Kanye West needs no introduction. Most people love him, but even if you don’t, you’ve still heard of him. That’s how good he is, or at least how famous he is. Furthermore, most people will have differing opinions on the best Kanye West songs of all time. But, before we get to that, let’s learn a bit about how Kanye achieved god-like status.
Ye (as he is now legally known) was born Kanye Omar West to father Ray West, a former Black Panther and photojournalist who later became a Christian counselor and now runs the Good Water Store and Cafe in Lexington, Maryland.
And his mother is Dr. Donda C. West (nee Williams), an English professor at Clark Atlanta University and chair of the English Department at Chicago State.
West’s parents divorced at an early age. He remained mostly with his mother, even moving with her to China for a time because she was teaching there as a Fullbright Scholar. She has told an interviewer that Kanye was rapping by the third grade and was making full-on compositions by seventh grade.
He even made his first recording, “green eggs and ham,” at age thirteen in a basement studio after he’d convinced his mom to pay for studio time.
At age fifteen…
West received his first sampler from mentor and lifetime friend, No I.D. West then attended the American Academy of Art and Chicago State University (where his mother was chair of the English department). But, decided to drop out at twenty so he could focus all his time on pursuing a music career.
Throughout the 90s…
West paid his dues in the industry. He started by producing beats for artists in and around his area. Later, he started and became part of the late 90s rap group, The Go-Getters. They would release only one studio album called World Record Holders in 1999.
Foxy Brown’s second album (which is the first hip hop album by a female rapper to debut at the top of the U.S Billboard 200) features production credits to West for the third track.
He also produced six tracks on Tell’ Em Why You Mad, released by D-Dot under the alias The Mud Rapper. The album featured artists like Ma$e, Raekwon, and Eminem.
In the early 2000s…
Kanye would gain immense recognition as a master producer when he started producing artists for the Roc-A-Fella label. It was during this time that West would help produce what has got to be one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint.
West also worked with Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. Despite his success as a producer, Kanye struggled to get his label to agree to an artist deal for him.
Many believed that his image did not match up with the dangerous “gangsta” persona projected by so many successful rappers. Therefore, it was difficult to be taken seriously. But, something very serious was about to change all that.
From tragedy to triumph…
On October 23rd, 2002, Kanye was driving home from a late session at the studio and fell asleep at the wheel. This resulted in a head-to-head collision with another vehicle. West’s jaw was subsequently shattered, and both the legs of the other driver were broken.
The accident helped inspire Kanye to begin composing his own music in earnest. And, despite having his jaw wired shut during reconstructive surgery, Kanye was recording with the damaged jaw at Recording Plant Studios two weeks after the crash.
The resulting recording, “Through The Wire,” would lay the foundation for Kanye West’s debut album. The remainder of which he would record in Los Angeles while continuing his recovery. Shortly after finishing production on the album, it was leaked prematurely.
Kanye used this as an opportunity to maliciously comb over every bar of music on the release. And, in some cases, completely change or remove entire pieces of music. The entire album was remastered and postponed two more times due to Kanye’s insistence that it just wasn’t good enough yet.
The College Dropout was eventually released under Roc-A-Fella in 2004. The album shot to #2 on the Billboard Hot 200, and the album’s single “Through The Wire” spent five weeks at the number fifteen spot on the Billboard Hot 100. However, Kanye’s debut smasher was only getting started.
Taking the world by storm…
The album’s second single, “Slow Jamz,” featuring Twista and Jamie Fox, became a #1 hit (a first for all three of the artists involved). The album received widespread critical acclaim and was ranked Album of the Year by two major music publications.
Since then, it has been solidified in the global music conscience as one of the greatest Hip-Hop debuts in history.
The greatness of Ye…
Kanye West is one of the world’s wealthiest musicians (worth over two billion). He has won 24 Grammy’s, broken multiple awards and chart records, worked with some of the best in the industry, and has sold a total of more than 160 million copies worldwide.
Picking the best songs from his eleven album discography (excluding mixtapes and collabs with other artists) is a difficult one. But, here is my personal list of the best Kanye West songs of all time.
- Flashing Lights (feat. Dwele)
- Devil in a New Dress (feat Rick Ross)
- Blood On The Leaves
- Gold Digger
- All of The Lights
- Black Skinhead
- I am a God
- Searching for Some Great Songs?
- Best Kanye West Songs of All Time – Conclusion
For me, this is one of Kanye’s greatest songs and one of his most underplayed early tracks. Production is just superb and crisp with a raw power that can only be Kayne’s work. The song is upbeat and still very chilled at the same time.
Recorded in 2007, this song contains all the things Kanye would come to know and have to deal with, clearly a man who’s looking ahead.
Considered by some as the least abrasive tune on the album, “Devil in a New Dress” is also a lengthy song compared to Kanye’s other work, running over six minutes. It deserves a spot here for a very good reason. It illustrates Kanye’s impeccable ear for picking samples and other artists to work with.
Some may have questioned his decision to use Rick Ross. Yet, what ended up getting recorded can be considered one of his best verses ever. The track also features a blistering guitar solo which manages not to be self-indulgent, and the production is, as always, superb.
No track in his catalog illustrates Kanye’s ability to deal with adversity and criticism better than this monster from 2016’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album was another obsession project which Kanye cooked up in his seclusion in Hawaii, and “Power” was one of the standouts.
Featuring a sample from King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man“, “Power” has some of Kanye’s most blistering raps.
To be a superstar, you need to inflate yourself. And on this track, Kanye exclaims without shame, “I embody every characteristic of the egotistic.” He also describes the voices of “haters” as “theme music” for a superhero.
Album: The Life Of Pablo
I don’t mean to put down the vocal contributions of Post Malone, Ty Dolla Sign, or Kanye himself when I say this song could have been released as an instrumental. It still would have impressed the heck out of people.
Kanye West is a producer of note. And this track shows us the Kanye, who is a meticulous sonic architect tirelessly working to get every beat and stab just right. As a result, it easily ranks as one of the best Kanye West songs of all time.
This album is heralded as holy amongst the Hip-Hop and Rap community, and rightly so. Its success and quality were and remain mind-blowing. Some have described YEESUZ as an album filled with anguish, and “Blood on the Leaves” could be considered one of the heaviest songs on the album.
The eerie contrast created between the Nina Simone sample and crushing beats only adds to the profound nature of this track. On top of that, we have Kanye’s unapologetic broken heart being showcased in its rawest lyrical form.
If this one doesn’t break through to you, you must have a hearing problem.
Album: Late Registration
Of course, I put “Gold Digger” on the list. And, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to say anything about it cause this song was at one point bigger than Coca-Cola. It is one of the most popular Kanye West songs, and for good reasons.
However, I put it on here not just because it’s such a catchy hit. But, because it is a song that offers the complete Kanye package firing at full blast on all cylinders.
This song showcases his fantastic production and arrangement skills, his ability to pick a good sample and collaborator in Jamie Fox, and, of course, his own cheeky verses. It’s a banger and will always be a banger no matter what.
There is no song in Kanye’s catalog that contains as much star power and hours of work as “All of The Lights.”
This track must hold a special significance no matter where your sensibilities and tastes lie. The sheer amount of work that went into writing, recording, arranging, and producing this monolithic piece of music simply demands respect, attention, and adoration for Kanye.
All told, fourteen artists lent their voices to “All of the Lights”:
- Alicia Keys.
- John Legend.
- Kid Cudi.
- Elton John.
- Ryan Leslie.
- Charlie Wilson.
- Tony Williams.
- La Roux.
- Alvin Fields.
- Ken Lewis.
A massive song…
The track snowballed from an idea to a giant in no time. But, it took almost two years to make. Once more, we have to be in awe of the sheer amount of patience and attention to detail required to make this thing work as well as it does.
This track was a certified hit from the moment it came into creation and will remain one indefinitely. No doubt it is one of the most popular Kayne West songs worldwide, and not just because of the star power it contains.
This track can be described as nothing other than a monster in its own right. The album was the source of much controversy, and “Monster” was high on the hater’s list at some point.
When listened to objectively, it can be viewed as nothing other than a good bit of fun and flexing of the muscles, which is as healthy as fresh air if you ask me.
The song features one hypnotic synth stab and beat that carries the dynamic composition from Bon Iver in the intro to Kanye and one of Minaj’s hardest feature verses ever. This one will take your head off, so don’t wear a hat.
Here we have another heavy one, perhaps one of the heaviest Kanye West songs ever. Also, easily one of his best. Taking hard jabs at social issues in America and across the world, “Black Skinhead” is classic Kanye in some respects.
In others, it’s something totally out of character. Some strange spirit summoned by the global Zeitgeist of prejudice, come to lyrically slay us for our society’s present transgressions.
Kanye even admits to not being himself with the lines, “I’m outta control now, but there’s nowhere to go now, and there’s no way to slow down.”
Yes, we love when Kanye talks about himself, and this one is his ultimate ego stroker. Making the ultimate comparison while demanding French pastries like he’s having a round of Sunday golf by himself.
The track may be criticized for many reasons but cannot be flawed for success as it was immensely successful. Kanye’s a rapper as well as a producer, and this is a rapper’s song.
Searching for Some Great Songs?
We have you covered. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Change, the Best Songs About Heroes, the Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time, and the Best Breaking Benjamin Songs of All Time for more great song selections.
And, you need to listen to those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Bass Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones Under $200, and the Most Comfortable Headphones you can buy in 2022.
Best Kanye West Songs of All Time – Conclusion
I’m picking “All of The Lights” as the best Kanye song for a myriad of reasons. But, mainly because the song took on a life of its own in such a huge and universal way that it transcends even the bigness of its composer.
Kanye pulled a Frankenstein because his creation has become even larger than he can ever be with all his legacy behind him. I think, however, that when he thinks of it in that way, he feels a sense of achievement and warmth. Not a stab to his ego.
Easily one of the greatest compositions of the 21st century. So, until next time, happy listening.