When In Chicago – Kanye Top 20

I spent four nights in Chicago while my brother visited colleges, and I came up with this idea. Kanye West is the greatest artist of this generation–I don’t want to hear an argument against this–so I figured I’d make a Top 10 of Kanye West songs.

Then after second thought, that would be too hard, and it wouldn’t do justice to Yeezy’s work. So I expanded to a Top 20.

But even a Top 20 doesn’t do him justice because I ended up leaving off some great songs. That just goes to show how enduring and powerful his music is.

And I know what you’re saying: “Ben, this is a sports blog, not a music blog!”

“Ben, rap music is shallow and churlish and trash!”

“Ben, Kanye West has nothing on Trinadad James and Juicy J!”

Well then just skip this post. (Warning: Kanye uses a bit of language in his songs, and I’m keeping quotes true to the songs)

20. New God Flow

CruelSummercoverCruel Summer – 2012

I’m not a huge fan of Cruel Summer, since it feels more like a DJ Khaled album than a Kanye Album, but Kanye kills it on this track. I barely put this in over Love Lockdown because it’s a little too auto-tuney and doesn’t have many great lines for a Ye song, plus another song higher up on the list better represents 808s and Heartbreak. Anyway, Pusha T opens with the first two verses of the song, which have some clever rhymes, but I’m completely ignoring the Ghostface Killa part at the end, which doesn’t even appear on the Single version.

Highlights:

“Did Moses not part the water with the cane? / Did strippers not make an ark when I made it rain?”

“Hold up, I ain’t trying to stunt, man
But these Yeezys jumped over the Jumpman
Went from most hated to the champion god flow
I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know”

“What has the world come to, I’m from the 312
Where cops don’t come through and dreams don’t come true
Like there the god go in his Murcielago
From working McDonalds, barely paying the car note
He even got enough to get his mama a condo
Then they ran up and shot him right in front of his mom”

19. Through The Wire

Kanyewest_collegedropoutThe College Dropout – 2004

This was Kanye’s first song after his near-fatal car accident, where he talks about… his near-fatal car accident. And how he’s “the hottest rap label around”. His first verse is full of clever rhymes, and he really opens up in this song.

Highlights:

“Dawg, don’t you realize I’ll never make it on a bad plane now? / It’s bad enough I got all this jewelry on!”

“But I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph / Make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wire”

“And just imagine how my girl might feel
On the plane, scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till
She was with me before the deal, she been tryna be mine
She a Delta, so she been throwin’ that Dynasty sign”

18. Dark Fantasy

My_Beautiful_Dark_Twisted_FantasyMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 2010

Dark Fantasy is the first song in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, setting the tone for his fifth album, which Entertainment Weekly named the 8th greatest album of all-time. Nicki Minaj starts it off with a twist on Roald Dahl’s take on Cinderella from Revolting Rhymes. Her shift from happy-sounding to angry let’s you know what’s coming in MBDTF.

Highlights:

“The plan was to drink until the pain over / But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?”

“You might think you’ve peeped the scene
You haven’t, the real one’s far too mean
The watered down one, the one you know
was made up centuries ago
They made it sound wack and corny
Yes it’s awful, blasted boring
Twisted fictions, sick addictions
Well gather ‘round children, zip it, listen”

“Stupid, but what the hell do I know / I’m just a Chi-town nigga with a Nas flow”

17. I Am A God

Yeezus_Kanye_WestYeezus – 2013

This is an… interesting song. Taken out of context, misanthropes will say this is why everyone hates Kanye: He’s egotistical and arrogant. But check out Psalm 82.6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” I Am A God also has the most quotable line from the entire album and a whole lot of screaming.

Highlights:

“I am a god
Even though I’m a man of God
My whole life in the hands of God
So y’all better quit playing with God”

“I just talked to Jesus
He said, “What up Yeezus?”
I said, “Shit I’m chilling
Trying to stack these millions”
I know he the most high
But I am a close high”

“In a French-ass restaurant / Hurry up with my damn croissants”

16. Flashing Lights

Graduation_(album)Graduation – 2007

This is one of Kanye’s tamer songs, where he talks about his relationship with the media by personifying them as a girlfriend he can’t get out of his mind. This one’s actually okay for your grandma to listen to! At least the clean version…

Highlights:

“She don’t believe in shooting stars / But she believe in shoes and cars”

“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”

“In my past, you on the other side of the glass
Of my memory’s museum
I’m just saying, hey Mona Lisa come home
You know you can’t roam without Caesar”

15. Can’t Tell Me Nothing

Graduation_(album)Graduation – 2007

It sounds like Kanye is saying he won’t listen to anyone because he has money, but he’s actually mocking people who believe that. He already has his money right. Fun fact: I always think of The Hangover when this song comes on.

Highlights:

“Life is a, UH, depending how you dress her / So if the devil wear Prada, Adam Eve wear nada / I’m in between but way more fresher”

“I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven
When I woke, I spent that on a necklace
I told God I’d be back in a second
Man it’s so hard not to act reckless”

“I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny
And what I do, act more stupidly
Bought more jewelry, more Louis V
My Momma couldn’t get through to me”

14. Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)

Late_registration_cd_coverLate Registration – 2005

Most people like the origional version of this song better, but I’m partial to the Remix. Kanye simultaneously talks about the internal struggle over Blood Diamonds–which he dubs “conflict diamonds”–and his relationship with Jay-Z–where their symbol for Roc-a-fella Records is a diamond–over Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever track. Jay-Z closes the song with the great line: “If you’re waiting for the end of the Dynasty sign / It would seem like forever is a mighty long time.”

Highlights:

“See, a part of me saying: “Keep shining”
How? When I know what a blood diamond is
Though it’s thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connects to what we go through today” ”

“Over here it’s a drug trade, we die from drugs / Over there they die from what we buy from drugs”

“The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses
I thought my Jesus-piece was so harmless
Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless
And here’s the conflict:
It’s in a black person soul to rock that gold
Spend your whole life trying to get that ice”

13. Stronger

Graduation_(album)Graduation – 2007

This was Ye’s big hit off his third album, his second ever single to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 100. Using samples from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, Stronger has a fun beat and it’s one of his best known songs, but it’s not as deep as a lot of other songs on this list. But what makes a good song? Popularity or the message?

Highlights:

“Now that that don’t kill me / Can only make me stronger”

“Damn, they don’t make ’em like this anymore / I ask, cause I’m not sure / Do anybody make real shit anymore?”

“Bow in the presence of greatness
Cause right now thou hast forsaken us
You should be honored by my lateness
That I would even show up to this fake shit”

12. Runaway

My_Beautiful_Dark_Twisted_FantasyMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 2010

A beautifully sad song, this song might sum up My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy best. Kanye talks about how he can’t keep a relationship with women and tells them not to settle with bad men. Also, this has one of the best music videos I’ve seen, which ties in several other songs from the album. That’s art.

Highlights:

“And I always find, yeah, I always find something wrong
You been putting up with my shit just way too long
I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most
So I think it’s time for us to have a toast”

“Let’s have a toast for the douchebags
Let’s have a toast for the assholes
Let’s have a toast for the scumbags
Every one of them that I know
Let’s have a toast for the jerkoffs
That’ll never take work off
Baby, I got a plan
Run away fast as you can”

“And I don’t know how Imma manage / If one day you just up and leave”

11. Lost in the World

My_Beautiful_Dark_Twisted_FantasyMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 2010

It’s a simple song, short and repetitive, but a great one. When I first played this song in the car with my brother, he asked “Is this music?” because the Bon Iver beginning is very, well, Bon Iver-ish. But apparently Kanye’s first eight bars were his favorite ever to write.

Highlights:

“You’re my devil, you’re my angel
You’re my heaven, you’re my hell
You’re my now, you’re my forever
You’re my freedom, you’re my jail
You’re my lies, you’re my truth
You’re my war, you’re my truce
You’re my questions, you’re my proof
You’re my stress and you’re my masseuse”

“I’m lost in the world, I’m down on my mind / I’m new in the city, and I’m down for the night”

“Lost in this plastic life / Let’s break out of this fake ass party / Turn this in to a classic night”

10. Homecoming

Graduation_(album)Graduation – 2007

Kanye had been working on this song a while before it came out in 2007, and it’s one of his best. He gives an ode to his home town of Chicago–he moved their at age three after his mom’s divorce–by personifying Chi-town as a girl from home. Once you figure out that much–he spoils it at the end–you can see how well his lines talk about both a girl and his hometown. That’s why this is my favorite song on Graduation.

Highlights:

“I met this girl when I was 3 years old
And what I loved most she had so much soul
She said “Excuse me lil homey, I know you don’t know me
But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees” ”

“And when I grew up she showed me how to go downtown
In the nighttime her face lit up, so astounding
I told her in my heart is where she’ll always be
She never messed with entertainers cause they always leave”

“Now everybody got the game figured out all wrong / I guess you never know what you got ’til it’s gone / I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home”

9. Coldest Winter

808s_&_Heartbreak808s and Heartbreak – 2008

There are only nine different lines in this song, but they’re haunting. The heavy drums in the background play up the lyrics even more. 808s and Heartbreak came on the heels of his mom’s death (we’ll see her importance to him in a few songs) and the breaking off of his two-year engagement with Alexis Phifer, and this song best represents that time in his life. Fun fact: the holiday season has the highest suicide rate of any time of the year!

Highlights:

“On lonely nights, I start to fade
Her love is a thousand miles away
Memories made in the coldest winter
Goodbye my friend, will I ever love again”

“It’s 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep / Her love is all that I can see”

“If spring can take the snow away
Can it melt away all of our mistakes
Memories made in the coldest winter
Goodbye my friend, I won’t ever love again, never again”

8. Black Skinhead

Yeezus_Kanye_WestYeezus – 2013

This is where Kanye’s songs take a leap; these next eight songs are fantastic. Although this was the second song on Yeezus, it sets the tone for the hwole album with rebellious lyrics, coarse music, and screams. And this beat is impossible not to love. He killed it on SNL, but sadly left out the line “My homie was number one draft pick / They still burned his jersey in Akron” in the album version. It’s also a little unclear if Black Skinhead means he hates how black people are acting or if he thinks blacks are superior. Maybe both.

Highlights:

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

“Four in the morning, and I’m zoning
They say I’m possessed, it’s an omen
I keep it 300, like the Romans
300 bitches, where the Trojans?
Baby we living in the moment
I’ve been a menace for the longest
But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted
And you know it, and you know it”

“So follow me up cause this shit ’bout to go (down)
I’m doing 500, I’m outta control (now)
But there’s nowhere to go (now)
And there’s no way to slow (down)
If I knew what I knew in the past
I would’ve been blacked out on your ass”

7. No Church in the Wild

Watch_The_ThroneWatch the Throne – 2011

No Church in the Wild is probably the best song on Watch the Thone, in large part to Jay-Z killing his verse, but I’m only considering Kanye lines. This song is used in about two dozen commercials and previews, much like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Can’t Hold Us, but it has crazy good staying power. I could write an entire essay on this song. I probably will some day.

Highlights:

“Human beings in a mob / What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a God? / What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?”

“Two tattoos: one read “No Apologies”
The other said “Love is Cursed by Monogamy”
It’s something that the pastor don’t preach
It’s something that a teacher can’t teach
When we die the money we can’t keep
But we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap: preach”

“We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony
So never fuck nobody without telling me”

6. Niggas in Paris

Watch_The_ThroneWatch the Throne – 2011

Huge hit. Lots of quotable lines, too. What’s not to love? These guys are so good they can thrown a couple lines from Blades of Glory on the record and still make Top 5 on the Billboard.

Highlights:

“Doctors say I’m the illest, cause I’m suffering from realness
Got my niggas in Paris and they going gorillas, huh
I don’t even know what that means
(No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative)
No it’s not, it’s gross (Gets the people going)”

“That shit cray, ain’t it Jay? What she order, fish filet?”

“Excuse my French but I’m in France, I’m just sayin’ / Prince William ain’t do it right if you ask me / Cause I was him, I would have married Kate and Ashley”

5. Hey Mama

Late_registration_cd_coverLate Registration – 2005

I’ll be perfectly honest: this song makes me cry. Hey Mama was the first song Kanye ever wrote, which gives a shout out to the most important person in his life: Donda West. A lot of people haven’t heard this song, but it’s undoubtedly one of his best. Watching him break down crying while singing this live kills me.

Highlights:

“(Hey Mama), I wanna scream so loud for you, cause I’m so proud of you
Let me tell you what I’m about to do, (Hey Mama)
I know I act a fool but, I promise you I’m goin back to school
I appreciate what you allowed for me
I just want you to be proud of me”

“I wanna tell the whole world about a friend of mine
This little light of mine and I’m finna let it shine
I’m finna take yall back to them better times
I’m finna talk about my mama if yall don’t mind”

“Seven years old, caught you with tears in your eyes
Cuz a nigga cheatin, telling you lies, then I started to cry
As we knelt on the kitchen floor
I said mommy I’mma love you till you don’t hurt no more
And when I’m older, you ain’t gotta work no more
And I’mma get you that mansion that we couldn’t afford
See you’re, unbreakable, unmistakable
Highly capable, lady that’s makin loot
A livin legend too, just look at what heaven do
Send us an angel, and I thank you”

4. Gold Digger

Late_registration_cd_coverLate Registration – 2005

For starters, Jamie Foxx does a fantastic Ray Charles impersonation coming off his Academy Award-winning performance in Ray, and it’s more than ironic that he takes the I Got A Womanhook and completely flips the meaning. This was Kanye’s first #1 Billboard song, and it’s fun. An awful story, for sure, but it’s fun.

Highlights:

“Now I ain’t saying she a gold digger / But she ain’t messing with no broke niggas”

“You will see him on TV any given Sunday
Win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai
She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money
She went to the doctor got lipo with your money
She walking around looking like Michael with your money
Should’ve got that insured, Geico for your money”

“18 years, 18 years / And on the 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his?!”

3. All of the Lights

My_Beautiful_Dark_Twisted_FantasyMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 2010

This is a lot more radio-friendly than Power, but it’s doesn’t have a strong a message. That said, his story of a dysfunctional family is also meant to illustrate Kanye’s relationship with fame is still great. Imagine that, another song where Kanye personifies a facet of his life as a woman. But it’s catchy, the music is great, and all the featured artists (including Elton John!!!) do a great job. Except Fergie. The radio edit is better since she’s not on it.

Highlights:

” I made mistakes, I bumped my head
Courts sucked me dry, I spent that bread
She need her daddy, baby please
Can’t let her grow up in that ghetto university”

“All of the lights, all of the lights / Turn up the lights in here, baby / Extra bright, I want y’all to see this”

“I did that time and spent that bread
I’m heading home, I’m almost there
I’m on my way, heading up the stairs
To my surprise, a nigga replacing me
I had to take him to that ghetto university”

2. Power

My_Beautiful_Dark_Twisted_FantasyMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – 2010

I had this at #3 for a while, but his SNL performance, in which he includes a much more show-friendly second verse, and music video push it over the top. I don’t have much more to add beyond the fact that it’s a really great song, probably the best single on his best album.

Highlights:

“No one man should have all that power
The clock’s ticking, I just count the hours
Stop tripping, I’m tripping off the power
Till then, fuck that, the world’s ours”

“The system broken, the school is closed, the prison’s open”

“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me
Taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece”

1. Jesus Walks

Kanyewest_collegedropoutThe College Dropout – 2004

Kanye West is extremely religious, so it’s only fitting that this is his top song. You can pretty much just cut to the last nine lines for the message, but the whole song is incredible from the drill sergeant orders to the choir voices to Kanye being Kanye. Strange that his best song came nearly a decade ago, but he was able to make a religious hip-hop song become ultra-successful in the mainstream.

Highlights:

“So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?
Well if this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about
Next time I’m in the club, everybody screaming out (Jesus Walks!)”

“God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now
And I don’t think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
I want to talk to God but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long”

“A trunk full of coke rental car from Avis
My momma used to say only Jesus can save us
Well momma I know I act a fool
But I’ll be gone ’til November I got packs to move I hope”

_

…debate

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