I somewhat facetiously said elsewhere that Kanye West is to the recent years in music as the Beatles were to the 60s. That my friends elsewhere hadn’t heard West’s music, at least not knowingly, demonstrates the fallacy. This modern world is more segmented than the more expansive world of the Beatles. But that’s okay. The following is a very quick pass at 11 songs that make a nice demo of Kanye’s talents, plus two bonus tracks, avoiding as much as possible his self-centered petulance (which is a part of his thing, too).
We Don’t Care, The College Dropout: I heard this, the sour distortion, the thumping bass, and wildly ironic rapping, and my eyes opened wide.
Spaceship, The College Dropout: Work, resentment, anger, ambition, wrapped up in a universal metaphor and slow oozing soul setting.
Jesus Walks, The College Dropout: This was the third single from his first album (the first two singles were Through the Wire and Slow Jamz). It is huge, giant, plaintive, beseeching.
Golddigger, Late Registration: The giant hit has a massive beat and a relentless Ray Charles hook (sung by Jamie Foxx).
Drive Slow, Late Registration: Cruising for girls.
Diamonds From Sierra Leone, Late Registration: Protest music with a bite, a miserable sense of the ambivalence, and a big hook.
Stronger, Graduation: Another giant hit with massive sounds and Daft Punk.
Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Graduation: Regrets expressed angrily.
Streetlights, 808s and Heartbreak: Sadness expresses sadly.
Robocop, 808s and Heartbreak: A pop song.
Lost in the World, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Ethereal march into that ambivalence again.
That’s 11, but there could be many more. The entire albums The College Dropout and 808s and Heartbreaks are close to perfection, and there are many other highlights, hard and soft. There is also a ramping up of misogyny and materialism in the later albums, without the irony of Gold Digger and some of the other earlier tunes. Lyrically a lot of stuff is just unlistenable, but sonically all of it is interesting. Kanye’s big theme is the battle between good intentions and baser instinct, the fight between the mediated and unmediated self. Here are two bonus tracks that go there:
Monster, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Growl.
Black Skinhead, Yeezus