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Kanye West’s Top 20 Songs

on June 22, 2013, 12:03am
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yeezus Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Kanye West remains king of the Throne — at least this week. By now, you’ve read our Top Star review of his latest opus, Yeezus, and spent time dissecting the samples and references galore. Now, the pop cultural science experiment continues with our list of his top 20 songs.

Obviously, six albums, two collaborative releases, and dozens of singles later, it was more of a chore to put together than anything else. So, to keep sane, we pared things down to the best lyrics and samples of each song, even going so far as to monetize its worth — Yeezy style.

If you’re not down with our selections, comment below… haaaaaters.

Photo via ~azul-dream/KanyeToThe

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20. Hey Mama

mama Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Late Registration (2005)

Rather than writing a letter, or getting a tattoo, or buying her flowers, Kanye penned one of the most heartfelt ballads of his career with “Hey Mama”. Alongside composer Jon Brion, Ye scoops out his heart and prods it repeatedly with each line, thanking his mother for all her strife and invaluable lessons. Following her 2007 death, the track’s taken on a somber, new meaning, especially with his life performances. During the Glow in the Dark Tour, which only took place months after her death, Ye segued the track into a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” — that’s heart. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “Hey Mama”

Essential Lyric:  “Can’t you see, you’re like a book of poetry/ Maya Angelou, Nicky Giovanni, turn one page and there’s my mommy”

Choice Sample: Donal Leace’s “Today Won’t Come Again”

For What It’s Worth:

priceless Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

19. Monster

kanye monster

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Nothing about “Monster” makes sense. The tribal drums rumble out a rhythm that’s scattershot, held together by dental floss and hope. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver shows up as Vincent Price’s successor. Rick Ross is on it for about three seconds. Kanye says “put the pussy in a sarcophagus.” Jay-Z asserts that he’s going to rape women and children. Nicki Minaj is the best rapper on the track. That all of these elements even exist is confusing enough. That they coexist is outrageous. That they coexist well defies good taste. Despite that, “Monster” is the most dextrous and capable pure hip-hop song on a record of boundary-pushing; it’s evidence that West still is a rapper and rap producer, even as he continues to escape those confines. -Chris Bosman

Listen: “Monster”

Essential Lyric: “Have you ever had sex with a pharoah?/ Put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”

Choice Sample: There are no samples on “Monster” which is one of only a thousand weird things about it.

For What It’s Worth: A time machine to bring back this version of Nicki Minaj.

tardis Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

18. Good Morning

graduation Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Graduation (2007)

The morning of the commencement, a new day for Ye, the processional, the intro. It’s all there in “Good Morning”, the first taste of what would be the blasted synths and huge sound of Graduation. It’s interesting that Kanye’s collaboration with Takashi Murakami for the video for “Good Morning” struck a chord with Murakami’s audience as conflating art and commerece, especially considering many people consider Graduation to be a minor artistic masterpiece. -Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: “Good Morning”

Essential Lyric: “I’m like the fly Malcom X/ by any jeans necessary”

Choice Sample: Elton John’s “Somebody Saved My Life Tonight”

For What It’s Worth: A Louis Vitton suitcase with art by Takashi Murakami

louis Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

17. Slow Jamz

slowjamz Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

When was the last time you listened to Twista? Here, I’ll answer for you: “Slow Jamz”. In 2004, the Yeezy-produced track marked the first number one single for all parties involved — that is, Twista, Yeezy, and Jamie Foxx — and eventually led to a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Not too shabby; though, Ye hardly let Twista run away with it. Shortly after its release, he cribbed it for his debut album, The College Dropout, slicing out Twista’s outro and injecting a new intro and two extra verses by Foxx. Rascal move, but the necessary edits were just that, making “Slow Jamz” one of the best R&B/hip-hop cross-hybrids in years past. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “Slow Jamz”

Essential Lyric:  “She got a light-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson/ Got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson”

Choice Sample: Sorry Aisha Taylor, but that Luther Vandross’ hook from his take on “A House Is Not a Home” trumps the vignette.

For What It’s Worth: Seven consecutive platinum records by Luther Vandross, signed and inscribed.

luther Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

16. Love Lockdown

 Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

808s isn’t Kanye’s stickiest record in regards to airplay or clubs, but it certainly aides with post-relationship-fucking-up disorder. “I’m not lovin’ you the way I wanted to/ See I wanna move but I can’t escape from you.” Over sparse tribal beats and without exercising any of that rap-spittin’ talent, Yeezy nails the shitstorm that inevitably comes from miscommunication between the genders. Despite the tension that the drawn out melody and rhythms create (no bells and whistles here), the song reaches a certain point of clarity when it reveals that clinging and clinging and clinging only leads to loss. -Amanda Koellner

Listen: “Love Lockdown”

Essential Lyric: “How many times did I tell you ‘fore it finally got through?/ You lose, you lose”

Choice Sample: The cadence of his voice, which would later help name his future child: Kaidence.

For What It’s Worth: Yeezus

Kanye.Yeezus

15. Blood on the Leaves

Kanye.Yeezus

Album: Yeezus (2013)

There’s something profoundly troubling about using a Nina Simone song about lynching as a sample in a song complaining about alimony. Kanye knows this, and that’s exactly why he did it with “Blood on the Leaves”. This is, as Kanye attests early in Yeezus, how much he doesn’t give a fuck. No one else has the audacity to comingle the untouchably classic (Simone) with the aggressively modern (the later “Blood” sample of TNGHT’s “R U Ready”) while staring down his audience, unblinking. It’s frustrating, upsetting, vaguely offensive, and instantly memorable. “Blood On the Leaves” is the problem with Kanye West. -Chris Bosman

Listen: “Blood on the Leaves”

Essential Lyric: “Now you sittin’ courtside/ Wife on the other side/ Gotta keep ’em separated/ I call that apartheid.”

Choice Sample: While Nina sets the tone and gives “Blood on the Leaves” its title, it’s the thunderous blast of TNGHT’s “R U Ready” that makes “Blood”.

For What It’s Worth: A watch worthy of Instagramming with the hashtag #MadRichAlert.

watch Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

14. Through the Wire

Kanye-West-through-the-wire

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

“Shit gets real.” That’s pretty much all that can be said about “Through the Wire”. Here’s the story: In late 2002, Ye was involved in a near-fatal car accident, which stemmed from a reckless driver and resulted in facial reconstructive surgery. Like a champ, however, Kanye hit the studio two weeks later and recorded said track with, get this, his jaw wired shut. As he told Yahoo! Music, “‘Through The Wire’ is the worst thing that could’ve possibly happen to me, and now it’s obviously the best thing. Look how it exploded!” Let’s just be glad he didn’t — literally, that is. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “Through the Wire”

Essential Lyric: “No use in me tryin to be lyin’, I been trying to be signed/ Trying to be a millionaire, how I used two lifelines/ In the same hospital where Biggie Smalls died”

Choice Sample: It’s all about the Chaka Khan (specifically: “Through the Fire”).

For What It’s Worth: A “tricked out” 2002 Lexus IS 300 E-Shift Sedan — clearly.

 Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

13. Gold Digger

golddigger Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Late Registration (2005)

Another Jamie Foxx collaboration, “Gold Digger” marked the second #1 single for both parties. (What a pair!) The Late Registration single was the summer anthem of 2005, shattering digital records online and becoming the second-longest #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. Following the success of Foxx’s Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray, the track capitalized on the nation’s renewed fascination with the legendary pianist, turning “I Got a Woman” into a club banger. Charles wasn’t around long enough to hear it, but it’s doubtful he’d care if his words were juxtaposed with “My best friend says she use to fuck with Usher.” We’re still waiting to see what Ye can do with “Mess Around”. -Amanda Koellner

Listen: “Gold Digger”

Essential Lyric: “We want prenup, we want prenup, YEAHHH!”

Choice Sample: Gimme a break, really? (But yes, Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman”).

For What It’s Worth: All box office receipts from Jamie Foxx.

jamiefoxx Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

12. Can’t Tell Me Nothing

Cant+Tell+Me+Nothing

Album: Graduation (2007)

On Graduation, Kanye finally pieced together that you can use your money however you goddamn well please. “I guess the money should have changed ‘em,” he says. “I guess I should have forgotten where I came from.” Good thought, Ye, but bounce back and recollect. To date, his biggest crux has always been that he’s so self-aware he can’t even help it. Regardless, “Wait ‘till I get my money right/ then you can’t tell me nothing, right?” is a line that resonates with everyone transitioning from the teen years to adulthood, and Kanye nailed it up on the wall for the entire world to remember and preach. -Amanda Koellner

Listen: “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”

Essential Lyric: “I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven/ When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace.”

Choice Sample: Those Young Jeezy ad-libs work, don’t they?

For What It’s Worth: The Holy Grail – Indiana Jones edition

Holy_Grail

11. Flashing Lights

flashlights Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Graduation (2007)

In hindsight, “Flashing Lights” feels more like a predecessor to 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. The Graduation single radiates with the melancholic passive-aggression of an ’80s FM staple, grooving along with a silky Miami vibe that bottles mythical nights and somber reflections — ahem, it’s a bluesy New Wave track. Over 90 beats per minute, Kanye struts away from the confines of traditional hip-hop and into a chic watering hole where art school kids offer cozy seats and rare coffees. You can thank Connie Mitchell (of Australian electronic group Sneaky Sound System) for the introduction. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “Flashing Lights”

Essential Lyric: “You more like ‘love to start shit’/ I’m more of the trips to Florida/ Ordered the hors d’oeuvres, views of the water/ Straight from the page of your favorite author”

Choice Sample: R&B singer Dwele for taking this to outer space.

For What It’s Worth: Anna Kournikova’s Miami mansion — roughly, 7.4 mil.

Anna Kournikova sells her 7 bedroom Miami Beach home for $7.43m

10. Black Skinhead

Kanye-West-Black-Skinhead

Album: Yeezus (2013)

Even your bed-ridden grandmother knows Kanye isn’t the happiest guy on the planet. In a word, he’s antagonistic. With “Black Skinhead”, however, he has us running for the hills. Never has he sounded so fierce, growling and breaking his teeth at the microphone like some AWOL punk rocker out of D.C. in the Eighties. He remains the chest-pumping bragger with swagger — otherwise, we’d start speculating over any Kanye is Dead rumors — but he’s channeling an inner hatred both signature and unnatural of his style. We’re not “So Appalled”, though. From a (very) safe distance, we’re chewing on his assaults against the media and racism in America — and nodding. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “Black Skinhead”

Essential Lyric: “They see a black man with a white woman/ At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong”

Choice Sample: No samples listed. Though the percussion’s bizarre similarities to Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” has me asking myself, “Should I revisit Antichrist Superstar?”

For What It’s Worth: The most expensive riot gear available, and some glow in the dark Yeezy 2’s.

skinhead Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

9. Niggas in Paris

The Throne - "Niggas In Paris"

Album: Watch the Throne (2011)

“That shit cray” should have been copywritten by the two moguls. In just two short years the song has become part of the pop culture lexicon as a symbol of absurd opulence. Kanye and Jay-Zplayed this song 12 consecuitive times at their show… in Paris. Gucci, Louis Vitton, Margiela, Audemars and Rolex watches, all juxtaposed against getting busy in McDonald’s bathroom at the mall food court. (As a counterpoint, Aziz Ansari made an emoji version of the song).  -Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: “Niggas in Paris”

Essential Lyric: “What she order, fish filet?”

Choice Sample: Will Ferrell and Jon Heder from Blades of Glory, unexpectedly one of his best samples ever.

For What It’s Worth: Fish Filet combo with an extra large Margiela jacket.

Fish filet margiela

8. Heartless

heartless Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

We started to see Kanye’s veneer crack on 808s. He had to sing, and he had to cover up how bad he was at it with Auto-tune. What was seen as a gimmick at the time now kind of looks like an admission of his weakness, pushing through with what he had to do. “Heartless” was the toast of 808s, also served as the national emotional anthem of the Winter of 2008. The Dr. Evil reference doesn’t age well, but the chorus is timeless and Kanye’s veracity and focus is, well, remakable. Doesn’t hurt that the song has been coated in platinum five times. He’d later blame himself on “Runaway”, but here the blame is squarely on a woman so heartless. -Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: “Heartless”

Essential Lyric: “But in the end it’s still so lonely”

Choice Sample: The Alan Parson’s Project’s “Ammonia Ave”

For What It’s Worth: Signed copy of The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead (on CD)

ts the queen is dead Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

7. Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)

yeezydiamonds Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Late Registration (2005)

While Kanye was rapping about what he saw in Blood Diamond (and serving up a preamble to “New Slaves”), Jay cleared the air about the sordid status of Roc-A-Fella records in 2005. Kanye’s verse is a little, well, didactic, but they both agree Roc Diamonds are the most valuble diamonds in existence. Two years before Kanye would write an ode to Jay with “Big Brother”, the two teamed up here for one of the best cuts they’ve ever done. -Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix feat. Jay-Z)”

Essential Lyric: “I’m not a business man/ I’m a business, man” (Jay-Z)

Choice Sample: “Diamonds Are Forever” performed by Shirley Bassey

For What It’s Worth: A Jesus Piece (but it’s edible)

jesus20walks20copy Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

6. All Falls Down

allfallsdown Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

With “All Falls Down”, Kanye West proved that the dude knows what’s up (before, quite a few times, he disproved said opinion. Let’s all hope he’s learning). First, he broke down legal barriers when he asked Syleena Johnson to take a crack at Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity”. When the sample wasn’t available to him (pesky copyright), Kanye took what he liked about it and enlisted help, allowing Johnson, a largely unknown singer then, to live on in what has undoubtedly become a significant track in the producer’s decorated catalogue. He used FM radio to not only give himself the biggest blip on the map, but also to remind us of one simple thing: It can all fall down, as long as there’s someone to pick it back up.  -Amanda Koellner

Listen: “All Falls Down”

Essential Lyric: “We’re all self-conscious/ I’m just the first to admit it”

Choice Sample: Syleena Johnson’s take on Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Inquity”

For What It’s Worth: The $34,000 golden skull that Yeezus gave Hova for his very first Father’s Day. Rich people give thoughtful gifts, too, guys.

goldenskull Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

5. All of the Lights

lights Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

“All of the Lights” found Yeezy channeling his inner Brian Wilson. Over a dozen vocalists, multiple studios, a handful of engineers, keyboards, piano, woodwinds, violins, viola, french horns, trumpets, and a clutter of other instrumentation, the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy single comes out #winning. It’s sexy, it’s sleek, and it’s so well produced that it puts any other track with a “featuring” tag to shame. Yeezus Christ, the roster looks like an awkward moment at a post-Grammys party, pairing the likes of Alicia Keys, John Legend, Rihanna, Drake, Fergie, The-Dream, etc. alongside… Elton John. Fucking ridiculous. -Michael Roffman

Listen: “All of the Lights”

Essential Lyric:  “Restraining order, can’t see my daughter/ Her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order”

Choice Sample: The horns and percussion make this sucker fly, but c’mon, that’s Sir Elton John at the piano.

For What It’s Worth: Two Grammy wins and the 2011-2012 Miami Heat franchise.

4. Stronger

kanye west stronger cover 5620 Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: Graduation (2007)

Graduation is the album where people found out Kanye listened to Can and Steely Dan. His samples became more abstract and wider, spaced-out and bizarre. Not “Stronger”, though. It took one of the most popular club tracks, poured some cough syrup into the robots’ circuits, and then re-inserted it into the club for those who wanted to just nod their head and not dance “Around the World”. Still steeled against the world, “Stronger” builds up Kanye and turns Daft Punk’s vocoded lyrics into a dick pun, as expected.  -Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: “Stronger”

Essential Lyric: “You know how long I’ve been on ya/ Since Prince was on Apollonia/ Since O.J. had isotoners”

Choice Sample: Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger”, quite obviously

For What It’s Worth: A klondike bar. Dipped in liquid diamond lacquer.

klondike Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

3. Runaway

Kanye West - "Runaway"

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Kanye understands that people will forgive anything if you have enough talent. That’s why, a year after “I’ma let you finish”, Kanye said absolutely nothing about his most reviled moment of headstrong self-involvement and instead gave the world “Runaway”. A glass-eyed, drink-deadned resignation of a song, “Runaway” was the moment everyone knew, and Kanye most of all, that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would satiate our thirst for a public apology. We wanted him on our shelves. -Chris Bosman

Listen: “Runaway”

Essential Lyric: “I just blame everything on you/ At least you know that’s what I’m good at”

Choice Sample: Rick James yelling “Look at chya!” from “Mary Jane (Live)” off of Street Songs

For What It’s Worth: A Dom Perignon toast

domperig Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

2. Power

Kanye West - "Power"

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

I remember playing “Power” for the first time on a shitty cell phone, waiting in some random parking lot for some friend to get off of work. Even through those small, tin speakers, the stampeding strength of “Power” was evident. It carried it self with military-grade aggression but swung with the slightest bit of swagger, and its attitude more than anything else on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy served as the blueprint for Yeezus‘ less self-aware anger. “Runaway” may have called for a toast to assholes; “Power” actually was one. -Chris Bosman

Listen: “Power”

Essential Lyric: “They said that I was abomination of Obama’s nation/ Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation”

Choice Sample: The all too appropriate use of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

For What It’s Worth: A controlling stake in Facebook.

TheSocialNetwork

1. Jesus Walks

jesuswalks Kanye Wests Top 20 Songs

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

“Jesus Walks” is a midtempo jaunt that warns of three modern wars: terrorism, racism, and the battle against ourselves. Add Kanye to the mix atop a pale white Escalade and you’ve got a contemporary four horseman of the apocalypse. This Act of Contrition might not guarantee Yeezus a spot in Heaven but his awareness of the Devil trying to break him down is enough to earn some table service while he awaits admission. The bold subject matter and admissions of sin were inklings of the controversy that would soon envelop the young rapper, while the Happy Gilmore reference – “Saying we eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast/ Huh? Yall eat pieces of shit?” – was one of several Adam Sandler callbacks that continue to appear in his rhymes (see The Waterboy shout out in “New Slaves”). Almost 10 years later, “Jesus Walks” stands high on the list of songs Ye loves to perform live and remains a crowd pleaser for believers and nonbelievers alike. -Dan Pfleegor

Listen: “Jesus Walks”

Essential Lyric: “I ain’t here to argue about his facial features/ Or here to convert atheists into believers/ I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers/ The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus”

Choice Sample: “Walk with Me” performed by the ARC Choir.

For What It’s Worth: Religious tax exemption from state and federal government

InGodWeTrust

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