Kanye West As A Lyricist – A Walk Through Each Album
I’ve been doing a bit of writing and speaking about Kanye West Lately. Fact is, I’m a sucker for the pompous, hifalutin, bombastic snob of a man that is Kanye West. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think the man is a genius.
After writing an article that argued that Kanye West had fooled us all, I received a tweet from a person who I will allow to remain anonymous that said “Don’t mean to be negative but ur review on kanye was pretty bad &I highly doubt you really listen to kanye or his new album @SunsetRearview.” Well, this person and I talked a little longer and we ended up agreeing on a few things, the main ones being that we are both huge fans of Kanye West and, more importantly, that Kanye West is a beast of a lyricist. Now, without beating a dead horse, I will try to continue to talk about Kanye West’s talents, this time by shining a light on his skills as a lyricist.
Throughout his albums (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) Kanye has released song after song that slips in lines that have made me go rewind the song a couple seconds and take a second listen to see if he really just said that. Let’s go through each of his albums and point out a few of them.
The College Dropout
In the featured song, “Jesus Walks,” I wasn’t sure if I heard him right the first time when he said:
So here you go my single, dawg, radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk bout God my record wont get played, huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I’m dreaming about
Next time I’m in the club everybody screaming out … [Jesus Walks]
So wait. A rapper just said that he’ll take less money by avoiding rapping about guns, sex, and drugs because he wants to rap about Jesus? Damn, that’s bold. Now here’s the thing: “Jesus Walks” was released in 2004. You may be hearing a more diverse array of topics in hip hop today, but in 2004 rappers were all about guns, sex, and drugs. This line came out of nowhere, but guess what? It was all over the radio.
In his song, “All Falls Down,” Kanye wrote the brilliant one liner:
Couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexis
Oh wow. Alexis…like “a Lexus.” Simple as that, and it goes down in my history books as one of my favorite rap lines ever. Why couldn’t I have thought of that?
Collaboration in 2004
One of my favorite Kanye songs is a collaboration he did in 2004 with Dilated Peoples called “This Way.” Kanye was assigned the middle verse, and he absolutely nailed it when he bluntly told people the way life goes:
I don’t know what’s better, gettin laid or gettin paid
I just know when I’m gettin one, the other’s gettin away
Apparently this was before Kanye was with Amber Rose. Seems that with time and talent comes fame, and with fame comes both gettin laid and gettin paid.
As much as I loved this record, I can’t say these were his strongest of words. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t slip some keepers in there. I did a double-take when I heard this line from “Touch The Sky”:
Baby, I’m going on an airplane,
And I don’t know if I’ll be back again.
Sure enough, I sent the plane tickets,
But when she came to kick it, things became different
Any girl I cheated on, sheets I skeeted on.
I couldn’t keep it home, I thought I needed a Nia Long.
I’m trying to right my wrongs,
But it’s funny these same wrongs helped me write this song.
‘Ye’s success is growing, and so is his ego. I’m often a bit of a feminist, so it might be doubly impressive that Kanye can convince me to let go of my feminist ways for a second and bask in the glory of this verse. It’s awful, but it’s just so good.
My other favorite from this album was in “Bring Me Down.” I always love when Kanye reminds us that he doesn’t give a damn what his haters say; he made it here and he’s not going anywhere.
There’ll always be haters, that’s the way it is
Hater n*ggas marry hater bitches and have hated kids
But they’re gonna have to take my life ‘fore they take my drive
‘Cuz when I was barely living, that’s what kept me alive.
Here’s what I’m talking about; Kanye can repeat the same message, but (to me, anyway) it doesn’t get old. It’s just a push and a shove to the haters and he keeps on walking. This one is from “Everything I Am.”
People talking shit, but when the shit hit the fan,
Everything I’m not made me everything I am.
Let’s talk for a second about how this was from the hook. One of my favorite Kanye lines and it was in the HOOK. A lot of rappers have trouble making good hooks, particularly ones that aren’t sung by another person. But this is just the work of a good wordsmith, working itself into the memories of people all over the world.
808s & Heartbreak
Was not a fan of this album. At all. I understand that this was part of Kanye venturing into the future before anybody else had reached it yet, but I think somewhere along the way he took a wrong turn where there was some sort of street sign told him he could sing. Well, don’t believe everything you see, Mr. West. But before any of you get on me about what he was trying to do on this album, you can read more about my thoughts on it where I talk about what he was trying to do and I applaud him at least for his efforts.
What I did love, though, was what he had to say in the opening song, “Welcome To Heartbreak.”
Dad cracked a joke all the kids laugh
But I couldn’t hear em all the way in first class
Chased the good life my whole life long
Look back on my life and my life gone
Where did I go wrong?
To be honest, I could have quoted any of Ye’s verses from this song as my favorite. They’re all a brilliant take on what can happen once you reach what you’ve been aiming for your whole life, if fame was your original goal. Was it worth it, Kanye?
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I think Kanye answered my last question in his song “So Appalled.”
Address me as Your Highness, high as United
Thirty-thousand feet up, and you are not invited
He’s hit some bumps in the road, he’s made some questionable decisions, he’s struggled at times, but Kanye West has not fallen. From his first album all the way through his latest album, which will likely top many lists for Album of the Year, Kanye West has not lost a bit of talent in his ability to write music.
I would love to hear what your favorite Kanye lyrics are. Let’s get a list going. Please leave a comment with your top choice(s).