About a year ago I wrote this for a website called “The Takery” that has since fizzled out. It went unpublished, so I thought hey, why not bring the #takes to my own personal website to help build my #brand?
All jokes aside, here’s my top-15 Kanye West songs, which I’m sure you’ll disagree with. Suck it, haters.
The greatest thing the American society has been able to do in recent years is sell you a product that was already readily available, and get people to buy into that concept. Before Starbucks there wasn’t a coffee shop on every corner; you could literally make your own at home, and yet we have people who still scramble to spend $4 on a cup of joe. *extremely ‘back in my day’ voice* My grandparents didn’t drink $4 worth of coffee in a month. Anyway, the same thing is true of frozen yogurt, taxi cabs and probably a whole host of other things I can’t think of right now.
So what we’re trying to accomplish here at The Takery is finding a way to review elements of pop culture from years gone by. You know, by taking a broader look while mixing in some of the trademark takes that make this place so great. Since this is Kanye Week, we’re taking a look at his broad and diverse body of work that has spanned parts of two decades now.
It may not necessarily be fresh, but it should be fun. We’re glad you’re along for the ride.
And now, the takes:
- Flashing Lights – Graduation
Money lyric(s): “Feelin’ like Katrina with no FEMA; Like Martin with no Gina” | “I’m just saying, hey, Mona Lisa, come home, you know you can’t roam without Caesar.”
Breakdown: I’m not totally sure why, but this song gives me a vibe like I’m sorting out my shit at 3 am in a dark room with a glass of whiskey. It starts with sultry sounds and vibes, and closes with them as well, as well as an echo as the song slows to a crawl. I get goosebumps just thinkin’ about it. I wouldn’t say this song was the runaway — see what I did there? — favorite for the top spot, but it was pretty safely atop the list.
- Paranoid – 808s and Heartbreak
Money lyric(s): “Yeah you see ‘em look, baby let ‘em look, give us cold looks, cause we look cold.”
Breakdown: For me, Kanye’s songs do two things: they absolutely melt my brain with complex, intelligent lyricism, or they lean more on cool sounds and beats. This leans far more to the latter, with the beats right away hooking me based on the low, repetitive sounds underneath being countered by the higher pitches that follow to make it have sort of a quasi-echo effect. Plus, the concept of being paranoid — while not to the level of Kanye in this song — resonates with all of us to some degree, I suspect.
- Runaway – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Money lyric(s): “Never was much of a romantic, I could never take the intimacy. And I know I did damage, cause the look in your eyes in killing me. I guess you are at an advantage, ‘cause you can blame me for everything. And I don’t know how I’mma manage, if one day you just up and leave.”
Breakdown: In music, I really like simplicity. I don’t want to come across as gauche, in this age of auto tune and some types of music that just seem to be trying to hard, the simple piano keystrokes that open up this song are….brilliant. Now I realize I just kind of ripped on auto tune — which actually is used pretty prominently in this song — but I think the piano keystrokes work as a way to get into this song gradually before the initial beat hits and the “Look at cha” from Rick James’ “Mary Jane” comes on. Spotify has this “Beyond the Lyrics” genius feature that helps tie some of the tumult Kanye was going through at the time this song was prepared, as well. Some of it was self-induced, including his interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMAs and probably at least part of his break up with designer Alexis Phifer. But there was also the death of his mother in late 2007, which combined with subpar sales of his 808s and Heartbreak album made him want to just run away — hence the song. Kanye goes scorched earth on a lot of people who ripped him online in this song, and I have to believe it was pretty cathartic. But beyond that, it made for an awesome tune.
- Homecoming – Graduation
Money lyric(s): “Every interview I’m representin’ you, makin you proud, reach for the stars, so if you fall, you land on a cloud, jump in the crowd, spark your lighters, wave ‘em around, if you don’t know by now, I’m talking ‘bout Chi-Town.”
Breakdown: Words won’t do my feelings justice for this song. Just watch this, and consider that I’m a lifelong Timberwolves fan. Seeing Flip Saunders makes that video even more surreal. Here’s the other quiet brilliance: Kanye is rapping about Chicago. Kevin Garnett went to Farragut Academy High School, which is on Christiana Avenue in Chicago.
- All of the Lights – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Money lyric(s): “Cop lights, flash lights, spotlights, strobe lights street lights (all of the lights, all of the lights), fast life, drug life, thug life, rock life, every night (all of the lights).”
Breakdown: First of all, do yourself a favor and listen to the interlude that precedes it, which is strings and piano playing the melody for the song. It’ll surprise you with how well it’s done. For me, this song is a stark contrast to a lot of the bragging and self-promotion that Kanye can be accused of. He exposed a lot of raw, human emotions in this song, and made himself extremely vulnerable. You can argue that a lot of it is self-inflicted — I certainly wouldn’t disagree — but I think it’s a level that some artists wouldn’t go to.
- Touch the Sky – Late Registration
Money lyric(s): “I think I died in an accident, ‘cause this must be heaven.” “Before anybody wanted K. West beats, me and my girl split the buffet at KFC.” ‘I’m tryna right my wrongs, but it’s funny, them same wrongs helped me write this song.”
Breakdown: I get the sense that I’ll be the high man on this song, because I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone else say much about it in terms of being one of their favorites. But I think even in a weird sense, we can all relate to getting where we want to — whether we’ve done so or are in the process — and then in our own weird way reflecting on the process. And in some ways, I think Kanye comes clean on some people he may have buried in the process — primarily the ladies in his life.
- Power – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Money lyric(s): “Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it, I guess every superhero need his theme music.” “We ain’t got nothin’ to lose, motherfucker we rollin’.” “And I embody every characteristic of the egotistic, he knows, he’s so fucking gifted.” “I just need time alone with my own thoughts, got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault.” “Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody.”
Breakdown: I went for a long stretch feeling like this song was overrated, but at some point I think I overrated it so much it actually got underrated. That sounds dumb I’m sure, but I went back to see just what I was missing. I got a pair of good headphones and listened to it closely, and the instrumentals absolutely wail on this song. Like, whip you up in a frenzy and get you ready to fight somebody. Throw in some vitriolic lyrics like the “screams from the haters” bit and it didn’t take long for me to have an about face on this song. The wordplay on this song is rad as hell besides, as the references flow nicely, and make sense, but will leave you wondering “how did we get here, again?” two lines down the road. Sorry I doubted you, Kanye.
- Gorgeous – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Money lyric(s): “Got caught with 30 rocks, the cop look like Alec Baldwin.” “And what’s a black Beatle anyway, a fucking Roach? I guess that’s why they got me sitting in fucking coach.”
Breakdown: I’m very, very poor at giving new music a chance. I like what I like, and I’ll rarely step out on the ledge to try something even when a good friend recommends it to me. But when I do venture out, I’m the kind of person that needs to be hooked right away or I head back into my cocoon. I really like the deep sounds and silky open to this one, like the most Kanye songs the lyrics hold together really well. He gives some subtle — and not to subtle — references to racism, gets even with the guys from South Park and gets Kid Cudi involved as well. What’s not to like?
- Everything I Am – Graduation
Money lyric(s): “Everything I’m not made me everything I am.” “People talk so much shit about me at barbershops, they forget to get they hair cut.”
Breakdown: To me this song is a stark contrast to Kanye’s naturally braggadocious persona, as he again makes himself very vulnerable over the nearly 5 minutes this song runs. One of the greatest things Kanye does as an aloof, brilliant, rich, egotistical and maniacal celebrity — and you could probably lump on another dozen adjectives and still fall short — is still make songs that can relate to pretty much everyone. Who can’t relate to the lyric “Everything I’m not made me everything I am?” I sure can.
- Dark Fantasy – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Money lyric(s): “So much head, I woke up to Sleepy Hollow.” “The plan was to drink until the pain over, but what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” “Too many Urkels on your team, that’s why your wins low.” “But after that, took pills, kissed an heiress, and woke up back in Paris.”
Breakdown: The intro to this song — sung by Nicki Minaj who I’m actually pretty cold on — is brilliant. Rap Genius calls it a “thuggification” of Roald Dahl’s take on Cinderella in his book Revolting Rhymes. He follows that up with a red-hot first verse that, at least for me, pulled me in right away. He also seamlessly alternates bravado with insecurity, before closing the verse with a Sleepy Hollow/fellatio reference. What? It’s brilliant, even if it won’t appeal to everyone.
- Good Life – Graduation
Money lyric(s): “And if they hate, then let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up.”
Breakdown: In what I feel was the preeminent song of the album, “Good Life” is Kanye’s evening out of some of the manic, downright creepy stuff he raps from more of the intense, going-all-the-way-in stuff. But like most times that Kanye is reveling in the success and good things he has, he does seem to keep a pretty good perspective to how he got there. Again, for an egomaniac, he can be really, superbly relatable. And I think deep down we all with we had the haters that we could defy while the cash stacks up. Someday.
- Heartless – 808s and Heartbreak
Money lyric(s): “You run and tell your friends that you’re leavin’ me, They say that they don’t know what you see in me, You wait a couple months then you gonna see, You’ll never find nobody better than me.”
Breakdown: Again with the relatability. Whether it was your first relationship or a long-term one that dissolved for whatever reason, I think we can all relate to the loneliness that comes immediately afterward — even if we try to surround ourselves with new people or just avoid the person who broke our heart. I will say this, though — Kanye seems awfully sensitive for someone who maybe doesn’t show that same level of consideration. Just a thought.
- Black Skinhead – Yeezus
Money lyric(s): “They see a black man with a white woman, at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong.”
Breakdown: There are instances when Kanye goes hard on lyrics, and there are instances where he goes hard on beats and music; I think this is the instance where he goes the hardest on the two combined, and it comes out like he’s spitting pure fire. Rap Genius says this song refers not only to his “traditional braggadocio and anti-establishment, anti-racism themes” but also to the cultural movement, when the post-war economy was good and young people were able to immerse themselves in the world around him — kind of a direct contrast to now, no? But anyway, this is another song I’d put on that 3:00 a.m. playlist, though for very different reasons than “Flashing Lights.” This song gets me worked up — fast. Admittedly, I was not on board with this song — or even Yeezus at all, really — on the first listen. I thought it sounded like it was recorded in the hallway of a tin shed, but through the continued prodding of friends whose music acumen I trusted, I pushed through and now appreciate that album greatly. Maybe that’s what’ll happen with “The Life of Pablo,” which I flat out just don’t like.
- Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix with Jay Z) – Late Registration
Money lyric(s): “Take your diamonds and throw ‘em up, like you bulimic; Yeah, the beat cold but the flow’s anemic.”
Breakdown: I knew little of Kanye during “The College Dropout” days, so my first baptism in the lakes of Mr. West was with Late Registration, though make no mistake I went back and retroactively got my diploma. Naturally though as a Jay Z fan coming in, this song hooked me. The remix has Hov take over towards the end and bring it home, and he throws down some pretty awesome lines. From “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man” to “How could you falter, when you’re the Rock of Gibraltar” Jay goes all out with double meanings and flow for days. And maybe may favorite part of the song is that Kanye opens with “Good morning, this ain’t Vietnam…..” while Jay closes down shop with “Good night!” Epic.
- Say You Will – 808s and Heartbreak
Money lyric(s): “I wish this song, would really come true; I admit I, still fantasize about you.”
Breakdown: It’s truly stunning how few lyrics there are to this song — especially since it goes on over six minutes — but like the dynamic I invoked with “Runaway” I really like the songs that rely on the background to drive what’s happening. This song is just so chill, and that’s why I dig it.
Honorable Mentions: Say You Will, Drive Slow, Can’t Tell Me Nothing and I Wonder