Monster or Gorgeous: A Kanye West Discography Review (Part 4)


Sam Richardson '22, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my Kanye West discography review series. We’re down to the top three albums in Kanye’s vast and wide-ranging album anthology. Which album made my #1?

Kanye West, ever since his debut studio album in 2004, has been a widely recognized and often controversial artist within the music industry. Even if one has never heard his music, he will still be recognized due to his arrogant antics, marriage to Kim Kardashian, successful fashion line Yeezy, the Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 VMAs, and most recently, his bid for President of the United States. Aside from some of this potentially disputable– or possibly visionary– behavior, his music has grossed billions of streams, and he is widely known as one of the best artists of the 2000s, from critics to common listeners. Personally, I have over 5,000 plays of Kanye West on Spotify, which qualifies me for top 20 in the world according to

Although his albums are all unique, special, and beautiful in their own way, they can surely be ranked based off production, lyrics, features, and their overall impact on me. Obviously, these are all my personal opinions, and I know many of my friends have drastically different opinions (many of which I find preposterous). I will only be ranking his nine solo studio albums, which means leaked mixtapes such as Yandhi and Donda, and collaboration albums Kids See GhostsWatch the Throne, and GOOD Music CRUEL Summer will not be ranked.

Additionally, I will be ranking these nine albums from worst to best over the course of a four-part series of reviews. Check out album rankings 9 – 4 here: and and

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section!

3. College Dropout

Kanye West’s first studio album, College Dropout, was a “make or break” time in his musical career. Many in the music industry saw him as solely a top-tier producer, who would be unable to create an album himself. He was ironically deemed boring, a label which would wear off within months. However, his friend and client Jay-Z took a chance on him, and he did not disappoint with this album. Unlike Late Registration, this album is quite top-heavy, with the tracks “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks,” “We Don’t Care,” “Spaceship,” “Never Let Me Down,” “Through the Wire”, and “Family Business” rising head and shoulders above the rest of the album. This is the first album with actual subpar songs, but that does not take away from its value, as the top songs are exceptional. “Through the Wire” is easily one of the most unique rap songs ever recorded, as he made it after his jaw shattered, and his mouth was wired shut, hence the name. His voice is clearly different than in any other Kanye West song, and the lore behind this song vaults it into my top 10 Kanye songs of all time. 

The others focus on societal issues, and contain wonderful production. It was here that Kanye West first utilized the soul samples of manipulation of the human voice in his own music, and it is honestly breathtaking. The production of “Jesus Walks” is especially beautiful, as Kanye heavily utilizes soul samples to create his first, but not last, song about his relationship with Jesus Christ. “We Don’t Care” follows a similar trend of choirs, with a children’s choir singing about drug dealing, which, for me, especially highlights dependence on drugs from a young age in many poor, urban communities where they “drug deal just to get by,” according to Kanye West. Like Late Registration, he also focuses on societal issues and personal experiences in his hometown of Southside Chicago, and each song clearly focuses on a different one. He goes from drug dealing to materialism to a lack of God, but then juxtaposes that with positives of his childhood, such as his family, and his dreams for the future. Without this album, Kanye would not have developed his unique production style and garnered the attention of large production companies which allowed him to create future works of art.

College Dropout Song Rankings:

  1. Never Let Me Down
  2. Jesus Walks
  3. We Don’t Care
  4. All Falls Down
  5. Spaceship
  6. All Falls Down
  7. Last Call
  8. Breathe In Breathe Out
  9. Slow Jamz
  10. New Workout Plan

2. Late Registration

Kanye West’s second studio album, Late Registration, would easily be the number one album on nearly every other artist’s discography. It has no weak songs, and every song has meaning to Kanye West’s life. Even the worst song of this album is a song I enjoy, and I could easily listen to this on repeat for hours. Unlike My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it really puts Kanye’s rapping skills on display, and while he’s nowhere near Kendrick Lamar or Andre 3000, his flow is nearly unmatched. The lyrics and themes of this album are the most notable area. 

He tells a story of his past, both his family and adult life, and the listener really begins to relate to him. In “Roses,” he says, “You telling me if my grandma was in the NBA, then she’d be okay.” This specific line has impacted me directly in ways that are difficult to put into words. When I heard this line, I immediately questioned the healthcare system of the United States, and after a period of research and rumination, I have recognized how broken and one-sided the current American healthcare model is. However, getting back to the album itself, each song has a clear, special meaning, creating a distinct personal connection with the rapper which is rarely seen today. “Hey Mama” especially holds a place within my heart, and many of the praises he preaches about his own Mom I feel about my own, and Kanye was able to deepen my appreciation for my parents. For me, this album destroys the false conception of Kanye as an ignorant rapper who was lost to fame, but it instead makes me see him as a human with much in common with myself, and when one analyzes this album, it becomes possible to understand his future work. After listening to “Hey Mama,” his appreciation for his Mom is almost palpable. Sadly, the next year his Mom died, leading to 808s and Heartbreaks, a depressing, unique album, in which one can deepen their empathy for Kanye’s grief. He even advocated for societal change in this album, challenging the prison system in “Crack Music” through clear anger toward corporations and Ronald Reagan, even claiming the black community was “merril lynched.” 

Past the impact of this album, the production and features are wonderful. Lupe Fiasco, Adam Levine, Nas, and many others are able to build off the themes built by Kanye West. Nas’s verse on “We Major” especially does this, as Nas creates a verse which helps the audience empathize with him, much like how the rest of the album helps the audience empathize with Kanye. He speaks of his early success, and how all his fans want is another Illmatic, an album whose excellence is nearly impossible to replicate. Overall, the production was clean, and was the perfect accompaniment to the powerful lyrics included in the album itself. Each song’s production clearly reflected the theme being emphasized, especially with the slow, depressed production of “Roses, “which compounded the sadness and grief he was rapping about. 

Late Registration Song Rankings:

  1. Roses
  2. Hey Mama
  3. Gone
  4. We Major
  5. Touch the Sky
  6. Crack Music
  7. My Way Home
  8. Heard ‘Em Say
  9. Gold Digger
  10. Celebration
  11. Addiction
  12. Late
  13. Drive Slow

1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Following his infamous incident at the 2009 VMA’s, Kanye West completely disappeared from the public eye. He hunkered down at his studio in Hawaii, and devoted his entire self to the creation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He culled musical minds from around the globe, including Bon Iver, John Legend, Pusha T, and more, and according to these artists, he demanded nothing short of perfection from them. His sheer focus led to the creation of his magnum opus and, in my opinion, the greatest album of the 21st century. 

The production itself was impeccable. The 14 high-e’s on the piano to begin “Runaway” are iconic, and whenever I hear that familiar note, my mind immediately goes to the beauty of this song. The rest of the album follows, and the production remains near-perfect throughout the entire album. Kanye West uses dramatic crescendos and countless instruments to make the maximalist style he was aiming for. This is especially evident on “All of the Lights,” which, from beginning to end, did not end its dramatic nature, with a piano intro from Elton John culminating in horn riffs and drum lines. 

Secondly, the lyrics perfectly encompass Kanye West, and his view on both himself and the fame he obtained through his first 4 albums. Even the first line of the album, “You might think you’ve peeped the scene, you haven’t, the real one’s far too mean,” express the fact that fame is far from what it is made out to be by the public. 

The vocals on this album, to me, are peak Kanye West. His use of both features and his own voice create an album which not only contains masterful production, but the vocals to go along with it. On songs like “Lost In The World,” he even restricts the song to vocals and a beat, especially emphasizing his own voice. Then, in “All of the Lights” and “Blame Game,” he relies on the majestic, velvety vocals of Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and John Legend, all of whom are able to capture the tone and brilliance of the production in the form of the human voice.

Through his maximalist production and a common theme of the negatives of fame, he is able to portray his life as a mess of arrogance,  and over-confidence, and as evidenced in “Runaway,” he asks the simple question, “Why don’t you run away.” He saw himself as if he was engulfed in fame , and he considered himself to be a “douchebag.” “Blame Game,” “Lost in the World,” and “Runaway” all demonstrate this acute self-awareness, and there is a clear allusion to his actions at the 2009 VMAs, which he sees as a culmination of his overconfidence and arrogance. Lastly, the features on this album are easily the best of all-time. Jay-Z on “So Appalled,” Pusha T on “Runaway,” Rick Ross on “Devil in a New Dress,” Nicki Minaj on “Monster,” Alicia Keys, Elton John, and Rihanna on “All of the Lights,” Bon Iver on “Lost in the World,” and John Legend on “Blame Game” are just a few of the big names he included on this project. Each feature was masterful, and in my opinion, Pusha T and Rick Ross each have a top-10 verse of all time on this album. On “Runaway,” Pusha T perfectly embodied the hubristic nature of Kanye West, speaking from the point of view of a brash, womanizing man who has no sense of decency. The perfection West demanded was met, and nearly every feature on this album was perfect for the song it was in. These features only compounded the maximalist nature of this album, and in the end, it culminated into the best album of the 2000’s, standing head and shoulders above any other. 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Song Rankings:

  1. Runaway
  2. Devil in a New Dress
  3. Monster
  4. Gorgeous
  5. So Appalled
  6. Lost in the World
  7. All of the Lights
  8. POWER
  9. Dark Fantasy
  10. Hell of a Life
  11. Who Will Survive in America