Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Yeezy country.
When Kanye West revealed on Twitter that he would be changing the title of his upcoming album from SWISH to Waves, the announcement was generally met with rolled eyes. Who does this guy think he is? became a common refrain on social media, and it’s the same one we heard after West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moment and his 2009 VMA interruption of Taylor Swift.
To his credit, West never shies away from answering that rhetorical question. “I Am a God”, he announced on 2013’s Yeezus, and that record’s complete lack of irony makes it clear that he actually believes it. Elsewhere in his discography, West describes himself as a “Monster”, a “Champion”, and the “Illest Motherfucker Alive”, but his preoccupation with religious divinity is the key to his self-image. This guy wants to be on top of the world, and being the king of rap isn’t enough if there’s a higher power to aspire to.
The benefit of godliness is that you don’t have to play by anybody’s rules but your own. West has fought hard for that luxury for more than a decade now, and his journey from producer to rapper to world’s greatest pop mind has been one he’s taken on his own terms. The promise shown on The College Dropout had already materialized in time for Graduation, but it wasn’t enough for West to touch the sky — he had to break through it and see what could happen on the other side. That’s how we got genre-bending masterpieces like Yeezus, 808s and Heartbreak, and one of the greatest rap albums of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Of course, West’s outsized personality means that he’ll always have to deal with legions of detractors — those fans or critics who feel that it’s their moral crusade to take him down a peg. Most rappers will dedicate verses or entire songs to deflating these haters, but few of them have faced the same vitriol that West has over the years. Almost none have fought it back so successfully. Whether his target is SNL or the writers of South Park, West always finds a way to come out looking like the winner.
But how does he fare against himself? That’s what we wanted to know, so we ranked and dissected all seven of West’s studio albums plus both of his collaborations, 2011’s Watch the Throne and 2012’s Cruel Summer. Tearing these albums apart, we rediscovered all the reasons West continues to dominate headlines in the hip-hop world and beyond. Here is a restless genius, a risk taker, and a rapper who’s never afraid to push the boundaries a little further. Whether West is an actual god or not, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t at least very godlike.