It's an idea that's so ingenious and obvious in hindsight that it's a wonder why it's never been done before: why don't we pick our favourite Kanye West song, collectively on the internet?
Every year on the third month starts the utter nonsense known at March Madness, which serves the foremost goal of loading the pockets of the NCAA powers that be while also providing mild fun for the rest of us.
And every year at this time, it seems we find a new thing to create a March Madness bracket for. This March, it's Kanye's turn because he's really perfect: his catalogue is loaded with a wide variety and number of hits, with one song for seemingly everyone.
Thanks to Carrington Harrison and co. for doing the lord's work in setting this up. Not every choice is perfect, but it's probably good enough. Let's fill out our bracket, shall we? Not to worry too, for we'll offer commentary throughout.
North West Region
Welcome to what's likely the toughest quadrant of this thing. We're already on the record calling Can't Tell Me Nothing the best single of Mr. West's career, and down at the bottom Through The Wire is the one song that perfectly encapsulates the man's appeal when he first broke through: on the song Kanye is witty, relatable, and capable of finding inspiration through the unthinkable. Hey Mama deserves better than a match-up against the masterpiece that is Last Call, all the while a few standouts from The Life of Pablo in Famous and Real Friends never stood a chance to leave their mark here. Flashing Lights comes closest to crashing the party of the two top seeds but it can't quite get there: you can't tell Kanye West's story without Through The Wire, so we'll slot that one through.
The Donda Region is also the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy region, with three of the album's four tracks included being three of our last four standing. All Falls Down deserves to fall in the first round, because we loathe that song but the powers that be matched it up against probably the most overwhelmed 16-seed in the bracket. Plenty of the songs are great but Monster, Runaway, and All Of The Lights are clear standouts from Kanye's magnum opus. In this region, they're all-powerful. They're the beating heart, much like the album was what first powered his return to the public's good graces all those years ago after he never let Taylor Swift finish.
This third section is where things start to go awry because, like, what the fuck did Murder To Excellence ever do to anyone to deserve a 16th-seed and being pitted against the most No. 1 of all No. 1 seeds in Jesus Walks? Some people just need to appreciate two otherworldly beats when they hear them because Murder To Excellence definitely has those and what more do you really want? Jesus Walks and Power are the two clear and worthy favourites here but there's a force lurking. Kanye West is a rapper, never forget that, and he reminded everyone as much on the TLOP album.
Apparently Touch The Sky is the most overseeded, if not overrated, Kanye West song of all time? Alas, this is far from the only problem in this quite awful section, one that is named after the man's first born but that lacks songs "that got a 'purp," as he's once rapped. This is #KanyeMadnessBracket and the braggadocio will not save you. In this region, the matchups are often between two similar versions of a same track (i.e. Ultralight Beam being a new Spaceship, Dark Fantasy and Diamonds From Sierra Leone, and so on), but this isn't a problem. What is is that the seeding is all wrong: every March Madness has a region full of upsets, one that just messes up your entire bracket. Well, this is the one.
Can't Tell Me Nothing (1) vs Through The Wire (2)
The two are among the five or so best Kanye West tracks, and there's no greater phenomenon in the Elite Eight than this one here. Through The Wire is the perfect early-era Kanye West, this Old Kanye everyone always raves about: the soulful "chimpmunk-like" production, the just-cheesy-enough punchlines that they actually work, the insecurities that hide behind the massive boasts. Through The Wire is the song with which Kanye forced the Def Jam heads into prioritizing his College Dropout album. It's the song that first launched him on the fast lane toward superstardom, that first validated him in his own eyes, and in the eyes of critics and his peers.
It's also not as good as the other song here. Can't Tell Me Nothing moves on.
Runaway (4) vs All Of The Lights (2)
It's no wonder that Runaway and All Of The Lights emerge from their section, as they're two of the greatest songs in Kanye's catalogue. The former is the anthem we can all relate to for different reasons while the latter is a master class in hip-hop sequencing and song construction, an over-the-top look at fame and its pitfalls, and a reminder that even with seemingly 18 different parts (okay, there just 9 collaborators on the song, sorry sorry) a song can be transcendent. All Of The Lights is an excellent track, but Runaway is the pick here.
Jesus Walks (1) vs No More Parties in L.A. (14)
Jesus Walks was and is a monster of a song, with a few different versions existing somewhere on the interwebs and on different people's hard drives but no, no not us we swear, because in the lead-up to College Dropout's release the album kept leaking and leaking. The song is the fourth single from Kanye's debut album but most of all, it's the one track that propelled him into the stratosphere of global icon. It's also a dang gospel song and we're not sure if anyone but Kanye could have made a song that was so unapologetically about Christianity... and won the Grammy for Best Rap Song for it. Jesus Walks is a force of nature, and it's up against Cinderella. And in this case, Cinderella is No More Parties in L.A., a song that's inexplicably woefully underseeded in this bracket. Because Cinderella is an unreal rap song. And it deserves the win.
Ultralight Beam (12) vs Gorgeous (3)
This messy region gives us quite a formidable match-up in the Elite Eight, so not all hope is lost for humanity. Ultralight Beam is a beauty of a track, a Gospel song with shades of Jesus Walks 2.0, a song that examines Kanye's relationship with God. It's not a particularly unique concept at this point, but the execution is just about flawless. And you'll always recall how on the 2016 Saint Pablo Tour, Ultralight Beam was the last track Kanye played in his set. How after 90 minutes of high energy and giving us his all while chained to that moving stage, in the end Kanye had let the choir chants play, the "FAITH! MORE! SAFE! WAR!" cries echoing over and over and over again inside the Bell Centre as he exited the stage. How it was a momentary appearance from the music God, never to be heard from again on that night.
All that said, we fucks with Gorgeous more here.
Can't Tell Me Nothing (1) vs Runaway (4)
The best single of Kanye West's career is also the very first street anthem of Kanye West's career. Coincidence? I don't know, but I'll be damned if I meet someone who tells me Can't Tell Me Nothing doesn't knock them out every time the man croons out "Laaaaaa Laaaaa La La Wait till I get my money right!" The song was the first single of Graduation and, while Kanye sure made some concessions for the rest of the album, he sure as hell didn't make any on this one. You thought the polo-donning, every-man rap persona of Kanye was too soft? Please, this is your life homie, you decide yours.
And yet, Runaway moves on.
No More Parties in L.A. (14) vs Gorgeous (3)
Let's call this side of the Final Four the match-up of G.O.O.D Rapping™ because with Kanye and guests Kendrick Lamar and Raekwon, No More Parties in L.A. and Gorgeous are really two prime examples of excellent rapping and rap tracks. That's not the only similarity between the two either, because both songs came out of nowhere at a time when Kanye hadn't rapped like he does in a LONG while. Ultimately, Gorgeous is probably a better song, with better production and tackling issues like racism and the injustices that have become a staple of America. But there's just something about NMPILA, the fact it's apparently a beat Madlib gave Kanye during the recording sessions of MBDTF and the fact that it's the first collaboration between K-Dot and Kanye. When it's all said, we'll be able to tell our grandchildren that Kanye West once outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a track.
Cinderella keep it going!
Runaway (4) vs No More Parties in L.A. (14)
No More Parties in L.A., again, is an excellent song, a tour de force from Kanye where the man, we don't know if you've heard, outrapped the god Kendrick. Let's appreciate this for what it is.
But remember the old Kanye? No, not the Old Kanye, that one from Through The Wire and pink polo shirts. A newer Kanye but in the grand scheme of things still an old one. One who was vilified for a relatively silly reason when he interrupted Taylor Swift. One who had lost his mother, and with her his way, and had seen his engagement with his then-girlfriend unravel and had decided to live life in exile. Remember him? Well, Runaway is what saved him for us, what turned him back from Public Enemy No. 1 into a persona that was very much grata again.
Runaway is the best song of Kanye West's career, a moment in music and pop culture history. It's the triumph of emotional nakedness, a song about Kanye's relationship with his fans, society at large and women. It's the bombastic anthem we can all relate to because we're all an asshole to someone at some point. Runaway is a song about Kanye's relationship to himself, how he's only ever so critical of others because he feels so deeply insecure because he knows how much he fucks up at times. The song is so powerful because it's inspiring to see him embrace and accept his flaws so publicly as he does on it.
But what makes the song such a perfect and powerful work of art is its latter half, where the melodies change and only piano and cellos remain, where Kanye stops rapping or singing and instead turns his voice into a sort of distorted guitar. It's hard to pick up what he sings, but it doesn't matter. There are a number of theories floating around as to what he sings over the latter half of Runaway, but that's looking at it the wrong way. As Cole Cuchna put it on the Dissect Podcast, let's see this other half of the song as pure abstract expression of the human emotion and as all the words that don't exist. Music is intuitively moving, because it's the universal language.
Just listen and experience it. You'll know what it means.