Kanye West: The most influential artist of all time?

Through the past 15 years of his career, Kanye West has influenced hip hop in many ways, and some would argue his impact is stronger than anyone else's.

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Kanye West: The most influential artist of all time?

The Life of Pablo listening party at the height of Kanye's popularity.

The Life of Pablo listening party at the height of Kanye's popularity.

courtesy of USAtoday.com

The Life of Pablo listening party at the height of Kanye's popularity.

courtesy of USAtoday.com

courtesy of USAtoday.com

The Life of Pablo listening party at the height of Kanye's popularity.

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Kanye West is a rapper, singer, songwriter and producer from Chicago, who over the past 15 years has emerged to be one of the most influential artists of all time. Although Kanye has been criticized for his antics throughout the years, many people including myself have tried to point out and focus on the greatness of his music rather than his political stance.

Kanye making beats in 1997 ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

Early Career

Kanye grew up in Chicago where he started selling beats when he was only 19. Kanye was primarily selling beats to local hip hop acts like Grav, Grav. The album Down to Earth (1996) was Kanye’s first credit as a producer. Through the 90’s Kanye worked with a few lesser known hip hop acts for a while such as Harlem World, Jermaine Dupri, and The Madd Rapper of which the tracks he produced for these artists featured rappers like Nas, Raekwon, and Eminem who are all considered to be some of the best lyricists of all time.

Eventually Kanye got his big break as he starting producing for artists on Roc-A-Fella Records like founder, Jay-Z, and handled most of the production and some of the writing on Jay-Z’s sixth studio album The Blueprint (2001). The Blueprint was met with much praise receiving an 88 overall score on Metacritic and landing itself on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. This was a major success for Jay-Z as the album eventually went double platinum containing some of his most popular songs like “Izzo”, “Heart of the City”, and “Renegade.” This album was obviously a huge jumping off point for Kanye as it gave his name more recognition.

Although Kanye was seen as an in house producer for Roc-A-Fella working with other big names on the label like Cam’ron, he was also working with huge artists outside of the genre like Alicia Keys and Janet Jackson. Kanye wanted more though, his own rap career, which Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella records were skeptical about.

The College Dropout

On October 23, 2002 Kanye was leaving a recording studio in Los Angeles at 3 AM in his Lexus when he was cut off and he ran head on into traffic colliding with another car. He thankfully walked away from the crash, but his jaw was crushed and he would need reconstructive surgery. Kanye had this to say about the accident, “If I would have passed that night that would have been the end of my legacy.” Kanye has been on record saying that this was a life changing experience and made him realize that he had to chase his dreams.

The aftermath of Kanye’s brutal accident ( Taken from Quora )

So after Kanye was laid up in the hospital for two weeks, he recorded the song “Through The Wire” sampling Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire.” He recorded the whole song while his jaw was still broken. The song wouldn’t come out until two months later when he released his debut mixtape Get Well Soon… (2003) which was a compilation of some of his first songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Two Words” along with some songs he had produced for artists like Ludacris and Twista.

Kanye then began to put the finishing touches on his debut album The College Dropout (2004) that he had been working on, but this took much longer than expected. The album got leaked online months before release which turned out to be a blessing in the sense that it helped Kanye get input on what worked and what didn’t from the public. Kanye started meticulously revising and remixing the album by getting rid of songs and adding in drums lines and new verses to various tracks.

The release finally came in February 2004 and was met with overwhelming enjoyment from the public. The range of appeal on this album was very impressive with “We Don’t Care” being an anthem for teenagers all over, and then with songs like “All Falls Down” which made a statement on materialism without necessarily judging anyone. What set Kanye apart from most big rappers at the time was that he didn’t have a violent or problematic past, but instead was just like the people listening to his music. This is no clearer than on tracks like “Spaceship” and “Family Business” where he talks about the struggles he faces with work and family similar to struggles that most people have in their everyday lives. Even on the infamous outro “Last Call” where he speaks with humility and gratitude as he pays homage to everyone that helped him get to where he is.

The College Dropout was a revolutionary album and possibly the most versatile hip hop album ever with its ability to combine gospel, soul, and boom bap and still manage to click with the mainstream. At the 2005 Grammy Awards Kanye was nominated for 10 Grammys, and awarded with Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for “Jesus Walks”, and Best R&B Song for “You Don’t Know My Name” by Alicia Keys. During his acceptance speech Kanye spoke about his car accident, starting his speech off on a grim note saying “Nothing in life is promised except death.” He then went on to speak about how precious life is and you have to chase your dreams when you get the chance, he ended his speech with one of the better Grammy acceptance quotes,

Pullquote Photo

“Everybody wanted to know what I would do if I didn’t win, I guess we’ll never know.””

— Kanye West

The College Dropout would eventually go on to become certified triple platinum and be regarded as one of modern hip hop’s greatest projects.

Late Registration / G.O.O.D. Music

Around this time Kanye started his own record label called G.O.O.D. Music which represented artists such as Common and John Legend, and would go on to be possibly the most successful rapper – started record label to date. Kanye would be very involved with the artists on the label as he produced Common’s sixth studio album Be, which is regarded by many to be his best project.

Kanye’s 2nd studio album, Late Registration ( Taken from Genius )

As this was going on Kanye was beginning development on his sophomore project, Late Registration (2005). The album took over a year to record and still riding the wave of The College Dropout the release was slated for August 30, 2005. Three days after the album was released Kanye was on a Hurricane Katrina telethon as he infamously exclaimed “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He followed that up talking about the negative portrayals of black families struggling in New Orleans compared to white families. This obviously caused much debate and controversy around the topic and Kanye himself which coincidentally helped with sales of the album.

The album followed Kanye’s staple of using old samples with his own twist, but this time heavily implementing a choir in multiple tracks aiming for a more gospel orientated album than his previous. He sampled some legendary soul and blues artists like Otis Redding (which wouldn’t be the last time) and of course sampling the great Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” which he turned into the smash hit “Gold Digger.” The song is possibly West’s most successful single to date as it peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top 100 for 10 weeks, longer than any other #1 he’s had. This was the second single Kanye had with singer Jamie Foxx (the first being “Slow Jamz”) who filled in for Ray Charles with his vocals as he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the blues singer for the 2004 biopic Ray.

Just like his debut album, this album had a wide range of topics. West cited grievances with the government and the system on tracks like “Crack Music” which was a more of a social commentary and “Heard ‘Em Say” with Kanye dropping lines like “And I know the government administer AIDS.” There were also some deep tracks on here like “Roses” where he touches on his grandmother’s near death experience and “Hey Mama” which is a heartwarming ode to his mother. Kanye also reflects on how he has succumb to the very thing he criticized on The College Dropout on tracks like “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” and “Touch The Sky” with lines that are still quoted today like “I’m trying to write my wrongs, but it’s funny them same wrongs help me write the songs.” The main difference that sets this album apart from his previous work is that this is more of an experience than an album with cuts that resemble symphonies like “We Major.”

Kanye and his 2006 Grammy wins ( Taken from the Cheat Sheet )

Late Registration sold over 860,000 copies first week which was more than double The College Dropout’s first week sales. The 2006 Grammys were similar to the previous year for Kanye as he was nominated for 8 Grammys of which he won 3, Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gold Digger.”

Graduation

With the huge success of both of Kanye’s first two albums he was quickly becoming one of the biggest names in hip hop and soon began competing with fellow rapper 50 Cent, who had at the time been named by some to be “the new king of hip hop.” 50 Cent, like Kanye, had a great deal of buzz surrounding him from debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ which has now gone on to be one of only ten hip hop albums that have ever been RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) certified diamond, which is over 10 million units sold.

This competition came to a climax on September 11, 2007 when Kanye’s album Graduation (2007) and 50 Cent’s album Curtis (2007) both came out on the same day. 50 Cent notoriously bet his career on the notion that his third studio album would outsell Kanye’s, which at the time did not seem like that big of gamble as he was on top of the rap game in 2007. This was not the case however as Kanye ended up outselling 50 with Curtis selling 691,000 compared to Graduation’s impressive showing of 957,000.

Rolling Stone Cover hyping up Kanye and 50’s “rivalry” ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

 

Graduation was very different than Kanye’s previous projects, having less tracks and skits along with less features. During the creation Kanye stated that he hardly listened to rap when he was looking for inspiration for the album, but more county and alternative rock looking to artists like The Killers, Radiohead, and Bob Dylan. This obviously made the album very experimental, a prime example of this is the project’s biggest hit “Stronger”, which heavily sampled Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” The song was a huge success spending 27 weeks on the Billboard Top 100, peaking at #1, and even though it wasn’t his most successful song by the numbers, this propelled Kanye into a whole other level of stardom.

The album was really innovative for its time being one of the first crossovers of EDM (electronic dance music) and hip hop, “Flashing Lights” brings this idea to light more than any other song on the album, being heavily praised for aesthetic and is to this day one of Kanye’s most beloved songs by critics alike. Along with the experimental feel to the album, it was also immensely enjoyed because of its really positive and uplifting vibe which is present in most of Kanye’s music, but this album especially. Look no further than tracks like “Champion”, “The Glory”, and especially “Good Life” on which he referenced “rival” 50 Cent saying “50 told me, go ‘head switch the style up and if they hate then let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up.” The album also had some conceptual tracks like “Homecoming” which told the story of a Kanye and a girl named “Wendy” being a metaphor for his hometown of Chicago, accompanied by the track “Big Brother” that took an in depth look into Kanye and Jay-Z’s relationship and how they’ve impacted each other’s careers.

Kanye showing off his 3rd studio album, Graduation ( Taken from Billboard )

Kanye proceeded to have another successful night at the Grammys in 2008 when he was nominated for 8 Grammys, winning 4, Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song for “Good Life”, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for Common’s “Southside”, and Best Rap Solo Performance for “Stronger.” Graduation would be a sign of things to come for Kanye as he would progressively become more experimental throughout his future projects, after his legendary school themed albums came to a close. Graduation is rarely considered to be the best project of Kanye’s but it is still loved by many including myself as it is my personal favorite hip hop album of all time.

Big Sean

It was around this time that Kanye met an upcoming artist at a radio station in Detroit, Big Sean, who Kanye would go on to sign to G.O.O.D. Music. Kanye would take Sean under his wing for the years to come as he would release 3 mixtapes titled “Finally Famous” all being split into parts. The mixtapes would feature big artists like Tyga and Drake, but could not get the recognition that Sean had hoped for.

Sean then began working alongside Kanye and famous producer No I.D. on his debut album Finally Famous (2011) in 2010 with a release set for summer 2011. The album, similar to his previous mixtapes, would include well–known artists like Lupe Fiasco, Chris Brown, and John Legend. Unlike his mixtapes though this album managed to have marginal success with hits like “Marvin & Chardonnay” and “My Last.” It had mixed reviews from critics with many criticizing Sean’s heavy reliance on features and his at times “corny” bars. After Finally Famous, Sean began featuring on various hit tracks primarily those of his label, G.O.O.D. Music while also releasing his mixtape titled Detroit (2012).

Big Sean and Kanye ( Taken from BEND XL )

The project is to many, Sean’s best lyrical work to date which gave him more credibility against his critics while also breaking the stigma that he was just another braggadocios rapper with nothing to say. Through the next few years Sean released two more studio albums, Hall of Fame (2013) and Dark Sky Paradise (2015). They both saw improved reviews compared to Finally Famous, and Dark Sky Paradise sold 139K first week and went platinum a year after, being Sean’s best-selling album.

Some of Sean’s biggest hits came from these albums like “Blessings” and “Beware” which were helped out with features from Drake and Lil Wayne respectively. The albums also featured some deep cuts like “Nothing Is Stopping You” and “One Man Can Change The World” where Sean speaks about his recently deceased grandmother and the influence she had on him, the song was also nominated for Best Rap Song at the 2015 Grammys. Kanye played a major part in the development in both of these projects whether it be featuring on multiple songs or helping with production.

Sean’s most recent project I Decided (2017) was his farthest step away from his label of corny and braggadocios rap. This is regarded by most critics to be his best album, although did not sell like his others due to the slower and personal nature of it, it would not receive the same plays on the radio. Sean showed why he should be considered to be in the upper echelon of hip hop on “No Favors” where he had to compete with hip hop legend Eminem.

Big Sean performing in 2017 ( Taken from Page Six )

Kanye was not as big of an influence on this record as some of Sean’s previous works, but Sean said himself that “throughout the whole album Ye’s presence was felt and I would always be taking his input.” Currently Sean is working on his album and emulating Kanye in his creative process as he said in a recent interview with Billboard “I’ve been around a lot of great people when they make their albums – for example, Kanye West, he’s not doing anything else while he’s making his album. He’s 100 percent focused. So I can’t tour and do all that and expect to get out the type of product I want to have out because I’m not giving 100 percent of my energy to it.”

Even after all of Sean’s success he is still labeled by music critics like Anthony Fantano as being “hip hop’s most unessential artist.” There is definitely a love or hate quality that comes with his music, but the same can be said for Kanye himself especially nowadays with his antics. Sean is one of Kanye’s many prodigies who he has clearly been heavily been influenced by, and while he has not quite made as big of a mark on hip hop as some of Kanye’s other prodigies, he still should be respected for the impact he has made on the genre as a whole.

808s and Heartbreak

Kanye and his late mother ( Taken from ]Harper’s Bazaar )

Moving on from the first of Kanye’s set of artists he’s influenced we go back to the story of Kanye’s career. Shortly after Graduation’s release, Kanye’s beloved mother Donda West passed away due to a heart disease stemming from plastic surgery. This was obviously devastating to Kanye who had always been quick to talk about how much he loved his mother in his music. He blamed himself for the loss citing that had he never moved out to Los Angeles and became famous, his mother would’ve never got the treatments that led to her untimely death. This coincided with his breakup with longtime girlfriend and then fiancé, Alexis Phifer, made for a very tough and depressing time in his life. Many people are quick to point out and blame these incidents for the shift in Kanye’s music, and many even today saying “I miss the Old Kanye.”

Kanye’s next project 808s & Heartbreak (2008) was recorded in the two months before the release in November of 2008. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 450,000 first week. The projects’ biggest hit was the track “Heartless” which peaked at number two and spent 30 weeks on the Billboard Top 100, being a breakup anthem for people all over the country. That was obviously a huge theme of this album hence the title, but it also infused a lot of different sounds and instruments into the music.

Kanye with his new look ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

This was Kanye at peak experimentation as he began to use a lot more auto-tune made famous by frequent collaborator T-Pain while also heavily implementing 808 drum lines into the music. The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer is a drum machine that allows users to program rhythms instead of using preset patterns. Kanye used this device on every single track on 808s and his name has since became synonymous with it. The album was not met with as much good reception as his previous works as many hip hop fans at the time were very against the use of auto-tune which West had just recently developed a liking towards.

Most critics did enjoy the project however with Pitchfork giving it a 7.6 and Metacritic a 75 which isn’t great by any means for Kanye’s standards, but it refuted what most hardcore fans were saying. The project aged overtime though with it now being one of his fan favorites, as did auto-tune which saw a drop off for a few years, but now has seen a resurgence.

The influence this project had is like no other with tracks like “Paranoid” being a basis for famous rapper Drake’s whole style of pop rap. Drake had this to say about Kanye in an interview with MTV in 2009, “I’d even go as far as to say he’s the most influential person as far as a musician in my life.” Drake has since went on to win 4 Grammys and be one of best-selling hip hop artists of all time, but many are quick to say that none of it would’ve been possible had Kanye not paved the way. Its effects are still seen today with even newer rappers like Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert who have both payed respect to the album on separate occasions. With Juice WRLD even releasing what some call a modern 808s and Heartbreak in terms of subject matter with his debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance (2018).

Kid Cudi

A great deal of 808s’ success and appeal was due to young singer/songwriter from Cleveland named Scott Mescudi also known by his stage name Kid Cudi, who helped Kanye write numerous tracks on the album. Cudi caught the eye of Kanye when his manger played him the young rapper’s first mixtape A Kid Named Cudi (2008) featuring the hit song “Day ‘N Nite”, which later earned Cudi two Grammy nominations. Kanye would then sign Cudi to G.O.O.D. Music enlisting his help for his upcoming album where he even featured on the track “Welcome To Heartbreak.”

Kanye and Kid Cudi in 2009 ( Taken from Fuse TV )

In 2009 Cudi would release his first studio album Man on the Moon: The End of Day (2009) which received marginally positive reviews from most media outlets, and the album was also very well received by fans. His previously mentioned breakout hit “Day ‘N Nite” was featured on this album as well peaking at #3 on the Billboard Top 100, he also had other popular songs on this album with “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Soundtrack 2 My Life” to name a few. The album sold 104,000 copies its first week and eventually became certified double platinum as some consider the album a modern classic and praise it for its psychedelic aesthetic.

Cudi then followed in the footsteps of his mentor in implementing a theme into his first two albums as he released his second studio album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2010). The album saw similar success to its predecessor selling 169,000 copies first week along with having similar reviews from critics, and in 2018 was officially certified platinum. Cudi’s biggest hit from the project was “Erase Me” which features Kanye and Cudi talking about the difficulties of maintaining a relationship while being a rap star. The album builds on Cudi’s psychedelic theme within his first album making it more dark exploring topics that range from depression, addiction, and loneliness.

After Cudi’s success and the developing of his cult following was starting, he took a brief break from hip hop as he formed an alternative rock band with pianist Dot da Genius called WZRD. He toured and made music with the group for two years before leaving the G.O.O.D. Music label and returning to hip hop with his third studio album Indicud (2013). The features on this album range from talented new school rappers like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky to indie rock artists like HAIM and Father John Misty. It was not as well received by critics compared to his last two efforts as people began to grow tired with Cudi’s “lack of substance” over his hallucinatory production.

Cudi then eyed a solo career in alternative rock with his next album Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven (2015). This album was very poorly received with it garnering a whopping 44 user score from Metacritic, this is considered by many to be the Cleveland rapper’s worst full length album to date.

In the fall of 2016 Cudi went on a Twitter rant talking about his place in hip hop and how he feels about the game as a whole. Cudi had this to say about the genre “Everyone thinks they’re soooo great. Talkin top 5 and be having 30 people write songs for them.” Cudi continued, “Ye, Drake, whoever. These n—as dont give a f–k about me. And they ain’t f–kin with me.” Cudi had also had a previous falling out with co-Kanye influencee, Big Sean, about Sean’s at the time girlfriend and singer Jhene Aiko who was previously married to Cudi’s WZRD band – mate, Dot da Genius. It seemed like the walls were closing in on Cudi as in October 2016 he checked himself into a rehab facility for depression.

It was during this time that people decided to clap back at Cudi as Big Sean released his single “No More Interviews” where he addressed the situation with him and Cudi by saying “What happened to our family ways, though? When I put you on that song with Nas, you had told me that you was forever grateful and that we brothers, so it hurt to hit the internet to find out that me and you don’t f–k with each other over a miscommunication that probably could be fixed with a 5 minute conversation, I’m still praying.”

Sean took the route of trying to mend ties with himself and Cudi, but Drake on the other hand was not so kind, as he released a diss track towards Cudi entitled “Two Birds, One Stone.” The track took shots at Cudi’s mental health issues with Drake saying “You were the man on the moon, now you just go through your phases, life of the angry and famous” he continued with “You stayed xann’d and perk’d up so when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.” Drake has been heavily criticized for this with mental health becoming a big issue in today’s society.

After Cudi was released from rehab he released his fifth studio album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ (2016) which didn’t touch on any of his subsequent beef with Big Sean or Drake. The album went back to his hip hop roots and received positive reviews from critics, but failed to click with the mainstream audience only moving 49,000 units first week.

Kanye and Cudi reuniting in 2018 for their KIDS SEE GHOSTS tour ( Hip Hop N More )

Cudi saw a revival in 2018 when he reconciled with Kanye to make the collaborative album, KIDS SEE GHOSTS (2018). Fans had been asking for this album for years and when they got it most were not disappointed as it sold 142,000 copies first week while it also saw widespread critical acclaim with a 84 score on Metacritic along with music critic Anthony Fantano giving it a 10/10.

Cudi announced on twitter this past October that he would be releasing a follow up to Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ in 2019, and he also recently closed out Coachella to a huge audience. Kid Cudi is similar to Kayne in the sense that both of their styles consist of being very experimental with their music, and obviously West’s influence can be seen in most of Kid Cudi’s music. At the end of the day Kid Cudi is one of the most beloved hip hop acts we’ve seen over the past decade and hopefully he can continue to make good music.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

After 808s Kanye pulled maybe the most infamous stunt of his career when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards as she was accepting Best Female Music Video and he proclaimed “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!” This was disapproval of many in and out of the music industry and this is around when the public perception started to shift on Kanye. West still sees criticism about this until this day and almost recreated the incident at the 2015 Grammys when Beck won the award for Best Album and Kanye again ran up to the stage and was about to go up to the mic, but instead turned around. Many thought this was a joke, but Kanye stated in an interview after that he was going to say something as he thought Beyonce should’ve won again as he stated that Beck “didn’t respect artistry and should give the award to Beyonce.”

Kanye’s infamous incident at the 2009 VMAs ( Taken from Billboard )

After the episode with Taylor Swift, West reportedly was taking a break from music only to then take a trip to Hawaii to begin production on his new album. In Hawaii Kanye put himself through complete isolation to work out how he was going to implement his new type of production. He eventually flew out a team of all stars to help him with his production and also to feature on the album. The team consisted of rapper and producers of the likes of Jay-Z, RZA, Raekwon, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Pusha T, Rick Ross, John Legend, Bon Iver, Elton John, and Kid Cudi. Many of these artists were featured on the album with some of them even appearing on numerous tracks.

Kanye announced over Twitter that he would be releasing his album in November and that it would be entitled My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). The lead up to the release of the album was a very entertaining one to say the least with Kanye releasing a collaborative track every Friday in the six weeks leading up to the release, and West calling these “GOOD Fridays.” Kanye stayed true to his promise and released his fifth studio album on November 22, 2010. The album sold 496,000 copies first week in the U.S. and was recently certified double platinum in 2018. The album received a 94 user score on Metacritic along with a perfect review score on Pitchfork and overall was Kanye’s most critically beloved album.

One of the many album covers for Kanye’s 5th studio album ( Taken from Genius )

The album didn’t chart as well as West’s past albums with its biggest song “All of the Lights” only peaking at #18. The song featured an impressive ensemble of Kanye himself, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Teyana Taylor, Elton John, and Drake. The song was praised for its’s creative aesthetic and unique implementation of drums, horns, bass, and piano, and for this it was awarded with both Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song at the 2011 Grammys.

West was additionally praised for the album’s second biggest song “POWER” which also peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The rapper said in an interview that the song “took over 5,000 hours to make” of course there is no way to prove this, but the song was in the words of West his “masterpiece.” The lyrical content in the song was very braggadocios to say the least and it brought a very apocalyptic grandiose vibe to it.

West also addressed his ego and took a deep look into himself on the song “Runaway.” With a nine minute run time and light piano based symphony in the background, Kanye reflects on his flaws with lines like “I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most.” Many believe this to be one of Kanye’s most constructive and insightful songs to date. The album also was a huge help to elevate a lot of artists like Pusha T and CyHi the Prince who were both signed to the G.O.O.D. Music label.

The project was nominated for five Grammys and won three one of which was Best Rap Album which would be Kanye’s fourth and final win of the award. The album has garnered even praise as time has gone on with some critics even going as far as to re-review the album because of their perceived lapse of judgement the first time around. This album really was the birthing and expansion of West’s ginormous ego that we see today.

Watch The Throne:

Kanye and Jay-Z on their record breaking Watch the Throne tour ( Taken from Vibe )

When Kanye assembled his “super team” in Hawaii him and Jay-Z began production on there long speculated collaborative album, Watch The Throne (2011). This was a huge deal at the time seeing as collaborative projects weren’t very popular at the time, but to see two artists of this magnitude coming together was unheard of. The project was released with a lack of promotion in August 2011 and broke the U.S. iTunes record for streaming with 290,000 downloads in the first week while also selling 436,000 copies as well.

The features on this album ranged from huge artists like Beyonce to relatively newer talents like Frank Ocean who received a big push after this album. The record prominently dealt with the financial struggles of African Americans in the U.S. while also addressing problems with the law. Similar to Kanye’s previous album there was a very braggadocios vibe within the album particularly in the album’s biggest tracks. “Ni**as in Paris” was the most popular song of the album peaking at #5 on the charts, the song featured both of the rappers telling tales of when in Paris in the most provocative manner possible. With the hard hitting production the track featured it inevitably became a huge song in the club scene and grew from there.

Another successful song from the album was “Otis” which brought out vintage Kanye when he sampled Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness.” The soul sample was beautiful and the song along with its video featured the two artists exhibiting their wealth. A song like “Otis” really comes full circle to a song like “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” back on Late Registration which coincidently featured Jay-Z. In that song Kanye talks about all the harm that his wealth could be creating, but in “Otis” he has fully enveloped this mentality of my wealth over everything else. This isn’t saying that Kanye is a bad person, but it’s just a perfect way to exemplify the trajectory of his career. All in all the album was a success and although the two have had a rift between in other during the following years Kanye announced on Twitter this past September that Throne 2 is on the way.

Travis Scott / Cruel Summer

Some of artists featured on the Cruel Summer album ( Common, Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and Q-Tip ) ( Taken from Ballislife )

After the collaborative project with Jay-Z, Kanye decided to promote the artists on his label more than ever when he dropped G.O.O.D. Music Presents: Cruel Summer (2012) which was a compilation of songs by artists featured on the label similar to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Fridays. There were some successful songs on the album like “Mercy” and “Clique” with both charting in the top 20 of the Billboard Top 100. Some artists that were prominently featured on the project received significantly more exposure like 2 Chainz and Teyana Taylor, but perhaps the biggest beneficiary was a producer from Houston, Travis Scott. Travis met Kanye when he was producing beats in New York, Kanye immediately gravitated towards him and gave him the opportunity to be on the Cruel Summer album. Scott was featured on the track “Sin City” and handled production on multiple tracks.

Travis Scott meeting Kanye in 2012 ( Taken from BreatheHeavy )

After this he signed a record deal with Atlanta rapper T.I. and was set to release his debut mixtape Owl Pharaoh (2013). The mixtape was frequently delayed, but the singles off the project did remarkably well which earned Scott a spot on the 2013 XXL Freshman List without even dropping a project. The project was finally released to streaming services in May of 2013 with guest production from Kanye West and Mike Dean. The lead single off the project “Upper Echelon” featuring T.I. and 2 Chainz was what put Scott on the map as an upcoming rapper. The project gave Scott some well needed name recognition, but did not yet get him through to mainstream audiences.

The next year he would drop another mixtape entitled Days Before Rodeo (2014) which was a huge step in the right direction for him and what ultimately began to set him apart from similar southern trap rappers. The mixtape included songs like “Mamacita” and “Quintana” which were very popular in the trap scene at the time. It also featured fan favorite songs like “Don’t Play” and “Drugs You Should Try It” both having a slow and trippy vibe to the tracks. Prior to the release of Days Before Rodeo, Scott had announced over Twitter that his debut album would be entitled Rodeo (2015) hence the title to his previous mixtape.

The album was released in September of 2015 and was greeted with generally good reviews from critics along with selling 85,000 copies first week and eventually going platinum. The production on the album saw cuts from the likes of Kanye West, Metro Boomin, Pharrell Williams, and Scott himself. The most popular songs happened to be the lead singles “Antidote” and “3500” which peaked at #16 and #18 respectively on the Billboard Top 100. There are a lot of hidden gems within the album like the fan favorites “90210” and “Pray 4 Love” both of which Scott delves into his personal life and how he has dealt with fame. Many have called the album a modern classic and one that reshaped the trap genre.

Scott then disclosed the titles of his next to albums to be Birds in the Trap: Sing McKnight (2016) and ASTROWORLD (2018). He dropped the former in September of 2016 with features from Kid Cudi, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, and more. The project sold 88,000 units first week which was relatively the same compared to his last album. Birds was a very experimental album similar to Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreak, of course it wasn’t held in the same regard but Scott was and still is a developing talent.

The song “goosebumps” was huge for Scott and was his biggest song up to that point which finally propelled him to a mainstream audience. “through the late night” was an interesting collaboration between Travis and Kid Cudi which fans had been asking for a long time because of both of their dark and dreary styles.

After the project Scott featured multiple albums throughout 2017 including making a collaborative album with trap super group Migos member, Quavo. The album was not anything special and was basically a stand in album as fans awaited the release of ASTROWORLD.

Travis Scott performing on his “Wish Your Were Here” tour in 2018 ( Taken from Billboard )

He eventually released the highly anticipated album in the summer of 2018 and it was met with great critical acclaim. The album sold a very impressive 537,000 units first week due songs like “SICKO MODE” which debuted at #1 and broke the record for most consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 100 with 39 currently and still increasing. A lot of this was due in part to Drake and the features on the album as a whole were very impressive with Scott managing to work with established artists such as Frank Ocean and Stevie Wonder, and also up and comers like Juice WRLD and Sheck Wes.

Some of the cuts on the album were really unique, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” was a beautifully produced track with a handful a vocalists from different backgrounds that were somehow all able to mesh. While he doesn’t have much lyrical substance within the album aside from tracks like “COFEE BEAN” he makes up for it in his astronomic beats and an entertaining flow. Scott was nominated for four Grammys including Best Rap Album which was a very hot subject this past year, especially the winner.

This really was Scott’s personal masterpiece when it comes to making an album with stellar production with almost no filler tracks. He hasn’t announced any future plans after ASTROWORLD, but most assume that he will come out with an album within the next year or two and hopefully it can be as good as some of his previous work. The Kanye influence on Travis Scott is evident as they are both rappers / producers and Scott has been on record saying Kanye has helped him over the years with development in songwriting and producing.

Yeezus

Kanye performing with one of his various masks on his Yeezus tour ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

There was so much hype behind My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that people really didn’t know what to expect from Kanye with his next solo album, especially since his last three had been so drastically different. Kanye had a similar approach to his previous project when making this album as he recruited a number of artists from various genres to help him on the production. He had been spending most of his time over the past few years trying to break into the fashion industry and developing his Yeezy shoe brand.

Within in this time period Kanye was visiting and even at some points living in Paris and other parts of Europe. While he was there his interest was piqued by the some of the popular music in the country that was more electronic. Kanye went on tangents on multiple radio stations about how the fashion industry wouldn’t accept him and how he’s a god and a genius which really made a lot of people turn on him.

Kanye was trying to go against the mainstream with this album and show that he could make any style of music better with his own twist. He released the album Yeezus (2013) in June of 2013 selling 327,000 copies first week. The reception was very mixed as critics loved it receiving an 84 on Metacritic and a 9.5 on Pitchfork, but the fan reception was not so kind. The extremely hard hitting and brash production was very hard to get used to for some fans. This was due to executive producer Rick Rubin who is a legendary for his work in producing for rock bands then implementing those same kinds of beats into rap records.

The album also featured production from RZA, Skrillex, Daft Punk and a copious amount from Travis Scott. The tracks on this were some of the craziest Kanye had ever made like “Black Skinhead” which was like a rollercoaster ride with grimy production and ear numbing drums. There is also peak ego Kanye on the song “I Am A God” featuring “God” when it is only Kanye rapping in the song. Kanye also took influence from the Chicago drill scene even recruiting Chicago’s biggest commodity in the trap scene, Chief Keef, for vocals on the track “Hold My Liquor.” Kanye’s most bold song on the project was the track “New Slaves” in which he depicted African Americans of today being new slaves because of how they choose to spend their money.

The project was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammys, but failed to capture the award. The album is undoubtedly one before its time, and as time goes on in hip hop we see the implantation of bold and edgy production like this.

The Life of Pablo

After Yeezus, West went back to focusing on branding his Yeezy’s while releasing some singles with legendary guitarist and singer, Paul McCartney. He announced the title of his seventh studio album to be “SWISH” which was then changed to “Waves” and finally Kanye settled on the title The Life of Pablo (2016). The album’s roll out was similar to that of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy where he released multiple singles off the album before the release every Friday.

It was set to release in early February of 2016 exclusively on Jay-Z’s streaming platform, Tidal. Although West said he’d be only releasing it to Tidal, Kanye inevitably released a modified version of the album to competing streaming services. He kept modifying and changing the album multiple times after the release and the final version would not be finished until four months after it was put out.

Kanye during The Life of Pablo listening party in Madison Square Garden ( Taken from USA Today )

The production on the album saw similar names from Yeezus as Rick Rubin stayed on as co-executive producer along with some new collaborators like Metro Boomin, Plain Pat, and even working legendary rap producer Madlib for the first time. The amount of guest vocals and features on the album is more than we had ever seen from a project of his with appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Chris Brown, The Weeknd, and Kid Cudi to name a few.

The reason the album was different from so many of Kanye’s past projects is that is wasn’t really experimental. The album was more of a compilation of songs that had facets of vocals and production from some of his past work. There were tracks that sounded like they were coming straight off of Late Registration like “Ultralight Beam” and “Real Friends” which held the sentiment of a gospel and soul vibe. He also had some very deep tracks like “FML” and “Wolves” which both had very load 808s behind the vocals sounding similar to Kanye’s fourth studio album.

On tracks like “No More Parties in LA” and “Saint Pablo” Kanye talks about his wife and kids and his wife’s infamous incident in Paris where she was robbed. This album saw Kanye confrontation of his personality and a crossroads of who he had become in the music industry and him as a father and a husband. The project similar to Kanye’s last was nominated for Best Rap Album, but did not end up receiving the honor at the 2017 Grammys. Overall this was probably West’s least popular album among the mainstream audience with many looking to the odd release through Tidal for its lack of success. Although it had a lack of success in terms of sales the album had a great deal of fan service and is why many have taken a liking to it over the years.

 Chance The Rapper

A big part of the making of The Life of Pablo was up and coming Chicago rapper who Kanye enlisted as a co-writer for the album, Chance The Rapper. Chance was an aspiring rapper from Chicago who had a very different style than most other artists from his hometown at the time.

He started writing for his first project when he received a 10 Day suspension from his high school for marijuana possession, the project was fittingly entitled 10 Day (2012). The mixtape would feature local talents from Chicago like Vic Mensa who will go on to become a frequent Chance collaborator, and also saw exclusive production from local windy city producers as well. The mixtape was released as free digital download and has been downloaded over 600,000 times since its release. Although the project didn’t see much outright influence from Kanye, Chance was still very adamant that Kanye had been the artist that made him want to start making music.

Chance and his mentor, Kanye ( Taken from HipHopNMore )

After 10 Day, Chance would begin development on his follow up mixtape Acid Rap (2013) which would release a year after his debut project. Chance was still not that big of an attraction but he had gained some popularity after 10 Day. Which meant the features on the album went out of the just the realm of Chicago as he was able to work with up and coming artists like Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, and even Childish Gambino who took Chance on his first tour. The mixtape went for a jazzy psychedelic aesthetic with Chance not going for a conceptual project compared to his last.

The mixtape saw good scores from critics while also being a huge hit with fans as it has since been certified diamond. Kanye’s influence was felt all over the project as the intro and outro were titled “Good A– Intro” and “Good A– Outro” taking inspiration from Kanye’s failed project “Good A– Job” which was supposed to release after Graduation. He also sampled the vocals on Kanye’s “Intro” off of his debut mixtape Get Well Soon… on “Good A– Intro.” Even though it’s a mixtape Acid Rap has been one of the most prominent projects within hip hop since its release with fans still petitioning to have it put on streaming services.

Chance took a hiatus from making music for a while before releasing the album Surf (2015) having a brief stint with his group the Social Experiment which was more of jazz and blues infused with rap. Shortly after this album Kanye and Chance started becoming closer friends, and Kanye asked Chance if he would help him work on his new album. The Life of Pablo as mentioned before was an album that went through many changes as originally Chance was featured on three songs on the project, but his parts on the tracks “Famous” and “Waves” were both scrapped. He did end up being featured on the song “Ultralight Beam” which ended up being nominated for both Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 2017 Grammys. He was heavily praised for his verse on the song in which he payed homage to Kanye saying “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail. He said ‘let’s do A Good A– Job with Chance 3’” talking about their possible collaborative album which Chance has hinted at on multiple occasions.

Chance accepting one of his three Grammys at the 2017 Award Show ( Taken from Billboard )

Chance’s reputation was elevated even more after The Life of Pablo and he then announced his next project Coloring Book (2016). The project was released to streaming services in May of 2016 and the reception was pretty great with the project garnering a score of 89 on Metacritic and similar score from other outlets. The project was very different from his previous with this being more of a gospel centric rap album with some R&B also mixed in

The features on the project were very interesting with Chance working with artists outside of his own style like Justin Bieber and Young Thug while also getting to work with some of his idols like Kanye and Lil Wayne. Kanye was featured on the intro track “All We Got” along with Chance’s local choir, this signifies a huge moment for Chance as on his last project he sampled Kanye on his intro and on this project he actually got his idol on the track.

Chance was nominated for 7 total Grammys at the 2017 show of which he won 3 including Best Rap Album. Chance was on top of the world at the time, but surprisingly didn’t make that much effort to follow it up. He didn’t release any music for a year before releasing multiple singles in 2018.

Chance has since announced that he’ll be releasing an album in July while also having apparent collaborative projects with Childish Gambino and Kanye West respectively. Chance is still a relatively young artist who still has yet to put out a true album, he’s put out some really good music over the years and we can only hope that he’ll improve.

Ye

Following The Life of Pablo tour Kanye was hospitalized due to mental health issues and no one really knew what was going on. Shortly after this he went on a hiatus to Wyoming where he began living for a while, and during this time Kanye invited a multitude of artists to come out for recording sessions.

Kanye wearing the controversial “Make America Great Again” hat in support of President Trump ( Taken from The Source )

He then came out of his hiatus from social media by doing a two hour long interview with host of the popular radio show the Breakfast Club, Charlemagne Tha God. During the interview Kanye spoke about his mental health and his bipolar disorder in the most convoluted way possible. After that he went on TMZ to controversially state that “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…400 years? That sounds like a choice to me.” Stating this along with him wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat supporting president Trump, put more hate on Kanye than ever.

Kanye and others at his listening party for ye held in Wyoming ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

People were outraged and some personalities within hip hop even began to turn on him.  Putting all that aside Kanye announced that G.O.O.D. Music would be rolling out a five week stretch of albums all executively produced by Kanye, two of which being his own. Those albums include Pusha T’s DAYTONA (2018), Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. (2018), Nas’ NASIR (2018), Kid Cudi and Kanye’s collaborative album KIDS SEE GHOSTS, and Kanye West’s eighth studio album ye (2018).

All of the albums would oddly only feature seven songs each, but would all be marginally successful with DAYTONA even being nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2019 Grammys. Kanye’s would release in the first week of June only selling 85,000 copies since there was not much promotion along with the added backlash Kanye had been facing for his statements. Being only seven songs a lot was expected as many would think you are cutting it down to your best tracks, but that may have not been the case with this project.

The critical reception to the album was by far the worst out of any of his solo albums and the fan response was similar. West strayed away from rap features and went more in the direction of R&B singers like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, and PARTYNEXTDOOR for some emotional vocals. There were popular songs on the album such as “Yikes” and “All Mine” which saw the classic egotistical West talking about the famous lifestyle. There were also tracks like “I Thought About Killing You” and “Violent Crimes” where he talks about he expresses his feelings about his bipolar disorder along with concerns on how his daughter will grow up while being in the spotlight. The album wasn’t bad by any means, but for West’s standards it just doesn’t compare to his previous work.

Yahndi / Future

Kanye in 2019 ( Taken from Rolling Stone )

After ye, Kanye went on the highly anticipated KIDS SEE GHOSTS tour with Kid Cudi. Following this he releasing the single “I Love It” with young rapper Lil Pump which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became very popular over social media. He then announced that he would be released his next album “Yahndi” in the fall of 2018 which then got postponed two times. At the moment we don’t have an official date of when the project is coming, but the people who have heard it have said that it has strong overtones of “female empowerment.”

Many are very skeptical that he can still make great music after his last album’s performance and his most recent antics. He also has mentioned a possible follow up to Watch The Throne, which doesn’t seem too likely considering him and Jay-Z are still somewhat at odds. The aforementioned “Good A– Job” is also supposed to be on the way as well being a collaborative effort with Chance The Rapper.

Kanye’s impact and influence on hip hop over the last decade is undeniable with all the artists he’s given a startup and all the styles he set a precedent for. With that being said as time goes on we see his influence start to fade, he is beginning to shift gears and let hip hop influence him like what he did with the Chicago drill scene back in 2013 or what he is doing now with his more questionable collaborators. Regardless of what your opinion is on the man, Kanye has cemented his legacy within hip hop and will go down as one of best the genre has ever seen and a lot of that has do in part to his influence.

All of Kanye’s Albums:

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