Arrogant. Provocateur. Genius. These are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the one and only Kanye West. Before the memes, before the infamy, there was the artist. Not only one of the most notable hip-hop artists of this generation, but one of the genre’s biggest luminaries, period. With each of his releases, West has continually brought something new to the table. Through every evolution, West’s razor-sharp lyrics have remained one rock-steady constant. Socially aware with a flair for the superficial (and “so much emphasis”) since his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, Kanye’s words and self-conscious mentality have been just as his important as his self-made, powerhouse beats.
15. “Street Lights” (808s & Heartbreak, 2008)
West got down with his cyborg self on the mournful, heavily Auto-tuned 808s & Heartbreak, but lying underneath the metallic sheen was the same Kanye unabashedly wearing his heart on his sleeve. On “Street Lights”, a somber ‘Ye delivers some of the biggest lyrical downers of his career as he likens passing street lamps on a cab ride to life moving by at a pace he can’t control. In spite of the fleeting nature of existence, Kanye still remains hopeful (“Things ain’t always set in stone”), and on an album filled with sadness and regret it becomes one of the more inspiring moments.
14. “Mercy” (Cruel Summer, 2012)
Between the minimal, buzzing bass and all the boasting, “Mercy” oozes swagger. Mid-way through the track, Kanye deconstructs the beat and hijacks the entire affair for himself. And why not? After all, he is the de facto leader of G.O.O.D Music, so it’s only fitting that the guy in the charge should steal the show. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, ‘Ye strolls into the room and puts his signees in their places (though Big Sean and Pusha turn in commendable efforts). The four-on-the-floor bass only lends additional strength to his outlandish claims (“I threw suicides on the tour bus”). When he says a line like “I step in Def Jam building like I’m the shit / Tell ‘em give me fifty million or I’m- a quit”, you’d be hard-pressed to tell this guy “no”.
13. “Niggas in Paris” (Watch the Throne, 2011)
Kanye kept things simple lyrically on this standout from Watch the Throne, but in the process created some of the biggest catchphrases of his career. Who else could bring such notoriety to a fish fillet sandwich? Whatever you do, just be sure not let him into get into his zone.
12. “Through the Wire” (The College Dropout, 2004)
Even with the dental hindrances after a devastating 2002 car accident, West never dials down the fiery passion as he recounts the near-death experience. While throwing around visceral lines (“There’s been an accident like GEICO / They thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael”), not a bar goes to waste, clenched jaw and all.
11. “Who Gon’ Stop Me” (Watch the Throne, 2011)
“This is something like the Holocaust”, West boldly raps on the first line of “Who Gon’ Stop Me”, in reference to the history of plight toward Black Americans. Aside from this refrain, the song has little to do with the past and everything that’s happening in ‘Ye’s present; instead, the song focuses on all the money he’s stockpiling and how much more he’s making annually than us. But damn, does he do it in style. He has significantly less time on this track than his partner in crime, Jay-Z, but Yeezy still fires bullets in all directions. The line “y’all weed purple, my money purple” may or may not even be a subtle jab at prolific stoner Wiz Khalifa who shacked up with West’s ex-girlfriend, Amber Rose, around the same time Watch the Throne was released.