Kanye West returned on Sunday, August 29th with Donda, which was initially set to arrive in July 2020, but, you know…Kanye. Whether you’re loving or hating the effort, you can always look back on the good ol’ days with our list of his top 20 songs.
Obviously, ten albums, three collaborative releases, and dozens of singles later, it was more of a chore to put together than anything else. In order to keep sane, we pared things down to the general overview, best lyrics and samples of each song.
So did anything from Donda make it to our updated list? To find out, see Kanye’s 20 best songs, ranked from worst to best, below.
20. “Hey Mama”
Album: Late Registration (2005)
Rather than writing a letter, or getting a tattoo, or buying her flowers, Kanye penned one of the most heartfelt ballads of his career with “Hey Mama.” Alongside composer Jon Brion, Ye scoops out his heart and prods it repeatedly with each line, thanking his mother for all her strife and invaluable lessons. Following her 2007 death, the track’s taken on a somber, new meaning, especially with his life performances. During the Glow in the Dark Tour, which only took place months after her death, Ye segued the track into a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” — that’s heart. — Michael Roffman
Choice Sample: Donal Leace’s “Today Won’t Come Again”
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Nothing about “Monster” makes sense. The tribal drums rumble out a rhythm that’s scattershot, held together by dental floss and hope. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver shows up as Vincent Price’s successor. Rick Ross is on it for about three seconds. Kanye says “put the pussy in a sarcophagus.” Jay-Z asserts that he’s going to rape women and children. Nicki Minaj is the best rapper on the track. That all of these elements even exist is confusing enough. That they coexist is outrageous. That they coexist well defies good taste. Despite that, “Monster” is the most dextrous and capable pure hip-hop song on a record of boundary-pushing; it’s evidence that West still is a rapper and rap producer, even as he continues to escape those confines. –-Chris Bosman
Essential Lyric: “Have you ever had sex with a pharoah?/ Put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”
Choice Sample: There are no samples on “Monster” which is one of only a thousand weird things about it.
18. “Ultralight Beam”
Album: The Life of Pablo (2016)
“Ultralight Beam” opens with a sample of a four-year-old girl rejecting all devils and praising the Lord. By foregrounding this little girl’s voice, which reads almost like an invocation for TLoP, Kanye shines a light on the youth, the keepers of futurity and hope. It makes sense, then, that Kanye himself is absent for much of the song. Instead, the longest and most radiant verse belongs to West’s gospel-rap disciple Chance the Rapper, who dances across the track’s deceptively simple beat with a blend of youthful vitality and reverence for his mentor. Despite its name, “Ultralight Beam” is often shrouded in darkness. Kanye and his many features sing and rap, directly and indirectly, about terrorist attacks, systemic oppression, and once hopeful Chicago neighbourhoods torn apart by drugs. But always there is the possibility of salvation and spiritual healing, personal and universal; beams of hope which filter through the cracks. — Curtis Sun
Essential Lyric: “Foot on the Devil’s neck ‘til it drifted Pangea/ I’m moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia”
Choice Sample: Then-four-year-old Natalie Green yelling, “We don’t want no devils in the house! We want the Lord, and that’s it!”, taken from an Instagram video.
17. “Slow Jamz”
Album: The College Dropout (2004)
When was the last time you listened to Twista? Here, I’ll answer for you: “Slow Jamz.” In 2004, the Yeezy-produced track marked the first number one single for all parties involved — that is, Twista, Yeezy, and Jamie Foxx — and eventually led to a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Not too shabby; though, Ye hardly let Twista run away with it. Shortly after its release, he cribbed it for his debut album, The College Dropout, slicing out Twista’s outro and injecting a new intro and two extra verses by Foxx. Rascal move, but the necessary edits were just that, making “Slow Jamz” one of the best R&B/hip-hop cross-hybrids in years past. — Michael Roffman