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The 10 Best Kanye West Songs

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Whether you miss the old Kanye or you’re the type who has a Google alert set for Yeezy’s Twitter feed, there’s no denying that Kanye West is one of the most talked-about musical figures of 21st century. But beyond the hype and non-musical reasons why we’re often talking about this man, it’s important to remember the reason why he first caught our attention in the first place: the music. These are the 10 best Kanye West songs.

1) “Spaceship” (The College Dropout, 2004)

Those who fall into the “I miss the old Kanye” camp are talking about songs like this gem from his debut album. Featuring the classic sped-up soul sample chops that Ye reintroduced to the public early in his career, this song also presents a more down-to-Earth version of the man who would later go on to proclaim that he was a God. Apparently even someone of that stature started out folding shirts at a clothing store in the mall.


2) “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” (Late Registration, 2005) 

On the eve of his anticipated sophomore album, this single felt like a big moment in time for Mr. West. Years later, the appeal is still apparent – the production and arrangement convey a sense of grandiosity, Ye provides a nuanced and honest perspective on a topic of discussion that didn’t (and still really doesn’t) get enough attention, and his big brother Jay Z even hops on the remix for added flare. It’s a Watch the Throne song before Watch the Throne was even a thing.


3) “Good Life” (Graduation, 2007) 

Kanye’s third album Graduation was a not-so-subtle chess move to translate the Yeezy experience into stadiums – and thanks to songs like “Good Life,” that strategy was successful. It’s hard to deny the big sound of this record, with a sped-up Michael Jackson sample, thunderous drums, and a bombardment of synth sounds that served as a bit of a precursor to the musical direction that Kanye would move in for later releases. Plus, the lyrics were simplified in a way that was able to resonate with bigger audiences without feeling like a compromise of the rapper’s overall content (and let’s be honest, it’s not like he was ever a super-lyrical backpack rapper anyway).


4) “Flashing Lights” (Graduation, 2007

Again, Kanye’s Graduation-style was all about making things bigger and more palatable – and those are two terms that are totally fitting for “Flashing Lights.” The impact of the song is apparent from the moment the sweeping strings open the song. And while the “fame is not all it’s cracked up to be” motif is pretty well-traveled territory, Ye still finds a way to paint a vivid picture of the transitionary period he found himself in at that point in his career.


5) “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” (Graduation, 2007)


It’s hard to really pinpoint why this may be the quintessential Kanye West song, but it’s kind of difficult to really summarize the appeal of Kanye, too. Between its hard beat, extremely catchy chorus, and contradictory-filled personal musings of Ye’s verses, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is a crash course in all things Kanye.


6) “All of the Lights” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010) 

Sometimes you find a way to improve upon something you’ve already done before. Beyond the fact that they both have the word “lights” in their titles, “All of the Lights” is essentially a revved-up version of “Flashing Lights,” but with the confidence and bravado of someone who wasn’t aiming for world domination, but already living it. Rest assured, if Ye’s next album features a single called “Look at These Lights,” it is probably going to be straight fire.


7) “Hell of a Life” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010) 

The sound of self-destruction in the belly of the beast, “Hell of a Life” cleverly plays on the double entendre of its title; Kanye West is the biggest artist in the world, he must have one hell of a life. Kanye West is also a pretty tortured Black man living in America, his is one hell of a life.


8) “Blame Game” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010) 

Breaking up is hard to do, and Kanye’s “Blame Game” captures the tortured emotional flood of those turbulent times with painfully expert precision. Although My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an album about Kanye’s disappearance into the weirdly fantastic cloud of fame and artistic decadence, this song provides a peek into the fragile loneliness that still remained at the core of his humanity.


9) “Black Skinhead” (Yeezus, 2013) 

It’s always interesting when an artist explores a new direction in their sound. It may not always work, but it can provide some interesting results. While Yeezus was perhaps not a complete and total home run, it was an album with the sole purpose of letting Kanye show his artistic fangs. And “Black Skinhead” sinks its teeth right into the jugular, with a punishing military stomp and aggressively distorted musical aesthetic.


10) “Real Friends” (The Life of Pablo, 2016) 

Even after all of the self-aggrandizing, Ye was still able to show a vulnerable side on “Real Friends.” There’s always two sides to every story when it comes to relationship dysfunction, and here Mr. West is able to provide a pretty honest look from both perspectives on how hard it is for him to have and maintain friendships.

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