Worst to Best: Kanye West's Albums Ranked

01
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Ranking Kanye West's Albums

"He never likes to put himself in a place where he's comfortable -- artistically," Q-Tip once said of his friend Kanye West. It's true. Kanye West has evolved from album to album since he first rapped through the wire.

One way to think of Kanye's body of work is in terms of a trimestral system.

In the first term of his career, Kanye explored a series of college-themed albums: The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. West's first three albums shared a common musical lineage--soul samples, matched by personal storytelling.

In the second term, Kanye grew more experimental with albums like 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus.

Now, a full decade into his professional career, Kanye West continues to seek out new creative outlets. He's been working with a certain Beatle lately, trying to tap into the spirit of the icons that came before. 

As anticipation builds for Yeezy's latest musical adventure, SWISH, let's look back at his body of work. Here are all of Kanye West's albums, ranked from worst to best.

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8. Cruel Summer

Let’s start with the guests. Big Sean gets squeezed to the back of the Lambo by Pusha T and 2 Chainz. CyHi the Prynce barely gets a word in. Kid Cudi is still battling his demons. John Legend warbles too much to demand more than our brief attention.

The beats don’t amaze, either. The everything-clashing-model of production is another Yeezyism that rears its ugly head throughout this album. Nearly every song has 700 producers and suffers from a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. This album binds up a feeling of grandness, wraps it in a pink macaroon and neatly stacks it in a gold-embossed chest topped with a purple grosgrain ribbon.

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7. Yeezus (2013)

Yeezus relied on raw experimentation to create a feeling of eternal strangeness and adventure. It was supposed to mesmerize simply because you couldn't figure out what the hell it is. But that feeling wore thin in the second half, as the lyrics became exponentially less interesting.

Treating sound like Silly Putty, Kanye West turned dancehall crooner Capleton into glitches on "I am a God." Bon Iver became a robot on "Hold My Liquor." and, well, the less said about that "Strange Fruit" sample on "Blood on the Leaves" the better. That music so strange and flawed could still be fascinating is a testament to the unknowable ways of Yeezus Christ.

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6. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

808s & Heartbreak

It was stupidly maligned when it first arrived. In hindsight, 808s & Heartbreak redefined the sound of contemporary hip-hop. Kanye's robo-voiced blueprint became the norm, following the release of 808s. And this thing had a handful of lovable joints, like "Street Lights" and "Coldest Winter." 

This was, essentially, Kanye's Electric Circus -- an album where he went for a 360 makeover, while spinning heads in the process. He gave us 808s instead of traditional boom bap, sensitive subjects instead of hard-edged rhymes, moody choruses instead of good ol' hooks. You either loved it or you hated it, but you felt something.

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5. Watch the Throne (2011)

Watch the Throne Artwork
Watch the Throne Artwork. © Def Jam

When Jay Z and Kanye West joined forces on Watch the Throne, it was the equivalent of two planetary bodies colliding. As songs like "H.A.M," "N----s in Paris" and "Otis" proved, they didn't play it safe, either. This was the scent of expensive taste and Tom Ford suits. Sheepskin coats and new money. 808s and Blueprints.

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4. Graduation (2007)

Kanye West - Graduation © Def Jam.

Three albums in and Kanye West was still rapping like he had a point to prove. Thematically, Graduation offered a sense of development. West balanced egocentric declarations ("Glory") with subtleties bigger than himself: loyalty ("Home"), competitive spirit ("Barry Bonds," "Big Brother"). 

Musically, West expanded on his sped-up soul sample template and broadened his sound. “The Good Life,” with its obvious (and expensive), but slower-tempo sample of Michael Jackson’s PYT and T-Pain on vocals is a fun ride. The Daft Punk-sampled single "Stronger" highlighted his foray into Euro-synth pop. A few missteps aside, this is a solid, enjoyable collection of songs.

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3. The College Dropout (2004)

The path to Kanye West's debut, The College Dropout, was paved with great expectations. He broke every barrier placed in front him, fighting his way through the fire to deliver one of the best hip-hop albums of all time

Though diluted by leaks, West's debut still delivered.  The College Dropout's mix of soul, wit and warmth made it a favorite among hip-hop heads young and old. It was further validated by Best Rap Album Grammy.

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2. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy showed an eclectic conversationalist thoroughly engaged with worlds beyond his immediate environment. When Kanye was addressing matters of the heart on 808s & Heartbreak, he was warbling too robotically for any pure-rap fan to tell. 

This go-round, he decided to meld braggart with vulnerability. He dropped witty quotables as he went, so no hip-hop touchstone was left unturned. "If we die in each others arms, we still get laid in the afterlife," he sings on the aforementioned "Lost in the World."  He put distorted riffs and synth showers where droning basslines used to be. Creative ebullience boiled down to its essence.

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1. Late Registration (2005)

Riding on the high of his well-received debut, West followed up with Late Registration in late 2005. Late Registration is is everything The College Dropout wanted to be. 

With Jon Brion as co-pilot, West added intricate layers of instrumentation and musicianship to the album. Social commentary, strong guest turns, and memorable performances made the album a thoroughly enjoyable musical ride. West was rewarded with a back-to-back Grammy for his effort.