Was there ever any doubt we'd be starting this Put That On Your Playlist! series with someone other than Kanye West? Come on now.
These days, and for a little while now, we have been taking the man for granted. By which we mean: for a while now, we've grown used to this idea of Kanye West, pop superstar and global icon. But it's easy to forget that he wasn't always this all-encompassing and all-powerful force. That not so long ago, he was only rapping through the wire. That he was on MTV but hadn't even tried to make da band. That before he told us about his real friends and his dirty cousin who stole his laptop, he was somebody from the Chi that was ill and who got a deal on the hottest rap label around. That before he used to always fuck his life up, he only lived by two words. That before he was Pablo, he was the old Kanye.
You miss the Old Kanye, yes you do. You miss the Old Kanye all the while you also love a whole damn lot the New Kanye and have loved every Kanye in between these two. Welcome to the Kanye West paradox.
And oh by the way, our good and incredibly gifted friend has decided to create a Loogmoji for every artist we write about for PTOYP. He's a great guy and he runs Loogart, please give him a follow and help him turn his thing into an even bigger one because he's so gifted to do this for a much bigger platform than this one here.
Now here's our Kanye West playlist, and you can find a reminder on how this works right here.
1. Dark Fantasy
Freaking hell. Kill your babies they said, amiright?! One prime contender to open this playlist is the allegorical and Nicki Minaj-featuring Dark Fantasy from the man's magum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But we're going with Good Morning off Graduation, with a Kanye West at the height of his lyrical and producing powers. He sampled Elton John for Good Morning, for chrissake! He knew he had arrived and that this was his time.
The above was what we had for version 1, 2, 3 and 8 of this playlist. But we can't get rid of Dark Fantasy, not quite yet. Let's give it the nod for Kanye's reference to a fat booty Celine Dion in the lyrics.
2. Black Skinhead
Yeezus, Kanye's long-awaited follow-up to his perfect MBDTF (Watch The Throne notwithstanding), was perplexing. For a man who had accustomed us to grandiose, soulful and orchestral productions, Yeezus was very dark with an industrial sound Kanye had yet to showcase up to this point. This didn't mean that it didn't work, but it still came as a surprise. There went yet another New Kanye: when the album dropped in 2013, he had just become a father for the first time and felt like there was absolutely nothing he couldn't do.
There's no single on Yeezus, they said. Then Martin Scorsese scored his Wolf Of Wall Street trailer to Black Skinhead and the track peaked at No. 69 (nice) on the Billboard Top 100, low by his standards but still high enough that it forced us to remember what a force he is.
You'll get your heart broken at least once in your life. And you'll listen to this track when you do.
A question for you all: do you know of another artist whose music and artistic proficiency you so admire while at the same time you've always had zero doubt you could ever be friends with in real life? Basically: Kanye is an asshole with whom you wouldn't want to hang out but you'd love to have him produce your album? Something like that. Take this song: on the one hand, his line on Taylor Swift, whether she agreed with him or not when he called her to ask her about using it in the track, is preposterously mean, stupid and cruel. But Kanye's use of Sister Nancy's Bam Bam at the end of Famous is ludicrous and unreal. The Kanye Paradox, we called it?
5. All Of The Lights
When you went to the HMV that day, you weren't really sure you'd buy the MBDTF album since you hadn't loved all that much his most recent albums, 808s & Heartbreak chief among them. But still you did, you decided to pull the trigger in the end; it's Kanye, you know? So you bought it and went back home and started playing it as you usually would, listening to the album as you did a few other different things. But when All Of The Lights started playing and the drums in that song hit? That's basically when you realized how special this album was and would be. "Holy fuck hold up, I gotta sit down and listen intently to this one," you said, and so you did all the way through. Then you played it all over again. And again once more.
6. Can't Tell Me Nothing
Probably, maybe the best single Kanye West's ever released? Seriously. Name me a better one. Can't Tell Me Nothing.
7. Jesus Walks
Welcome to the song that launched a phenomenon. Kanye, back in the days when he only wanted to opportunity to prove himself, was deeply insecure and spilled every ounce of his lack of confidence into his music. And then when he scored a first major deal, he gave us a freaking gospel song. GOSPEL.
You can't tell Kanye West's story without discussing Jesus Walks so this one makes the cut over a bunch of others that are seemingly just as deserving.
8. Devil In A New Dress
Look through the booklet of MBDTF and you see that Bink is the one producer listed for Devil In A New Dress. Do you know how special a beat has to be for our boy Kanye to listen to the final product and be, like, "Nah actually let's roll with what you made we are good to go." ? If it's good enough for Kanye, it's because this beat is that good.
You can say a great deal of different things about Runaway but saying it's the perfect Kanye West song basically encapsulates it all. It isn't the same thing as saying that it's a perfect song made by Kanye West, although it is that as well. You can say too that the beat of Runaway creates an achingly and hauntingly beautiful melody that basically begs Kanye and Pusha T to pour their heart and soul in their verses and create a timeless classic. And you can say that we get precisely that.
Kanye knows he's fucked up at times and he longs for a time when he'll be able to escape his own inner thoughts and turmoil...but only to a point. He's had his faults, but who hasn't? We're all assholes. What song do you know could act as a rallying cry for both his fans and his detractors, all of whom are toasting to the assholes they know, the assholes they knew once and the assholes they are, were or will be.
God bless our man Chance The Rapper for doing the lord's work and convincing Kanye not to shelve this great, great song. We could have done without the annoying Chris Brown on the chorus but we pick our battles.
Grab yourself a good pair of headphones, dim the lights and head over to your special place where you just zone out and let go of your daily worries. Then press play and hear how the man flips a sample of My Funny Valentine. What a goddamn track.
12. Real Friends
This track off The Life Of Pablo is basically Kanye's answer to everyone complaining that he had grown too big to fail, too large to be relatable to.
Is Wolves a first admission of insecurity from Kanye West, as some have posited? That only works if you believe, erroneously, that all along the man had really only ever been cocky. That he hadn't been battling through serious insecurities of his own and been overcompensating. But when TLOP dropped, Kanye was a father and a married man. He had changed and it had humbled him. All he needs after all is his wife and family, and vice-versa, to forget the whole shit and laugh about nothing.
14. Frank's Track
Yeah, we're as much a Frank Ocean fan as anyone else but if we had a better option to pick for No. 14, we'd pick a different song. Kinda slim pickings for No. 14 in Kanye West's discography.
15. School Spirit
No dream is too small, that's one of the lessons of Kanye's first album College Dropout, and School Spirit might as well be its thesis statement. The man famously dropped out (get it?) of Chicago State University to give everything he had to his art and music. And it's all turned out for the best. School Spirit is also peak early Kanye West, rapper reliant on punchlines that are just corny enough that they don't become annoying.
16. Hey Mama
You can say many things about the man, but one thing you can't ever blame him for is withdrawing from his listeners. If there's an emotion Kanye feels when he writes and makes a song, we'll feel it right along with him. And if and when he pours his love for his mother Donda West into Hey Mama, we'll feel how sweet, sincere and pure it is.
The Old Kanye used to at times overcompensate for his insecurities with oversized boasts, the everyday man making up for a lack of confidence by screaming out that there was nothing that could touch him. But on Hey Mama, Kanye gave us his heart and we thank him for it.
17. No More Parties In LA
In 2018 and forever until the end of time, never ever forget that Kanye West once outrapped and outshined the great Kendrick Lamar on a track. Kanye raps like he hasn't in a VERY long time on No More Parties and other tracks from the latter half of TLOP, and we're all the more grateful for it.
18. Two Words
What a glorious beat and song. Because deep down we all only ever live by those two words.
19. Through The Wire
For most people, a car crash where you break your jaw would be reason enough to put things into perspective and reflect on life and mortality, for Kanye West it was merely a good reason to make a new track and spit it through the wire (and yes reflect on life). Recorded in 2002 and released in September 2003, Through The Wire was the definite proof that nothing could nor would stop him on his way to the top, that he might have been trying to be a millionaire and had just used two lifelines but that all would work out. It might be the ultimate "Old Kanye" song too, with a beat that samples Chaka Khan and lyrics full of semi-boasts and witty wordplay. There'd been an accident like GEICO for this grown-ass kid who still won't grow up.
20. Saint Pablo
In 2018, or in 2016 really, when is an album ever truly finished? It used to be that an album would be finished, if at the absolute latest, when it would need to be physically produced, shipped off to stores, etc. but in 2016 when Kanye West released The Life Of Pablo and the music industry's turn toward online streaming platforms had turned to overdrive? When's an album finished then? On February 14, 2016, the rapper gave us TLOP after seemingly endless delays...and then four months later he added this Saint Pablo song to the album.
TLOP has been met with acclaim and praise pretty much everywhere, but one of the things we maybe don't hear often enough is what a tour de force the latter half of the album is for Kanye West, Rapper. Because truly, it had been so, so long since Kanye had rapped like this, and like he does on Saint Pablo, since he had rapped this hard, this intensely, this focused, and frankly this well.
21. Last Call
Who else but Kanye could fight all his life for recognition as not just a producer but a quote-unquote rapper only to then, once he's finally made it, end his debut album with a song that lasts 12 minutes and 42 seconds and that discusses his entire career up to this point in time? Not only that, but the beat and charisma from the man are both so compelling that they manage to grab your attention for all 12 minutes and 42 seconds of the song. And not only that but the song and beat are actually built so the story that Kanye tells is reflected in the sounds and structure of the melodies. Seriously.
What does it all mean?
In conclusion? Well in conclusion, let's mention that it might not be entirely ideal to start this series about creating an artist's ultimate playlist with Kanye West, who's perhaps the ultimate and foremost "Album Artist" in the world. The end result of this playlist lacks a bit of the cohesiveness and intensity of all Kanye albums, but it still bangs. And it still works as an individual body of work. It's full of difficult choices, namely how the hell do you not include Good Morning, Roses, Flashing Lights or 30 Hours but that would mean getting rid of equally great and deserving songs.
This playlist also has quite a bit of variety, with all seven of the rapper's albums seeing at least one of their tracks make the cut. (Yeezus and Graduation only get one, but you can't win 'em all.) The first seven songs on the playlist come from six of the seven albums, so that's as good a sign as any other that while there's a favourite Kanye album for everyone, everyone will also love a thing or two about every one of his albums.
There's a different version of our reality where every single track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy makes the cut, this wonderful album where every tendency and hallmark of Kanye West's work and style crystallizes into a perfect product. It's our favourite Kanye album, which one's yours?