This week there’s been much talk in regards to Kanye West’s discography. Complex shared a worst to best list of Kanye’s entire discography both solo and collaborative. As you can imagine the internet joined the conversation where everyone on social media shared their own list, including fellow Chicago-native, Chance the Rapper. While I have my own separate opinion on his worst to best list (how would you not put My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at number one (!)) looking at Kanye West’s discography it’s fair to say that he is undisputedly the greatest album artist of our generation, if not ever.
— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) January 5, 2017
In nearly 13-years, Yeezy has released an incredible 7 solo albums and 2 collaborative projects (Watch The Throne and Cruel Summer). Now while there may be some albums you prefer than others it is difficult for anyone to say there’s a definitive weak album out of Kanye’s 9. Normally, particularly, in hip hop, rappers generally tend to tail off following the release of their first album only a handful have been able to drop 3+ consistently good albums. And even then there’s been some weak ones in between them. What’s most alluring about Kanye’s discography is that his music surpasses hip hop. his albums that are rooted in the hip hop sound but are projects that are popular for varying listeners – Kanye’s isn’t just a rapper and producer he’s an artist whose releases have consistently redefined the music we now listen to. To take this further Kanye’s discography should be compared to the greatest artists of all time, you Michael Jacksons, Princes, Madonnas etc – the quality of his body of work matches theirs.
Whether you’re not a fan of 808s & Heartbreaks and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy you’re a fan of The College Dropout and Late Registration, similarly, you may hate his earlier stuff but love is more raucous sounding albums like Yeezus and The Life of Pablo. Kanye has made an album for all varying listeners with various tastes, experiences and needs. What’s most apparent for me is the death of albums among modern rappers particularly among the bigger rappers – take Drake, for example, he’s undisputedly the world’s most popular artist right now with the most streams of any global artist and yet he struggles to make a quality album. Bar Take Care the rapper is yet to bring out an album that we can all confidently say is a masterpiece. It could be a case that we as listeners no longer care for quality albums but rather adore blockbuster singles like a “One Dance”. But real music fans know that fundamentally artists are judged by their albums and no artist of our generation has a more consistent album record than Kanye West.
What’s most pressing about Kanye’s discography is how each album has transformed the sound of popular music. The College Dropout switched the sound from gangster rap – which 50 Cent and others had brought back – to a more soul-sampled, your everyday guy rapper/sound. Graduation brought the electronica sound to hip hop without it sounding inauthentic. 808s – arguably is his most influential album – presented a completely unfamiliar sound to hip hop with its emo themes and 808s production that was later championed by the likes of Drake, J. Cole, Kid Cudi and more. And that’s what separates Kanye’s discography from someone like Jay Z – who similarly boasts an incredible list – but Jay Z’s albums move with the times and popular sounds of that era, Kanye’s albums rather creates and pioneers the sounds.
Kanye West, unfortunately, isn’t the best rapper of our generation, nor is he the best producer but he fundamentally is, is the greatest artist of our generation and similarly the greatest album artist too. His body of work are the most consistent projects that we have seen in this millennium and arguably will never be topped given the direction of streaming and singles that the current musical landscape is heading to.