Kanye West: Ranking the Best Solo Discography of All Time

Nuriel Vera-DeGraff, Contributing Writer

1. The Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s magnum opus: epic, unapologetic, full-bodied, and diverse. From the beautiful gospel of “Ultralight Beam” to the magnificent outro “Saint Pablo,” TLOP combines all of Kanye’s strengths (production, lyricism, flow, and features) into a masterpiece. 

2. 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy deserves the hype. Including “Runaway,” arguably the greatest hip-hop song of all time, and powerful samples (like King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” in “POWER”), MBDTF shows Kanye’s lyricism at its most socially aware, reflecting on the blessing and curse of his celebrity status. 

3. Yeezus is Kanye’s experimental passion project if TLOP is Kanye’s magnum opus. Short, sweet, and sharp, Yeezus creatively defies industry expectations, employing raw and intense production. Throughout Yeezus we see West’s trajectory from grindset (“Black Skinhead”) to unbreakable ego (“I Am A God”) to inescapable self-destruction (“Hold My Liquor”). 

4. Nothing tops Late Registration when it comes to “old Kanye”. In his sophomore record, West establishes himself as a versatile rapper-producer, expanding on themes from his debut The College Dropout. Late Registration has it all: powerfully paced bars in “Touch The Sky,” and awe-inspiring compositions like “We Major,” alongside touching, quiet gems “Addiction” and “Roses.” 

5. The College Dropout is LR’s less refined predecessor, officially introducing West to the music world as a cheekily arrogant college dropout with something to say. West spits insightful bars over chopped-up soul samples, reflecting on the American education system and the pervasive nature of materialism on anthems like “We Don’t Care” and “All Falls Down.” 

6. Donda, despite its delayed release, didn’t reach its (unrealistically high) expectations. Highlights like “Off The Grid” and “Jesus Lord” (the album’s best song) don’t make up for excessive features and forgettable tracks like “New Again” and “Tell The Vision.” Besides, for being dedicated to his late mother, Donda incorporates surprisingly few female voices. 

7. Graduation is one of Kanye’s most accessible records, meshing elements of pop-rap with clever lyrics and smooth flows. Graduation displays a consistent celebratory tone, which ends up being its greatest shortcoming: songs like “Barry Bonds” and “The Glory” are quasi-copies of tracks from the record’s first half—a little more creativity wouldn’t have hurt. 

8. 808s & Heartbreak set the stage for a new genre, coyly dubbed “emo rap.” Without this trailblazing, artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, and Frank Ocean wouldn’t have followed West’s footsteps in vulnerable hip-hop. 808s is full of bops, with tracks like “Heartless” and “Amazing.” If only the second half of 808s matched up to the first! 

9. ye isn’t bad—it just falls short. Like in 808s, ye’s lyrics are vulnerable, reflecting on the state of humanity in an unpolished manner common throughout the entire record. “Violent Crimes” is often classified as West’s misunderstood feminism, and the catchy “Ghost Town” unsuccessfully tries to tackle themes of self-love. The 7-song tracklist doesn’t help. 

10. Jesus is King. There’s not much to say about it— despite the creative choir use, West’s worst album isn’t much more than corny lyrics and an underdeveloped attempt at enlightenment. Kudos are in order, though, for the lack of explicit language.

This piece also appears in our December 2021 print edition.