RubyHornet’s 35 Best Kanye West Songs
Today marks the 35th birthday of Kanye West. We wouldn’t be a Chicago Hip Hop site if we didn’t do something to honor and celebrate Kanye’s deep musical legacy. Kanye is one of my favorite artists of all-time, and I don’t know where I would be now if College Dropout didn’t hit my discman when it did. Today I decided to write up a list of my 35 favorite Kanye West tracks. These are either songs found on his albums, or classics he produced for others. I really kept it to my favorite records, with some consideration for commercial success. Mainly though, these are the Kanye records that get the most play in my collection. See the list, and feel free to agree or disagree and let your feelings be known.
1. Kanye West: “Spaceship” featuring GLC and Consequence
Without a doubt, this is my favorite song by Kanye West, and I know many that would agree. For anyone that’s been frustrated with where they’re at vs. where they want to go, this has been theme music. It also introduced the world to GLC, who delivers one of the LP’s most memorable verses.
2. Talib Kweli: “Get By” remix feat Jay-Z, Mos Def, Kanye West (prod. by Kanye West)
After the first few seconds of “Get By”, Hip Hop knew that it had a classic on its hands. This is Kweli’s biggest record, and remains a go to joint at any party, bbq, or even alone in your bedroom. The remix was ridiculous and has Kanye’s future-telling line, “This is gon’ be interesting, either this will be the end of me, or I’m finna be an entity.” He was right.
3. Kanye West: “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
Kanye has a real talent in stunting on a ridiculous level, yet still relating to his fans, a majority of whom are working-class people that can’t afford practically anything that he’s rapping about. He also never lets go of his underdog persona, emphasizing that he still has a way to go. This is one of those records, and it was a great way to introduce his third LP, Graduation.
4. Jay-Z: “Heart of The City” (prod. by Kanye West)
How could I make this list and not include this soulful record from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. While Jay is undoubtedly rapping about NYC, Kanye made this record very much a Chicago anthem, especially at a time when the windy city was especially haterrific.
5. Kanye West and Jay-Z: “N***as In Paris”
I also don’t think I could make this list without adding something from Watch The Throne. While I kind of prefer “Gotta Have It” and songs such as “No Church In The Wild”, “Otis” and “Made In America” are dope, this is one of the biggest songs in the last couple years. It’s taken on a life of its own and is an event when it’s performed in concert.
6. Kanye West: “Through The Wire”
This record really needs no explanation, it sets everything up and was the perfect first official single. It introduced everyone to the Kanye the emcee, and is still one of my favorite records.
7. Kanye West: “Drive Slow” featuring GLC and Paul Wall
Kanye once again reached out for GLC on his sophomore LP, Late Registration and the record “Drive Slow”, which also featured Paul Wall. Kanye took some southern influences, and added them to Chicago funk to make this record, which went onto become a classic. It’s also great advice.
8. Kanye West: “Dark Fantasy”
“I fantasized about this back in Chicago.” It’s over after that. The drums, the keys, the dark and urgent feel of the music, and dude had an opera and shit in there… Yo, this is a dope song that will only get more props as time goes by.
9. Kanye West: “Crack Music” featuring The Game and Malik Yusef
While Late Registration is a really beautiful and open album thanks to Kanye’s work with Jon Brion, it’s one of the LP’s grittiest and rawest records that really stands out. Lurking around the uplifting horns of “Touch The Sky”, thumps of “Addiction”, and the acoustic vibe of “Heard’em Say” we have “Crack Music” a song that touches on complexities of race and music in America and doesn’t pull any punches. This is perhaps the earliest creation of “luxury trap music.”
10. Kanye West: “Jesus Walks”
This is another raw record off Kanye’s debut album, The College Dropout. Here, Ye brought out his now infamous “huh”, hipped everybody to the urgency of the midwest, and brought god into the clubs. I’m a Jew and I even fuck with this song heavy. Definitely one of his best.
11. Bump J: “Move Around” (prod. by Kanye West)
Bump J was supposed to be next in line, and “Move Around” was the song that was undeniable. Kanye made a great choice in just letting us know who did the track, and then getting out of the way.
12. Kanye West: “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” Remix featuring Jay-Z
Kanye can back with a vengeance when he released “Diamonds” as the first single for his sophomore LP. After the feedback, the heighten awareness over conflict diamonds, and the demise of Jay-Z and Dame Dash, Kanye came back and addressed all those things on this dope remix, which also featured Jay-Z himself.
13. Jay-Z: “I.Z.Z.O.” (prod by Kanye West)
Another classic that put Kanye on the map, and is one of Hip Hop’s longest lasting records. This is a fun and upbeat joint that was just a per-cursor of what was to come from Kanye and Jay-Z.
14. Kanye West: “Get’em High” featuring Common and Talib Kweli
The drum pattern on this is incredible, and it’s become a true Chicago anthem. Anytime this comes on in any club, the party goes up a notch. And it made calling up famous rappers to get girls cool again. I mean…
15. Kanye West: “Amazing” featuring Young Jeezy
808′s and Heartbreak was an interesting album, and kind of sits a little to the side in Kanye’s discography. I think it’s an incredible concept album, very personal, and therapeutic. It is also very real. “Amazing” was the song on that album that jumped out to me, and stuck with me immediately. He recognizes that he’s exhausted and burned out, yet is the reason that everyone has showed up, and that’s the life of a superstar. Young Jeezy made a nice assist as well.
16. Kanye West: “All Falls Down”
This song let listeners know early that Kanye was dealing with the same issues as a lot of his them. It also proved that he wasn’t afraid to get personal on records, as well as address sociological issues without getting preachy or nerdy. This is a deep record that sounds fresh, and the video was really dope too.
17. Mos Def: “Sunshine” (prod. by Kanye West)
When Kanye first came out, he talked about his admiration for Mos Def and how at times he couldn’t believe their friendship and working relationship. While Kanye’s star has surpassed the mighty Mos, Kanye still holds Mos Def in high regard and I wish the two would work together more often. When they do it’s always dope as was this record that Kanye produced for Mos Def’s second solo LP, The New Danger.
18. Common: “The Food” featuring Kanye West (prod. by Kanye West)
Common and Kanye made a classic moment in television when they premiered this blue collar anthem on “Chappelle’s Show”. Their performance took place in a kitchen and even had Kanye making spaghetti in between raps. The studio version was briefly released as a 12 inch, but Common decided to go back to the live show version for the album.
19. John Legend: “Used To Love You” (prod. by Kanye West)
We heard Common turn Hip Hop into a woman to great response, this time around it was John Legend personifying the music and admitting his own lack of bling. This was a record that really put Legend on the map, and nowadays, he’s not having any problems affording any girls.
20. Kanye West: “Two Words” feat Mos Def and Freeway
“Two words, Mos Def, K. West, hot shit.” That line from Mos Def pretty much sums up this gritty gem found towards the end of Kanye’s debut album. He absolutely goes off in his verse, and Freeway’s not bad either. One of my favorite songs.
21. Kanye West: “Slow Jamz” feat Twista
One of the best Michael Jackson references in history, this record added a new element to College Dropout and really helped to take Twista to a new level as well. Anyone who says Kanye did not do enough for the Chi, isn’t looking hard enough.
22. Kanye West: “Flashing Lights”
A lot of people love this song, and the video was amazing. It set off another chapter in Kanye’s song-making and is another one you can drop at any moment in the your set and the people will dig it.
23. Common: “They Say” feat Kanye West and John Legend
Be is a classic album, and Common desperately needed it in order to return him to Hip Hop’s upper echelon. Kanye was a great assist, producing the LP and guest appearing with a really dope verse on the mellow and smoothed out “They Say”.
24. Kanye West: “Gone” featuring Cam’rom and Consequence
This record is my shit. The bounce and the old sample on this song are both really dope. It’s got boom-bap elements, soul elements, a old bluesy-swing as well. I know anyone in a leadership position has at least one time rapped, “maybe you could be my intern…” Cam’ron’s verse was ill too, shouts to Happy I Hustle.
25. Malik Yusef: “Wouldn’t You Like To Ride” (prod. by Kanye West)
I found this on blue vinyl in the summer of ’05. I wasn’t too familiar with Malik Yusef at that time beyond spoken word here or there. This song is a great summer time anthem, uses the Fugees in a solid metaphor, and was very relatable. This should have been a bigger record, but is still a gem.
26. Kanye West: “All of The Lights”
Kanye took everything up another level during the sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “All of The Lights” is crazy just for the sheer amount of people that contributed to the song. It’s a great record, and the video gives you seizures. That shit cray…
27. Jay-Z: “Run This Town” feat Jay-Z and Rihanna
I love Kanye’s verse on this song. His energy is on 10, and he’s really digging deep and talking to the listeners. It matches the music perfectly as well and hits a peak with “feels like you’re running huh? now you know how we feel.” Plus, he gave us, “What the fuck you think I rap for? to push a fucking Rav4?” That’s the shit. I would have this song on repeat coming home late after gigs in the summer. Sounds excellent driving through Chicago at 3AM.
28. Kanye West: “School Spirit”
Admittedly, The College Dropout is my favorite album by Kanye. The rawness, the emotion, and the idea that none of his greatness was yet actualized makes this LP something very special. It captured a moment in music, and came out at a very important time in my life. “School Spirit” is a deep album cut, that turned out to be one of my favorites. I made my first mixtape shortly after this LP came out and this is the song that kicked it off.
29. Kanye West: “So Appalled” feat Jay-Z, Rza, CyHi The Prynce, Pusha T
This was the record that really announced My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. All the G.O.O.D. Friday records were cool, but this one was the king. This was the one that made everyone take serious notice.
30. Slum Village: “Selfish” feat Kanye West (prod by Kanye West)
After scoring jams with underground heroes Talib Kweli, and Dilated Peoples, Kanye turned his spotlight on Detroit’s Slum Village and created “Selfish”, a soulful and true school record that helped gain Slum Village a wider audience and gave something b-boys and b-girls could both vibe to.
31. Cam’ron: “Down and Out” feat Kanye West (prod. by Kanye West)
Cam’ron and Kanye make a great pair and this is one of their best records together. I had doubles of this on vinyl and I damn near wore both of them out. The chorus is kind of a head-scratcher but Cam’ron more than makes up for it with his quotable lyrics about Yao Ming, Pet Cemetery, and his wardrobe. Somebody go get PETA.
32. Kanye West: “We Major” feat Really Doe and Nas
Come on, homie… This is definitely one of Kanye’s greatest records and another favorite that gets heads nodding anywhere.
33. T.I.: “Swagger Like Us” feat Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, M.I.A.
While this song doesn’t get that many spins these days, when it dropped it took over. It also marked the comeback of Kanye West after a short hiatus, and let everyone know that he wasn’t playing around.
34. Kanye West: “I Am”
This song is really dope because it is really simple, straight forward, and to the point. The stripped down approach to production matches the way that Kanye opens himself up on the track, and the simple scratches on the chorus only add to that as well.
35. Kanye West: “Gold Digger”
Originally I was not going to include “Gold Digger” on the list because I think it’s kind of played out, but that would be ignoring what a smash it was when it dropped as well as the social issues it addressed. I also have to be real that I find some line from that song stuck in my head like every other week. It’s a hit. A big one.