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Sunday September 26th

Viewpoints: Ranking Kanye West's studio albums

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Kanye West is notorious in the musical sphere as a critically acclaimed American producer and rapper. With the release of his 10th studio album, “Donda,” members of The Daily Tar Heel’s editorial staff ranked which of Kanye’s solo albums are contenders for his best work — and which ones fall short.

PJ Morales, sports editor

1. "The Life of Pablo"

2. "The College Dropout"

3. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

4. "Late Registration"

5. "Graduation"

6. "Ye"

7. "808s & Heartbreak"

8. "Yeezus"

9. "Donda"

10. "Jesus is King"

To me, the greatest Kanye West albums are about just that — Kanye. I’m always going to love the off-the-wall, hyper-bangers from “Yeezus,” the mournful, passionate and trendsetting sounds of “808s and Heartbreak” and the legendary mixes of pop and rap of “Graduation” and “Late Registration." But “The Life of Pablo” will always stand alone as the ultimate intersection of West’s musical fame and personal infamy. 

It’s no surprise, then, that his grandest display of volatility also made for his most compelling album. From the absolutely enthralling gospel paradise that is “Ultralight Beam” and the deranged, self-obsessed banger that is “Famous,” all the way to the meeting of rap royalty minds in “No More Parties in LA” with Kendrick Lamar. TLOP is an album that has something for everyone — no, really, everyone — and all in a package that is distinctly, unmistakably and almost regrettably, Kanye.

And let’s be honest — “Jesus is King” sucked.

Leo Culp, audio editor

​​1. "Late Registration"

2. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

3. "The College Dropout"

4. "The Life of Pablo"

5. "808s & Heartbreak"

6. "Yeezus"

7. "Graduation"

8. "Ye"

9. "Donda"

10. "Jesus Is King"

The best Kanye albums show the full extent of him as a songwriter and musical mind. That doesn’t just mean the albums with big, sweeping songs like “Graduation” or “Yeezus,” or quieter albums like “Ye” or “808s & Heartbreak.” The best in his catalogue highlight his full range of emotions, his full range of musical talent. All of my top four touch on every bit of Kanye that makes him great, whereas those albums in the bottom six only touch on aspects of his talent (except “Jesus Is King” totally disrespects it). 

I feel like you can make the argument that any these four could be considered Kanye’s best, but “Late Registration” is the only one that has grand songs like “We Major” and “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” while still having a space for the emotion found in “Hey Mama” and “Roses.” Not to mention the celebration seen on “Touch The Sky” and, well, “Celebration.” “Late Registration” isn’t just one thing or one style, and it's the album that I always point people to if they need an introduction to all the things that make Ye’s music so interesting.  

Rajee Ganesan, opinion editor

  1. "Yeezus"
  2. "The Life of Pablo"
  3. "The College Dropout"
  4. "808s & Heartbreak"
  5. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" 
  6. "Ye"
  7. "Late Registration"
  8. "Donda"
  9. "Graduation"
  10. "Jesus is King"

I’m careful to defend Kanye in his turbulent controversies (and there are a lot), but it’s no lie that his talent and vision as a rapper and musical artist, along with his extensive discography, deserve acclamation. It’s difficult to choose a “best” album, but for me, it comes back to “Yeezus." It was a significant departure from his previous work, and its high-energy, industrial sound sets the album apart from his other albums. It was controversial and divisive, which in a way, is representative of him as an artist.

The excellent production mixed with electropop creates an abrasive, but unique album like no other. It’s not typical hip-hop; the synth-heavy, multi-dimensional work touches on racial themes and creates a narrative that was lacking in his earlier collections. With bangers like “Black Skinhead” and “Guilt Trip,” and some of his best sampling work on “Blood on the Leaves” and “Bound 2,” "Yeezus" reigns superior in the list of Kanye’s best work.

Carson Elm-Picard, design editor

  1. "808s & Heartbreak"
  2. "The College Dropout"
  3. "Ye"
  4. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" 
  5. "The Life of Pablo"
  6. "Graduation"
  7. "Late Registration"
  8. "Donda"
  9. "Yeezus" 
  10. "Jesus is King" 

Kanye sums up the reason I love 808s so much in his recently leaked track, “Life of the Party” featuring Andre 3000. While referencing himself, Kanye says, “He made '808s,' so he's everyone's dad.” This album influenced countless musical artists from the 2010s through the use of melodic auto-tuned singing and raw lyricism. He also managed to do this all without using a single curse word. 

"808s and Heartbreak" was the blueprint for Drake and Travis Scott that allowed rappers to explore their emotions through singing — a trend that has continued with artists like Don Toliver and Roddy Ricch. In stark contrast to Kanye’s most recent album, "Donda," every moment on this album feels intentional, and it’s apparent the filler was left on the cutting room floor. Kanye was able to perfectly mix experimental concepts with commercial viability. That is why I think it's his best work to date.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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