whole thing, everything about that album release seemed surreal at the time; The first performance of “Runaway”, the masterpiece that was the video/painting for “Power”, and of course, all 30 minutes of the short film titled “Runaway” as well. I can literally pinpoint the moment I watched that film, and shared that shit on Facebook thinking “Damn, everyone needs to watch this” (probably the birth of my constant FB spamming… sorry y’all).
The connection I have with that album, plus all the hits that came from that album, make MBDTF my overwhelming pick for best Kanye West album ever. (Anticipating SWISH to top this though….)
(Above: If you have 30 spare minutes, take the chance to re-watch the masterpiece that is “Runaway”)
Raymoney’s Pick: Graduation
If I were to claim that Graduation was Kanye West’s best album, I think a majority to Yeezy fans would doubt my music taste. But, if I were to claim that Graduation is my personal favourite Kanye West album Graduation has given me the opportunity to allow myself to experience life as we know it in a completely different light. I’m not talking about those big milestones or those epic experiences and memories that stay with you to the end of the journey. It’s about those small moments in life that provide purpose and autonomy for individuals to work towards being the best version of themselves. When I wake up early for school or work, I listen to “Good Morning”. When I’m at the gym putting in work, I listen to “Champion” or when I’m inching for that extra motivation to finish off a set, I’m listening to “Stronger”. When I’m daydreaming, I listen to “I Wonder”. When I’m having a good time with my friends, I’m listening to “Good Life”. When I’m preparing for a job interview, I listen to “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. When I’m out late night driving, I listen to “Flashing Lights”. When I’m hanging out with my brother, I’m listening to “Big Brother”. When I’m able to associate such routine actions with so many of the tracks from Graduation, it makes me realize of how important all my choices are.
From choosing careers and creating a social network, to brushing your teeth in the morning and choosing what to eat at 2AM. Listening to Graduation makes me more attentive to all the little things that constantly revolve around my world. If it wasn’t for Kanye West, I don’t think I would be able to appreciate life as it’s meant to be appreciated.
Of course, in the end there can really be no real answer as to what the greatest Kanye album is, as evident with all of the opposing choices, reasons, and feelings displayed above. At the end of the day, we’ll respect the artistry and say that each album has its own little things that make them equally amazing (but since I’m composing this article, and because it has 2.25 votes, MBDTF wins). Drop us a comment below, and let us know what you think is the best Kanye West album to date, and where you think SWISH will fit into that scale.
Result: MBDTF is the best Kanye West album to date.