30 Popular Kanye West Songs Ranked

Kanye West is one of hip hop’s most polarizing names. Born in Atlanta on June 8, 1977, West began his musical journey as a producer for hire, working with the likes of Foxy Brown and Jermaine Dupri along the way before he was eventually snapped up by Jay-Z, who put him to work on his 2001 Roc-A-Fella Records album, The Blueprint. His contributions to the album turned Kanye West, now legally known as Ye into one of hip hop’s most sort after producers as The Blueprint featuring hits like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” earned Jay-Z his fourth Us chart-topper.

Not satisfied with remaining behind the board, he managed to secure a deal as a rapper and producer with Rockafella. In 2004 West successfully made the transition from producer to rapper with the release of his critically acclaimed debut album The College Dropout. Spearheaded by Through The Wire, and Jesus Walks – “The College Dropout” brought Kanye West huge commercial and critical success, winning Best Rap Album at 2005’s Grammys. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ye has since then released ten solo albums and is prepping the release of his eleventh. In anticipation of the album, and to also celebrate his Jeen-Yuhs, we have decided to revisit the rapper’s illustrious catalog to select our favorite 30 Kanye West songs.

Kanye’s career spans several decades and his influence can be felt throughout the world of hip hop, fashion, and pop culture, so settling on just 30 songs was a daunting task, but we were somehow able to make it work.

<

The list focuses on his solo catalog and we have sadly left out tracks from his collaborative projects with G.O.O.D. Music, Jay-Z and Kid Cudi.

Kanye West Feat. Jay-Z ”Jail”

Album: Donda (2020)

Jail finds Kanye West reuniting with his Watch The Throne collaborator, Jay-Z. The record marked their first time on a song together since their fall out in 2016. Hov sticks to the song’s theme about redemption and exile, while also referencing his recoupling with Kanye West

“Donda, I’m with your baby when I touch back road/Told’em stop all of that red cap, we goin’ home/Not me with all of these sins, casting stones/This might be the return of The Throne.”

This is not by any stretch the best song on Donda, we were just happy to see Kanye reunite with his big brother.

29. No More Parties In L.A.

Album: The Life Of Pablo (2016)

You don’t really need to have much of an imagination to understand why a track produced by Madlib featuring verses from two of the greatest artists of all time makes the list. In all honestly, even with all the pedigree on show, it still feels overlooked. There’s something about the pair trading verses that feels like two Olympic sprinters constantly nosing in front of each other in a hip hop battle royale.

28. Flashing Lights

Album: Graduation (2007)

In hindsight, “Flashing Lights” feels more like a predecessor to 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. The Graduation single radiates with the melancholic passive-aggression of an ’80s FM staple, grooving along with a silky Miami vibe that bottles mythical nights and somber reflections — ahem, it’s a bluesy New Wave track. Over 90 beats per minute, Kanye struts away from the confines of traditional hip-hop and into a chic watering hole where art school kids offer cozy seats and rare coffees. You can thank Connie Mitchell (of Australian electronic group Sneaky Sound System) for the introduction.

27. Champion

Album: Graduation (2007)

Despite not being released as a single, “Champion” managed to enter charts in the United States. It made both its debut and peak at number ninety-nine on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, making it the only song from the album to appear on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart without being released as a single. On the track, Kanye references the struggles he and father Ray West faced in their relationship together. The song also serves as an ego boost for anyone battling adversity.

26. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1

Album: The Life Of Pablo (2016)

You ever wonder what opening the curtains to the sun splitting the clouds after a cold hard winter sounds like then look no further.

I mean, yeah their subject matter is about reconciliation and feeling on cloud nine with your significant other, but really the reason the song is so widely cherished is the pure euphoria it emits and the iconic lyrics it contains:

Now, if I fuck this model
And she just bleached her asshole
And I get bleach on my T-shirt
I’ma feel like an asshole

Poetry in motion.

25. Real Friends

Album: The Life Of Pablo (2016)

Real Friends speaks to the paranoia of stratospheric superstardom. In typically Kanye fashion he casually lifts a story from his own life, as he details even his own family is willing to sell him out for money.

“I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fucking bitches on”

24. Famous

Album: The Life Of Pablo (2016)

A shoo-in for wearing the crown of Kanye’s most controversial track, ‘Famous‘ is provocative, hard, and at times uncomfortable.

Through a back and forth and leaked phone call footage it first appeared Kanye had permission to mention Taylor Swift’s name in the song, but following clarification from Taylor she never authorized calling her a “bitch”, a move which was widely condemned.

Sonically speaking the move between mechanical hard-hitting percussion to a gorgeous Sister Nancy sample flip is spell-binding and coupled with Rihanna vocals the track’s quality is inarguable.

At its best, it’s a magnificent piece of art that wrestles with ideas of celebrity and fame, but at its worst it sees Kanye steeping himself in misogyny. It is the song that perhaps best personifies the caveats that punctuate his career.

23. Monster

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

While Jay-Z may sound like he’s rattling off a list for Halloween costumes on ‘Monster’ Nicki Minaj introduced herself as a global force on the track from Ye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A verse so good that Kanye admitted he nearly had it removed because he didn’t want to be roasted on his own song.

The world is a better place with the track, one that will go down as one of the hardest posse cuts of the new millennia.

22. Good Morning

Album: Graduation (2007)

“Good Morning” was the intro track to Kanye West’s third album, Graduation. The song served as the perfect backdrop to the musical and lyrical themes of the album. It begins with West waking up on his graduation day, and is told from the perspective of Kanye sharing his skepticism about college, as he celebrates his graduation in hip hop.

He further goes on to question how higher education does a terrible job of preparing students for the real world by taunting the school valedictorian who is “scared of the future” while the dropout is seemingly doing great.

Good morning and look at the valedictorian
Scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean/Scared to face the world, complacent career student/Some people graduate, but be still stupid.

“Good Morning” was the first track that West started working on for Graduation. The song samples Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and Jay-Z’s “The Ruler’s Back.”

21. Good Life Feat. T-Pain

Album: Graduation (2007)

Good Life is exactly what the title says. A feel-good song that finds West celebrating the finer things in life and acknowledging his success. He had just 3-peated with The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, and Good Life was basically his victory lap.

In a 2019 interview with Revolt, DJ Toomp commented on the creation of the song;

“Kanye came with the sample and I started making the beat around it. We wanted a professional keyboardist to bless that shit. John Legend was singing on the hook in one version. We went through about four different artists before we decided T-Pain was going to do the hook. Watching him go through so many different artists and different hooks, I learned about taking your time and not settling with what you hear the first time.”

20. Heard ‘Em Say

Album: Late Registration (2005)

If Kanye is known for his brash, fog-horn rap anthems, then ‘Heard ‘Em Say’ is his lullaby-esque slice of quiet heaven. Beautifully simple and sincere, the combination of twinkling keys and a capitulation to societal ills result in a bittersweet masterpiece.

Speaking to Montreality about how the song came about Adam Levine said, “We were on a flight to the EMAs in Italy, at the time, he was on the same plane. I don’t think we had met him yet. We were literally sitting there and he came up to me with his iPod or whatever it was at the time. He was like, ‘Yo, man. How are you doing? I’m Kanye.’ He was just getting big too. And he played me this record. Like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this record. Do you want to write a song together?’ On a plane. You know? And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And that was it. The next thing I knew we were in the studio making the record and it was that easy.”

19. Devil In A New Dress

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Using three samples from Smokey Robinson’s ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow, the beat on ‘Devil In A New Dress’ is masterful, and notably, it’s the only track on the album that Kanye doesn’t have a producer credit on.

The tasteful sample and classy bassline from Mike Dean form a beautiful marriage of convenience with the thematic queues taken from the original Smokey Robinson song which questions the genuineness of a love interest’s intentions. While the instrumental sounds like life on cloud nine, Ross’s verse, which is arguably his best guest feature, and Kanye fleeting words about his ‘sin-sation’ throw up a type of uncertainty that’s now a staple of dating apps.

18. Diamonds From Sierra Leone

Album: Late Registration (2005)

While Kanye was rapping about what he saw in Blood Diamond (and serving up a preamble to “New Slaves”), Jay cleared the air about the sordid status of Roc-A-Fella records in 2005. Kanye’s verse is a little, well, didactic, but they both agree Roc Diamonds are the most valuable diamonds in existence. Two years before Kanye would write an ode to Jay with “Big Brother,” the two teamed up here for one of the best cuts they’ve ever done.

17. Homecoming

Album: Graduation (2007)

‘Homecoming’ is Kanye West’s ode to his hometown of Chicago. He metaphorically analogizes his relationship with the city to that of a childhood girlfriend, Wendy (i.e. the Windy city) whom he is in a romantic relationship with. He reminiscences on their times together and expresses his guilt over leaving “her” in order to pursue his musical dreams. He acknowledges he is now a superstar but wonders if she misses him because his heart really never left the city.

“Homecoming” is a reworking of a track entitled “Home (Windy),” and was conceived after a chance encounter between Ye and Chris Martin at London’s Abbey Road Studios in 2008.

16. Love Lockdown

Album: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

Kanye West debuted Love Lockdown at the VMAs to mixed reviews. The artist who was popular and loved for his earworm productions and rapping was now singing. While his core fans were less critical of his singing, I remember thinking his auto-tune usage was going to hurt his career. Shows how little I know.

“Love Lockdown,” which saw West taking inspiration from 80s synthpop was the introduction to a new Ye, and ushered in a new era of music, one that would change hip-hop forever.

15. Stronger

Album: Graduation (2007)

At the time the song was recorded, Kanye was interested in creating an album with more of a rock influence because he believed they were better suited for arenas. When I first heard “Stronger” on the radio, I immediately knew I wanted it on my workout playlist. Kanye’s incorporation of Daft Punk’s electronic pop rhythm into the track was a genius move, and I wasn’t all that surprised when I found out the song was voted the best workout song in a 2011 nationwide poll by Gold’s Gym.

West raps about the resolve that comes when one is faced with adversity, basically telling his “haters” their words make him stronger. He also details the timelines of his musical prowess by comparing it to a time in the early 80s when “Prince was on Appollonia” and O.J. Simpson had Isotoners.

The cultural impact of ‘Stronger’ really cannot be underestimated. It’s the song that caused an endemic of shutter shades at underage discos and had teens across the world huddling in schoolyards to send each other the robotic hit by infrared.

14. Black Skinhead

Album: Yeezus (2013)

Visceral, unrelenting, and rebellious, ‘Black Skinhead’ is Kanye in full flight – “I’m doing 500, I’m outta control (Now)/But there’s nowhere to go (Now) And there’s no way to slow (Down)”.

West is done with white corporate America and flips the imagery of white, racist skinheads on their head with the song title before going for broke with claustrophobic and tribal percussion. Co-produced by Daft Punk, the all-enveloping sounds of the record are trance-inducing.

13. Hey Mama

Album: Late Registration (2005)

“Hey Mama” is Kanye West’s potent ode to his mother Donda West. Alongside composer Jon Brion, Ye scoops out his heart, describing his affection and appreciation for her having raised him amidst personal hardships and instilling her values in him.

Though it appeared on his 2005 album, West had composed the song long before he had found fame, as early as 2000. The song includes additional vocals from John Legend.

Kanye West performed the song in memory of Donda throughout his Glow in the Dark Tour (2008), while he also sang it as a tribute to her at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards that year.

12. Touch The Sky

Album: Late Registration (2005)

No matter how Kanye’s sound evolved over the years, his early work’s commitment to soul samples remains timeless. ‘Touch The Sky’ is just one of those songs you can’t scrunch your face up at. If there was ever a musical substitution for dopamine then this is as close as Ye gets. For many, it was also an introduction to Lupe Fiasco who would also go on to drop the revered Food & Liquor. For Kanye, being the fourth single from his sophomore album it marked the move toward superstardom.

11. Heartless

Album: 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

808s and Heartbreaks divided opinion as cleanly as Moses parted the Red Sea. The sparse and cold approach to crafting his lovesick melodic world had old heads, used to warm and vibrant beats and intricate wordplay turning up their noses. Meanwhile, it inspired a new school of artists to take the sound and run.

‘Heartless’ is Kanye on the precipice of being swallowed by his unrequited love and is the emotional peak of that newly developed sound.

“In the night I hear them talk, the coldest story ever told, somewhere far along this road he lost his soul to a woman so heartless”.

10. Can’t Tell Me Nothing

Album: Graduation (2007)

On Graduation, Kanye finally pieced together that you can use your money however you goddamn well, please. “I guess the money should have changed ‘em,” he says. “I guess I should have forgotten where I came from.” Good thought, Ye, but bounce back and recollect. To date, his biggest crux has always been that he’s so self-aware he can’t even help it. Regardless, “Wait ‘till I get my money right/ then you can’t tell me nothing, right?” is a line that resonates with everyone transitioning from the teen years to adulthood, and Kanye nailed it up on the wall for the entire world to remember and preach.

9. Gold Digger

Album: Late Registration (2005)

“Gold Digger” was originally meant for Shawnna, and the hook was Initially written from a first-person female perspective: “I’m not sayin’ I’m a gold digger, but I ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas.” For whatever reason, Shawnna passed on the future smash.

Not letting the concept go to waste, Kanye recruited his Slow Jamz collaborator in Jamie Foxx to re-record Ray Charles’ vocals from “I Got A Woman.” It proved a masterstroke. The song was an instant hit, spending 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 10, and selling over 3 million copies in the United States alone.

A hugely important crossover moment for Ye, it remains one of his most well-known tracks to date.

8. All Falls Down

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

The College Dropout Kanye West was really on a mission against anti-establishment. From sharing his skepticism about higher education to calling out labels for promoting ignorance, Kanye might actually have been Yeezus. On All Falls Down, Ye sticks to the theme of self-aggrandization as he examines the black community’s obsession with excessive materialism. He also admits to being a slave to consumerism because he ”can’t even go to the grocery store, Without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team.”

Early versions of the record actually contained Lauryn Hill’s vocals, but in order to get the track on The College Dropout, ‘Ye had to get official clearance from Ms. Hill. Kanye’s a manager at the time, John Monopoly, recently spoke of the time he and Kanye drove around Miami searching for Lauryn hoping to gain clearance. Eventually, they found Rohan Marley who gave them Lauryn’s email address. Long story short, Lauryn cleared the sample, but wouldn’t clear her vocal use; so Syleena Johnson, who happened to be recording in a studio across the hall from Kanye, filled in at the last minute.

7. Power

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

If I had to describe Kanye west using a song it would be Power. The apocalyptic track mashes all of his various guises and plays out like his superhero, or should I say villain theme song.

Strangely, Kanye West doesn’t feel that way. Despite spending 5,000 hours writing it, Ye alleges “Power” was his weakest lead single to ever be released. In a January 2020 interview with GQ, West explained, viewing the track as “the ultimate Kanye West song” but claiming that it was a mix of his previous works, rather than one of his “songs that people never heard before.”

6. New Slaves

Album: Yeezus (2013)

Foreshadowed by projections of his face on the sides of buildings all around the world, ‘New Slaves’ marked a new era for Kanye.

Whilst Kanye had always been concerned with pushing the envelope, before the release of Yeezus he had not done it at the cost of commercial viability. Even the unchartered waters of 808s & Heartbreaks had mainstream appeal, but when he debuted ‘New Slaves’ on SNL in 2013 with its jarring synths and unapologetic lyrics about the prison-industrial complex it was clear it wasn’t designed for the charts.

Sharing DNA with the dystopian landscapes of Kraftwerk and the industrial barrage of Death Grips it cemented West’s dedication to taking to path-less-traveled in pursuit of boundary-breaking records.

5. Ultra Light Beam

Album: The Life Of Pablo (2016)

“Ultralight Beam” started off as a freestyle but ended up as a confession. The song starts with the sampled voice of a then four-year-old girl named Natalie Green talking about God. From there, West sings his verse with assistance from The-Dream. Kelly Price provides the third verse and Chance the Rapper raps the fourth verse. The song concludes with a full choir and a prayer from gospel legend Kirk Franklin.

Kanye is barely on “Ultralight Beam,” he prays for Paris and asks for a few blessings. Chance The Rapper’s verse about his relationship with God and his daughter remains one of the highlights of the track, and to think Kanye almost axed it.

This song was nominated for “Best Rap Song” and “Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 2017 Grammys.

4. All Of The Lights

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

On All Of The Lights, Kanye West unconsciously predicts his current predicament with his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian. He raps about a troubled family, a man not allowed to see his daughter, and how his wife’s mother, brother, and grandmother all hate him. Yikes! And if you think that’s interesting, the hook for the song involves 13 different background singers including Drake, John Legend, The-Dream, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson, Tony Williams, La Roux, Alvin Fields, Ken Lewis, and Rihanna.

3. Kanye West ”Through The Wire”

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

This song was inspired by West’s 2002 near-fatal car collision that required him to undergo reconstructive jaw surgery. When he returned from the hospital to his hotel room two weeks later, West decided to record a song that truly conceptualizes his near-death experience. Over a sample of Chaka Khan’s “Through The Wire,” West literally had to record his verses through the wire, as his jaws were wired shut. A bold move that ended up paying off.

Although he had previously contributed guest vocals to Abstract Mindstate and was producing for Black Eyed Peas prior to his accident, “Through the Wire” was what endeared him to the public and inspired his breakthrough.

Thank God he wasn’t too cool for the safe belt.

2. Jesus Walks

Album: The College Dropout (2004)

Kanye West has never been the type to shy away from acclaiming his religious beliefs and on his 2004 track ”Jesus Walks” the rapper openly embraced his faith. The song was controversial as well as compelling. West put the labels on blast with his mini-exposé about the industry:

They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus/That means guns, sex, lies, videotape/But if I talk about God, my record won’t get played, huh?

Jesus WalKs
It was a risky move for a rookie rapper, but it’s also confirmation Kanye West had always been operating with a chip on his shoulder. He was going to state his truth, regardless.

The song was apparently frowned upon by major labels who were interested in signing West at the time. However, with the help of three music videos, a chorus hook delivered by the Addicts Rehabilitation Center Choir, not to mention a flawless, cadence-shifting lyrical flow, Jesus Walks has become perhaps the most evocative of any of West’s singles. And, despite alarming those major label executives, it became one of Kanye’s biggest hits.

1. Runaway

Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

In the buildup to 2010s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West made international headlines after he snatched the mic from Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech for the best video award at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. That moment impacted his career negatively and West was termed a “douchebag” by the public.

That incident was the first true blemish in his career at the time, but it was also the inspiration behind Runaway. Described as a deeply personal song in nature, Runaway expresses West’s thoughts on his failed relationships and his acceptance of the media’s perception of him (a douchebag and an asshole).

He had split, publicly and acrimoniously, from his girlfriend Amber Rose in 2010, and he was still grieving for his mother, who had died in November 2007. West recognizes he’s not perfect, and probably won’t be so you either accept him for what he is or “run away as fast as you can.”

The song received universal acclaim from music critics for its openness and sincere subject matter and is considered by many to be West’s best song.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments