When viewed in a vacuum, this year served as a period of great transition for Kanye West. At the outset, Ye was a cultural pariah, cast out for polarizing remarks made under the ethos of “free-thinking” and contemplating an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. Fast forward to March and the seeds of what’d become Jesus Is King were sown, with Ye placing Yandhi on the backburner as he geared up to give the world a glimpse into his Sunday service on Coachella’s manmade mountain. Now, as Kanye purportedly finetunes Jesus Is Born with Dr. Dre, we find him in a completely different paradigm than where he was at last New Year’s Eve.
But if you’ve charted Ye’s journey creative or philosophical overhauls shouldn’t ever be surprising . Between 2010-2019, Kanye’s legacy has become increasingly indivisible from his regenerative powers. Set on actualising whatever new concept gathers momentum, these blinkered bursts of productivity may have shipwrecked numerous projects, but also provided eight new entries to his cherished canon.
Encompassing solo works and joint ventures, this is every Kanye West album of the decade ranked in order of greatness.
8. ‘Cruel Summer’ (2012)
Built from “a communal style of work,” Cruel Summer is admirably ambitious, but fails to deliver on its blockbuster premise. And if The Dynasty: Roc La Familia counts among Hov’s main discography, this 2012 effort deserves to be integrated into Ye’s. Boasting highpoints in the form of iconic posse cut “Mercy,” “Cold” (fka “Theraflu”), and the arrogant magnificence of “New God Flow,” this label compilation is ultimately yanked down by uninspired showings from The-Dream, John Legend, and Teyana Taylor, among others. With the notable exception of “Cold,” it also provided next-to-no insight into Kanye’s psyche during its creation, and as a result, stands as the most non-essential entry in his entire catalogue.
7. ‘ye’ (2018)
Throughout the past decade, Kanye’s willingness to scrap progress and start over has allowed a quick turnaround to act as the mother of invention. But while penned in an eight-day fervor, ye accounts for the other side of that coin. Make no mistake, there are moments of unmitigated beauty on this deeply personal work. On “Ghost Town,” Kanye absolves himself of missteps and erects a totem to triumph over adversity, while the gorgeous “Wouldn’t Leave” broaches culpability for his errors and their impact on his beloved wife. Other times, it’s the fractured product of a mentally fatigued man nearing the end of his tether. Musically robust but haphazard in its songcraft, ye quickly slid out of the world’s view in a way that most Kanye projects haven’t.
6. ‘JESUS IS KING’ (2019)
If ye saw Kanye grappling with pointed introspection, JESUS IS KING is his deliverance after weathering the storm. Subject to delays, misdirections, and a customary layer of controversy, the project’s eventual arrival was cathartic. As the opening strains of “Every Hour” invoked the wide-eyed joy of The College Dropout, JESUS IS KING quickly became Kanye’s most sonically lucid project in recent years. From “Selah” and “Follow God” through to the vivid, Pi’erre Bourne-assisted “On God,” Kanye strove to instil a state of musical euphoria to bind his religious doctrine together. At times, its non-secular scope can feel oppressive, and numerous tracks refuse to land as intended. But no matter where you stand on the sermonizing, seeing Kanye create with an unflinching focus was refreshing for any long-time fan.
5. ‘The Life of Pablo’ (2016)
Where other projects have hinged around a linear journey or overarching concept, 2016’s The Life of Pablo adopts a uniquely expressionistic approach. Dabbing a little sorrow here (“Real Friends,” “Wolves”) and some unbridled bravado there (“Famous,” “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” “Fade”) Pablo is a project that – courtesy of its endless addendums – is defined by duality in both its subject matter and quality. Home to both masterworks and half-polished scraps that could’ve remained in the archives, it’s an album that, while regularly enjoyable, lacks identity or cohesion.
4. ‘Watch the Throne’ (2011)
As photos of Kanye and JAY-Z conversing at Diddy’s birthday party emerged, wistfulness for the days where they were an impregnable united front crept in. And if anything encompasses that, it’s the jubilance of Watch the Throne. A virtuosic display of collaborative synergy, WTT revels in its own merits but is cordoned off from timelessness by refusing to trim the fat. Harboring no shortage of moments to return to (“N*ggas in Paris,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Made in America,” “Murder To Excellence”) Watch the Throne stands as a monument to the last breaths of hip-hop’s traditional ruling class before the power was decentralized by streaming and social media.
3. ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ (2018)
From one soured friendship to another that was touchingly redeemed, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is unequivocally the best project that either Kanye or Kid Cudi have delivered in the latter half of this decade. Lovingly brought to life by Ye’s expansive production amid contributions from Benny Blanco, Noah Goldstein, and others, the record doesn’t dwell on their personal reconciliation so much as exist as a vessel to commune with their respective demons. Leaving ample room for maniacal energy (“Feel the Love,” “4th Dimension”) and bittersweet self-reflection (“Cudi Montage,” “Reborn”), it’s a rare case of a project that felt seminal from the moment it was unveiled.
2. ‘Yeezus’ (2013)
Visceral, macabre and dangerous, no album toys with our fight-or-flight mechanism quite like Yeezus does. Designed to disorient, Kanye enlisted a murderer’s row of visionaries including Arca, Mike Dean, Travis Scott, Rick Rubin, Hudson Mohawke, and Daft Punk to deliver a work of anarchic deconstructionism. Disillusioned with the world around him, Kanye had grown to see the futility of opulence and earthly possessions. Now, he was aiming higher, shining a spotlight on systemic inequities and placing himself at the epicenter of it all.
Trading in lavishness for sparsity, tracks such as the mesmeric “On Sight,” “New Slaves,” and “Blood on the Leaves” display Kanye at his most righteously feral, while “I’m in It,” “Send It Up” and “Black Skinhead” coax arresting soundscapes out of all the dissonance. Yeezus is not just an album of the decade, it’s an album for the ages.
1. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010)
By the turn of the decade, Kanye had grown accustomed to public vilification. Branded “a jackass” by President Obama and admonished for interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs, Kanye took ownership of his egotism and pulled out all the stops on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
“[MBDTF] was a backhanded apology”, Ye informed The New York Times. “It was all these raps, all these sonic acrobatics. I was like: ‘Let me show you guys what I can do, and please accept me back. You want to have me on your shelves.’”
Musically decadent and overflowing with guest appearances – from a burgeoning Nicki Minaj through Elton John, Justin Vernon, and Chris Rock – Kanye’s fifth album strips away the romanticism from public life to depict his world in all its depraved glory. Unlike ye or The Life of Pablo, MBDTF sees him take a personal tailspin and harness the ensuing chaotic energy in innovative ways. Presenting personal failings as a product of the rarefied air he occupies and overcompensating for them with a grandiose collection of modern classics, “Gorgeous,” “POWER,” “Monster,” and “All of the Lights” helped retool the boundaries of commercial hip-hop, while “Devil in a New Dress,” “Runaway,” and “Lost in the World” corroborate every claim that Kanye’s ever made about being a genius.
Musical world-building at its finest, it’s a project that never fails to immerse from start to finish and is the sort of creative work that the term “magnum opus” should be reserved for.