I’ve wanted to branch out from just writing about Buffalo to more pop culture criticism-type stuff for a while now, and I can’t think of a better place to start than a retort to the ranking of “all” of Kanye West’s album tracks that appeared on Gawker yesterday. I’m a huge Kanye fan and I love bullshitting about rap music, so this piece was right up my alley. I knew sight unseen that I was going to be able to find some grist for the twitter mill in the Gawker list, and sure enough, curator Andy Cush delivered several highly questionable calls, such as ranking “The New Workout Plan” in the 64th percentile of Kanye album tracks (a kind of fun, but overwhelmingly annoying novelty track), not bothering to rank “Late” at all (arguably the best song on Late Registration), and ranking the widely derided (although a personal favorite of mine) “Never Let You Down” as the best Kanye song of all time.
So I bought a bottle of strong beer and locked in with all the Kanye albums last night in order to deliver a superior ranking of his songs. After sleeping on it, I stand by it this morning with only a little second guessing (Do I really like “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Touch the Sky” less than “Gold Digger”?). There’s fewer totally inane calls on my list than the Gawker one (Yeah? “Addiction” is not only better than “So Appalled,” but by a margin of 16 songs?), but I’m sure there are enough controversial picks here to, Kanye fans being Kanye fans, generate some sincere debate and name calling.
Before the actual list, though, since I’m a data head as well as hip-hop head – some album analytics based on the song rankings:
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out on top of the album heap (no shock there) with an average song ranking of 14.36 out of 75. (My ranking has 75 songs instead of Gawker’s 72 because I included the inexplicably missing bonus tracks from Late Registration and “Pinocchio Story” from 808s and Heartbreak).
- 808s and Heartbreak had the worst average song ranking, 52.64, surprising to me (though maybe not many other folks) since I generally would pick 808s as an album over Late Registration (average song ranking 52.33).
- Graduation had the greatest disparity between its highest ranked song (No. 2) and its lowest (No. 74), perhaps contributing to its surprisingly poor 4th place finish with an average song ranking of 38.62.
- College Dropout has aged well, finishing in 3rd place among all Kanye albums with an average song ranking of 34.43 despite being 10 years old.
- I’m not entirely convinced that Yeezus is the second best album of Kanye’s career (average song ranking 28.70), but you can’t argue with the numbers. We’ll see where it lands after it’s had time to play itself out like College Dropout and Late Registration.
And now, the list, Kanye’s album tracks (following the Gakwer rules of no Watch the Throne, GOOD Friday releases, or intros, skits, or interludes) ranked from best to worst, with some commentary and justification thrown in:
75. Drunk and Hot Girls
73. Bring Me Down
“Addiction” and “Bring Me Down” are two mid-Late Registration snoozers that I had to re-listen to to even remember what they sounded like. I knew “Bring Me Down” had Brandy on it, but couldn’t even remember the hook, which actually isn’t too bad. “Bring Me Down” should have been a better song, but “Addiction” just blows. “Roses” completes the middle of the album boring song trifecta, but gets bumped up a couple places for the original concept.
72. See You in my Nightmares
70. The New Workout Plan
69. Street Lights
68. We Major
Late Registration songs were way too long in general. A song with this awful chorus has no business being seven and a half minutes long.
67. Heard ‘Em Say
I didn’t like this song when I first heard it, then got subjected to it over and over when everyone at my college bumped this album on repeat. Maroon 5 was, is, and always will be wack.
66. Bad News
65. Welcome to Heartbreak
I might have to revise this song a little bit higher since I now realize that “Welcome to Heartbreak,” not MBDTF‘s “Gorgeous,” set the precedent of bringing Kid Cudi onto a track, then relegating him to the hook. Other than that, this is a pretty meh second track for 808s, not really doing much that isn’t accomplished by other songs and way less cool than the songs that bookend it.
64. Touch The Sky
I love Curtis, but this sample was overdone before Just Blaze put this beat together. The song as a whole is corny and not that cool.
63. Gold Digger
Kanye did the “18 years” verse on HBO’s “Def Poetry” in between Dropout and Late Registration and I thought that was sick. Jamie Foxx’s Ray tie-in was a cute novelty, but this song got played out so fast.
62. Jesus Walks
The fourth College Dropout single got everyone talking about how deep Kanye actually was, but all I heard was a rapper I thought I liked rapping about Jesus, who I don’t care about. The beat is cool, though.
61. Big Brother
Now we’re getting into the songs that I affirmatively like.
60. Last Call
59. Say You Will
58. Drive Slow
57. Breathe In, Breathe Out
56. Pinocchio Story
Another pretty good, though altogether played out song. “Stronger” also gets docked for rhyming “Klondike” with “dyke” for the second time and in not as clever a fashion as on “Late.”
54. On Sight
This song gets shit on a lot because I guess it’s a rip-off of Common’s “Chi City,” and it also has that martian from Coldplay on the chorus, but I still like it.
50. Guilt Trip
49. Barry Bonds
Another commonly shit-on Kanye song that I like a lot. It’s not technically very proficient I guess, but it’s got a cool beat, fun wordplay from Kanye, and a Wayne verse from when he was at the top of his game.
48. Family Business
47. Coldest Winter
“Say You Will,” “Pinocchio Story,” “Heartless,” “Robocop,” and “Coldest Winter” are all really good songs. Their ranking so far down on the list belies how good they actually are.
46. School Spirit
The Aretha song this song samples is tight.
45. We Don’t Care
43. Hold My Liquor
I could say a lot about this song. In my repeated listenings to Yeezus last summer, I concluded that it’s about Kanye’s relationship with the media and the public in general. Using Chief Keef, celebrated for his street image, to sing the hook is a cool touch.
42. Flashing Lights
41. I’m In It
40. Blame Game
39. Love Lockdown
38. Hey Mama
37. I Wonder
This is a great pump-up song, Jeezy really does his thing despite working with Kanye at his least accessible. The animal sounds that accompany the Jeezy verse are awesome.
35. Everything I Am
Common passed on this beat, Ye made it to a jam. Strong end-of-album reflective song with great cuts by Premier.
34. Send It Up
33. Diamonds from Sierra Leone
This might come in higher if it weren’t completely outshone by its remix. I can’t remember the last time I listened to this version before making this list.
32. Good Morning
31. Crack Music
It drives me crazy when people try to call Kanye out for the political content on Yeezus. He’s been doing political music his whole career, and this track from the album that every future Kanye hater absolutely loved in college is proof of that. What the hell was he thinking only putting Game on the hook though?
30. The Glory
It’s interesting here that Kanye refers back to a part of “We Major” that most people probably miss due to skipping the song after satisfying themselves that at least they heard the uninspired Nas verse. Great adaptation of Kanye’s chipmunk sound to the “stadium status” Graduation theme, even if it is fairly ho-hum lyrically.
28. Slow Jamz
I’m sort of ambivalent about “Slow Jamz.” When I first heard it on the radio, I was a huge fan, but if it comes on shuffle now, I’m as likely to skip it as I am to listen to it. Twista is about as great as he can be on this track and it also helped introduce the world to Kanye’s sense of humor. If you’re in the mood, this is a total banger.
27. Lost in the World
It bums me out that this is the highest entry for 808s because I really like that album more than shows here. It just speaks to how great the rest of Kanye’s catalog is.
25. Hell of a Life
24. Blood on the Leaves
23. Never Let Me Down
Oh Bay-bee! An awesome song with the whole choir thing and two great Jay-Z verses. God that J Ivy bit is unbearable though. You will never, ever let me down, J Ivy? Well you just did when that wasn’t the end of your “verse” or whatever it’s called that you do.
An anomalous Otis Redding-sampling track in that I like this better than the song it samples. Kanye bops around on the jangly beat, then newly-signed-to-the-Roc Cam doubles down. Surely a standout song from the overlong, over-produced Late Registration.
After three Kanye verses where he lays out exactly why it is he’s still pissed despite not being able to be much higher, Raekwon jumps in with a verse that is equal parts street story-telling and incomprehensible slanganology, i.e. exactly what you want from Rae on a feature.
20. I Am a God
19. Get ‘Em High
Stellar efforts from Ye, Kweli, and Common from back when there was a discussion about “backpacker” rap vs. everything else. I feel like you can tell these three guys are all buddies here. When do you get that any more?
17. Good Life
16. Black Skinhead
Again, it was inexcusable for Gawker to leave this gem off of its list. It’s got the chipmunk sound that Kanye made famous and Ye at his lyrical goosiest. This would be the best song on Late Registration if it weren’t for the barn-burner Hov verse on the “Diamonds” remix.
14. Dark Fantasy
Can we get much higher? The opening piano chords on this song after Nicki’s over the top prologue never fail to transport me back to the cold, dry November when I first heard My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. One amazing strength of Kanye’s is creating albums that are entirely of a piece, with cohesive, evocative soundscapes. This track, which sounds EXACTLY like you’d expect a RZA/Kanye collaboration to sound like, combines the stark introspection of 808s with the multi-layered baroque sounds of Late Registration and Graduation to paint a picture of an unhinged celeb simultaneously at the height of success and the crevasse of self-loathing that would come across even without Kanye’s supremely sing along-able vocals.
13. All Falls Down
12. Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)
Is Jay gonna stay retired? Is he gonna come back? What’s up with him and Ye? Kanye summed up what happened with this track perfectly in “Big Brother.” Jay-Z’s verse here is as close to perfect as it can get, stacking well against his classic verse from Jeezy’s “Go Crazy” remix the same year, proclaiming his transformation from businessman to business, mannnnn. Kanye also improved greatly on his decent verse from the original “Diamonds.”
11. So Appalled
This song is a jam, taking its rightful place toward the top of this list. A great showing from everyone involved, even if Jay’s “I don’t get enough respect” shtick had already worn pretty thin. I love how RZA went off the script for his bit here, and I have to acknowledge this song for introducing me to Cyhi, who I hated at first for how much he chuckled at his own punchlines (“Matt Leinart – HEH!”), but who I’ve grown to love thanks to almost always on-point features on GOOD Music tracks and his phenomenal Black Hystori Project mixtape.
10. Bound 2
I love how Kanye ended the difficult, grating Yeezus listening experience with a playful, fun return to his classic sound replete with “Martin” references, raunch, and a positive atmosphere. I really like the mix on the album a lot more than that on the video he released (though I do love that video). Comparing the mostly spare, record-skipping, punk-ish tone of the album mix to the gaudy orchestration of the video mix illustrates how important Rick Rubin was to the Yeezus sound. Bringing him in was a masterstroke on Ye’s part.
Bon Iver’s creepy “Iiiiiiiiiiiiii shoot the lights out” intro to this song that immediately follows “All of the Lights” is a triumph in album sequencing. “Monster” kicks off the second act of MBDTF, what I like to call the “Kanye behaving badly” portion, that focuses more on swagger than self-awareness. Aside from the Halloween-party-perfect beat, the features are what make this song stand out, from Rick Ross finally starting to come into his own to a solid turn from late-career Jay to the jaw dropping Nicki Minaj verse that a rap fan friend of mine declared “the best verse on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (never mind that the same friend posited that it was Lil Wayne that actually wrote it).
7. All of the Lights
6. Devil in a New Dress
5. New Slaves
4. Through the Wire
3. Two Words
2. Can’t Tell Me Nothing