All of Kanye West's 10 solo albums ranked: from ‘Donda’ to 'The College Dropout

The rapper and producer has taken hip-hop in dynamic directions over the course of his career

Kanye West’s new album Donda has finally been released.

Delayed for over a year and coming on the back of one of pop music’s most extravagant promotional campaigns, the public finally got a chance to hear one of hip-hop’s most anticipated recordings.

There is a lot of material to go through, with Donda packing in a whopping 27 tracks over a course of 107 minutes.

So is it any good? Let's take a look back at all of West's solo albums – the good, the bad and the bizarre – and see where Donda ranks in his adventurous music career.

10. 'Jesus is King' (2019)

The decent reviews the album received upon its release were partly down to how low expectations were.

In the run-up to the release, West was in the midst of his latest controversy, his support of former US president Donald Trump, including taking the now-infamous photo with him in the White House.

On top of that, this was West’s first Christian-themed album, full of spiritual and wholesome lyrics, which was a curveball for fans.

By the time Jesus is King dropped, there was a collective sigh of relief that it wasn’t a disaster.

While the production is on point, as expected, and the gospel sounds are a welcome throwback to his earlier albums, West’s transformation from provocateur to zealot never seemed convincing.

As a result, Jesus is King sounds graceless.

9. 'Ye' (2018)

With a suite of seven songs clocking fewer than 30 minutes in total, West had to be focused to deliver.

On that score, he did a relatively solid job.

The songs are well realised and paint a picture of a troubled artist aware of his debilitating shortcomings, yet remain full of hope for his loved ones.

While West has rarely sounded as vulnerable, such weighty matters should have been presented in a more expansive album.

He may have felt that quality overruled quantity, but Ye felt like fans were short-changed.

8. 'The Life of Pablo' (2016)

West's albums can soar or fall depending on his peerless production being matched with genuine things to say.

The Life of Pablo will ultimately go down as a misfire, despite featuring some breathtaking sounds.

The highlight, Famous, takes the vocal loop of Sister Nancy's Bam Bam to create a swaggering beat that has West dropping a few truth bombs: "I've been outta my mind a long time. I've been saying how I feel at the wrong time."

Other tracks such as Waves and 30 Hours are sonically impeccable, but West's lyrical contributions are scattershot and range from being aloof to odious.

Ultimately, The Life of Pablo acted as a harbinger of the patchy material to come.

7. ‘Donda’ (2021)

Initially planned for a 2020 release and dedicated to his mother, the late college educator Donda West, the artist's 10th release took on nearly mythical status among hip-hop fans through its repeated delays, industry gossip and unprecedented listening parties held in US stadiums.

With such fervour surrounding Donda, did West finally deliver to the faithful?

The reaction depends on which side of the pew you stand on. Those expecting a secular effort after the Academy Award-winning gospel album Jesus is King will be disappointed as Donda is an epic 27-song cycle about faith and redemption. Ironically, the person inspiring the project is rarely mentioned with the exception of a selected portion of a previous speech.

As a result, Donda is less a concept album but rather a large selection of songs. In short, this is a typical West album, in that no one is happy other than the man himself. That said, there is a lot to enjoy here for new and old school fans.

Vintage fans will salivate over his Jay-Z collaboration Jail and the euphoric Hurricane, featuring a spellbinding vocal by Canadian star The Weeknd. Jonah and the stunning Jesus Lord fulfils the sonic and spiritual fusion West was aiming for with Jesus is King.

However, at one hour and 47 minutes, Donda borders on being excruciatingly long. At half its length, it could have been a brilliant return to form. What we have instead is a bloated and messy album punctured with moments of serene beauty and grace.

6. 'Graduation' (2007)

This is an album whose legacy grows with time.

After perfecting his soul-infused sounds in previous releases, West's third album finds him taking on a harder electronic sound, personified by the hit Stronger, featuring a heavy vocal sample of Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

What lets the album down is West’s lyrical contribution, with lazy meditation on celebrity culture and umpteenth mentions of his designer wardrobe. We get it dude, you dress well.

More interestingly, the album's promotional campaign will go down as a seismic moment for hip-hop.

In a much-publicised album sales battle with 50 Cent, who was also releasing his album, Curtis, on the same day as Graduation, West's ultimate victory is regarded as the moment gangsta rap surrendered its position as the most popular hip-hop genre to make way for the more adventurous sounds West and Drake would eventually take to the top of the charts.

5. 'Yeezus' (2013)

In most enduring and successful music careers, there is always that one album that presents fans with a fork in the road.

The audacious, brawny and sometimes brilliant Yeezus is that album, and remains one of West’s most divisive.

Fans looking for another dose of soul-fuelled introspective hip-hop ducked for cover as West snarled and screamed his missives against governments and corporations.

That intensity is matched with spiky production, blending industrial music with abrasive electronics.

It is no coincidence that it’s the rockers, including the late Lou Reed, who became fans of Yeezus.

4. '808s & Heartbreak' (2008)

The album whose sounds spawned some of today's most popular artists.

Released a year after his mother’s death, 808s & Heartbreak is an expression of undiluted grief. The songs lament the loneliness caused by success and narcissism.

That sense of alienation is found in the tracks Welcome to Heartbreak and Heartless, where his voice sounds heavily processed and emotionally vacant.

That mix of deep introspection and bleak sonic landscape would go on to influence a new breed of emotionally insular artists such as Kid Cudi and Lil Uzi Vert.

3. 'The College Dropout' (2004)

To understand how audacious West's debut album was, you need only look at the first single, which was far from the standard braggadacious track fans had come to expect from the genre.

Instead, Through the Wire is a heart-wrenching and ultimately inspiring account of his recovery from a near-fatal car accident.

Carried by the brilliant sample of Chaka Khan's Through the Fire, it gave listeners a taste of a producer whose references and aesthetics were broader than his peers.

Other classics, such as All Falls Down, where he reflects on anxieties experienced by African American communities, and the heaving Jesus Walks, where he declares "that we are at war with ourselves," hints at an artist ready to take hip-hop in a more dynamic direction.

2. 'Late Registration' (2005)

Not only did he fulfil the promise of his debut album, West took his soul music sampling approach to its zenith in the follow-up.

Late Registration is still his most lavish release, with euphoric horns and strings paired with some of his most accessible songs to date.

Heard 'Em Say features a beautiful vocal by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, the swaggering Touch the Sky introduced us to burgeoning rapper Lupe Fiasco, while the megahit, Gold Digger remains an anthem for the disenchanted.

The track’s clever interpolation of Ray Charles's 1954 hit I Got a Woman (with the late soul singer’s vocals reimagined with unerring accuracy by singer and actor Jamie Foxx) is one of the many nods to the vintage soul abounding the album, including the work of Gil Scott-Heron and Bill Withers.

Late Registration launched Kanye West on his path to become not only a hip-hop star, but also one of the 21st century's most vivid pop culture personalities.

1. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010)

A stupendous album that can only be conceived by someone with the ego to match, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy remains one hip-hop's most ambitious and expansive records ever released.

Reportedly costing $3million to produce, this album features live strings, horns and an A-list guest list including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Bon Iver.

They all pitch in to deliver emotive performances, matching the dark psychodrama of the songs.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has West and cohorts ruminating on human suffering and the depraved depths some will go to alleviate it.

The full-bodied compositions are all sprawling, heavy and potent, thanks to the certainty of West’s vision.

While he never sounded this focused and ambitious again, West gave us an album that remains a high-water mark for not only hip-hop, but for all music.

Updated: August 30th 2021, 4:01 PM
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