Which are the best Kanye songs? Here's the NME list.
We’re assuming that Kanye West’s best songs are yet to come – the best of the best, anyway. That’s in spite of the fact that he called his most recent album ‘The Life Of Pablo’ “the best album of all time.” That Kanye is still as cocky and bullish as ever is hugely encouraging for future records, but let’s not forget that the Chicago rapper has created tons of great music over his thirteen-year career so far. While we wait for said records, team NME decided it was high time to make a list of his 25 best songs so far. And this is that list.
25. Through The Wire (2004)
After being involved in a near-fatal car accident in 2002, Yeezy was in hospital with a jaw broken in three places. He heard Chaka Khan’s ‘Through The Fire’, sampled it, and rapped this magic through his wired-up mouth.
Most Kanye bars: “It's a life or death situation man/Y'all don't really understand how I feel right now man.”
Kanye’s obsession with Mr Hudson began just before Yeezy’s Auto-Tune album ‘808s & Heartbreak’. Hudson features on this 80s-tinged electro tune from ‘808s’, but Kanye's fear-soothing efforts are what matter here.
Most Kanye bars: “You wanna check in to the heartbreak hotel/But sorry we're closed.”
23. We Major (2005)
Kanye worked with Jay Z’s feud rival, Nas, on this sunlit track, revealing later that he did it to break up their feud. It worked – they buried the hatchet in October 2005 – but his other collaborator Really Doe shines just as bright.
Most Kanye bar: “Can I talk my shit again?” – a line repeated later in 2007’s ‘The Glory’.
22. Hold My Liquor (2013)
Yeezy hits up an ex for a nostalgic nookie but it's very much over – he can’t leave it alone, arriving fucked-up and bleary-eyed, looking for reconciliation. The woman’s auntie, who hates ‘Ye’s guts, is huffing and puffing in the background.
Most Kanye bars: “I park my Range Rover / Slightly scratch your Corolla / Okay, I smashed your Corolla.”
21. Blame Game (2010)
John Legend features on this glum Aphex Twin-sampler, but Chris Rock’s turn as the new BF of Yeezy’s ex adds the punch. Reportedly based on his split from Amber Rose, it’s brutally honest and introspective.
Most Kanye bars: “Lying, say I hit you, he sitting there consoling you/Running my name through the mud, who's provoking you?”
20. Blood On The Leaves (2013)
This is based around a sample from the first verse of ‘Strange Fruit’, sung by Nina Simone – which in itself uses words from a poem about lynching. Yeezy’s lyrics juxtapose its political weight with lovelorn disappointment.
Most Kanye bars: “These bitches surroundin' me/All want somethin' out me.”
19. Diamonds From Sierra Leone (2005)
Here Kanye proves what a singular and unusual artist he truly is. Other rappers settle for rapping about their trinkets; he wonders at the conflict abroad that has led to him owning these ‘blood diamonds’.
Most Kanye bars: “Over here it's a drug trade, we die from drugs/Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs.”
18. Touch The Sky (2006)
Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ is the beaming basis for this tune featuring Lupe Fiasco. This is what the noughties were like – the 10s have brought us Drake’s po-faced ‘Started From The Bottom’.
Most Kanye bars: “I'd do anything to say I got it/Damn, them new loafers hurt my pocket.”
17. No Church In The Wild (2011)
Early work from Frank Ocean brought him to the attention of Jay Z & Kanye, who asked him to sing on this, the opening track on their collab album ‘Watch The Throne’. It samples Phil Manzanera’s ‘K Scope’; it pits hedonism against religion.
Most Kanye bars: “We formed a new religion/No sins as long as there’s permission.”
16. Jesus Walks (2004)
Kanye’s ambitious song on Christianity got 3 Grammys and 3 videos, but it wasn’t a crusade: “I ain't here… to convert atheists into believers”.
Most Kanye bars: “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus... guns, sex, lies, videotape/But if I talk about God my record won't get played?”
15. Can't Tell Me Nothing (2007)
Materialism, insecurity and fame are Ye’s reflection points in this stadium rock-influenced track. One of a few on ‘Graduation’ that he wanted to be seen as “people’s theme songs” – and it is.
Most Kanye bars: “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/And what I do? Act more stupidly/Bought more jewelry, more Louis V.”
14. On Sight (2013)
The opener for ‘Yeezus’ is an swirl of unforgiving beats and caustic synth announcing the return of Yeezy. Totally unexpectedly, the song's tempo shifts into Holy Name of Mary Choral Family’s on-message ‘He’ll Give Us What We Really Need’.
Most Kanye bars: “Real nigga back in the house again...Black dick all in your spouse again.”
13. Lost In The World (2010)
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was Yeezy’s big new collaborator on ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. His music features most heavily in this melodic ‘Woods’-sampling song, with Kanye facing bewildering demons and echoing MJ's use of Soul Makossa
Most Kanye bars: "You're my heaven, you're my hell/You're my freedom, you're my jail"
12. Clique (2012)
Big Sean and Jay Z feature on this track from ‘Cruel Summer’, an album created by the artists on Kanye’s GOOD Music label. If they’d made it in 2015 it probably would have been called ‘Squad’ instead.
Most Kanye bars: “Break records at Louis, ate breakfast at Gucci/My girl a superstar all from a home movie.”
11. Waves (2016)
Chance The Rapper had to fight for this song's place on Kanye's seventh album, 'The Life of Pablo', and it's a good thing he did. Chance's arrangements are perfect, Kanye's mood is unusually contemplative, and Chris Brown's vocals soar.
Most Kanye bars: “I be talkin' shit like / I ain't scared to lose a fistfight"
10. All Falls Down (2004)
On this broad-scoped, hard-hitting track, Syleena Johnson sings the clip of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Mystery of Iniquity’ – Ye couldn’t get permission.
Most Kanye bars: “They make us hate ourself and love they wealth...Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack/And a white man get paid off of all of that.”
9. Love Lockdown (2008)
808s are all over this brooding ‘808s’ lead single reportedly based on his split from Alexis Phifer. It’s the first time we heard Kanye properly sing (with Auto-Tune, admittedly) and it’s just as striking now as it was back in 2008.
Most Kanye bars: “I'm in love with you, but the vibe is wrong/And that haunted me, all the way home”
8. All Of The Lights (2010)
John Legend, The Dream, La Roux’s Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Drake AND Rihanna recorded vocals for this track inviting the public into the dimly lit celeb sphere. Drake’s vocals were cut.
Most Kanye bars: “Something wrong, I hold my head/MJ gone, our nigga dead”
7. Famous (2016)
Kanye explores his relationship with fame via a Nina Simone/Rihanna-sung hook, a Sister Nancy sample, and a controversial line that put his relationship with Taylor Swift back into feud mode and his name into countless headlines. What better comment on celebrity than one that fuels it?
Most Kanye bars: "No matter how hard they try / We never gonna die"
6. Black Skinhead (2013)
Daft Punk helped produce this breathless manifesto, taking in everything from Yeezy’s unimpressive contemporaries to America’s racism and his own regal ambition.
Most Kanye bars: “I keep it 300, like the Romans/300 bitches, where the Trojans?” If you’re a pedant – 'Spartans' just doesn’t scan as well as 'Romans'.
5. Monster (2010)
The biggest collaboration on ‘MBDTF’, mocking Kanye's persona, was originally intended for Jay-Z collab album ‘Watch The Throne’. It features Justin Vernon, Rick Ross, Jay Z and Nicki Minaj; then-newcomer Minaj knocks it out of the park.
Most Kanye bars: “My presence is a present, kiss my ass.”
4. New Slaves (2013)
This furious ‘Yeezus’ track examines systemic racism – "privately owned prisons" feature – but also draws on Kanye’s own experience as a wealthy man. It ends with Frank Ocean singing over the optimistic ‘Gyöngyhajú lány’, by Hungarian rockers, Omega.
Most Kanye bar: “I'd rather be a dick than a swallower.”
3. Niggas In Paris (2011)
A thundering joint effort between Ye and Jay-Z set over knife-sharp synth, this riffs playfully on a Blades of Glory reference – “No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative”.
Most Kanye bars: “Doctors say I’m the illest, cause I’m suffering from realness/Got my niggas in Paris and they going gorillas.”
2. Runaway (2010)
Kanye’s Taylor Swift moment at the 2009 MTV VMAs is one of the controversies leading to this rueful, piano-led apology about his own personality and failures. “I had to come back as a better person”, he says.
Most Kanye bars: “I sent this girl a picture of my dick/I don't know what it is with females/But I'm not too good with that shit."
1. Power (2010)
Every superhero needs his theme music – this is Kanye’s: a brutal, explosive exposition of everything he has to offer, sampling King Crimson, referencing Malcolm X and raising a solemn middle finger to his detractors.
Most Kanye bar: “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation/Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation.”