Kanye West’s catalog of genre-breaking, culture-bending songs is quite impressive. Nearly any topic you can think of, Kanye has created a critically-acclaimed masterpiece tackling it. Religion? You have “Jesus Walks” and “POWER”. Racism? There is “Black Skinhead”. Fame? You can listen to “Famous”. The actions and motives of women? “Gold Digger”, “The New Workout Plan”, and “Drunk and Hot Girls” come to mind. His mother? “Hey Mama”. His mentor? “Big Brother”. His ex-girlfriend? “Flashing Lights”. Laying among his countless hits are songs that, in some respects, are equally as great, but do not get the shine they deserve.
8. Go Hard (2008)
From DJ Khaled’s We Global project, this is the first of a few collaborations between Kanye and Khaled. Dramatic, blood-pumping production from The Runners, a motivational chorus from T-Pain, and braggadocious rhymes from Kanye come together on an ode embodying the hustler’s spirit.
7. Chain Heavy (2010)
From his G.O.O.D. Music Fridays series, this song produced by Q-Tip finds Kanye, Talib Kweli, and Consequence discussing the physical (jewelry) and metaphorical (slavery) chains holding themselves and their culture back. The ending of Kanye’s second verse offers very clever wordplay, “I am the day Ice Cube met Michael Jackson/Keep ‘em away, huh! Something might happen/This is the making of a masterpiece/So we broke out the chains and told the master ‘Peace!’”
6. Don't Look Down (2010)
Another G.O.O.D. Music Friday release, this song finds Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, and Big Sean telling the story of a woman finally building up the courage to leave her man, comparing the woman to a phoenix. This song also plays as a motivational anthem for taking risks in life. Mos Def drives this point home on the hook, “Don’t look down/It’s an impossible view/Fly like an eagle/Whatever you do”.
5. Violent Crimes (2018)
The final track on his 2018 release ye, “Violent Crimes” showcases Kanye’s change in perspective when it comes to women. “Niggas is savage, niggas is monsters/Niggas is pimps, niggas is players/’Til niggas have daughters, now they precautious”. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many fathers who looked at women differently once they began to bear the responsibility of raising a daughter. While not a career highlight in terms of production, the song still holds its own against more popular Kanye offerings and is one of the better tracks on the album.
4. Ye vs. the People (2018)
In a track that holds even more significance now than when it did when it was released, Kanye and Atlanta Hip-Hop stalwart T.I. go tit-for-tat discussing politics and cancel culture. Ye has been constantly criticized for his political leanings and support of President Trump. He defends his actions, “I feel an obligation to show people new ideas/And if you wanna hear ‘em, there go two right here/Make America Great Again had a negative perception/I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction/Added empathy, care, and love and affection/And ya’ll simply questionin’ my methods”. T.I., representing the (Democratic) People, counters with, “What you willin’ to lose for the point to be proved?/This shit is stubborn, selfish, bullheaded, even for you/You wore a dusty-ass hat to represent the same views/As white supremacy, man, we expect better from you”.
3. We Major (2005)
This track from 2005’s Late Registration still does not get the credit it deserves. For starters, the production is top-notch. It meshed perfectly with the rest of the album. Kanye was excellent, but Nas offered one of the better guest features of his career. Don’t forget, this track reportedly went a long way towards mending the relationship between Nas and Jay-Z. This track was a win all the way around.
2. Crack Music (2005)
On another forgotten gem from Late Registration, Kanye gives a history lesson on the crack epidemic while comparing it to Hip-Hop. He raps, “Sometimes I feel the music is the only medicine/So we, cook it, cut it, measure it, bag it, sell it/The fiends cop it, nowadays they can’t tell if/That’s the good shit, we ain’t sure man/Put the CD on your tongue, yeah that’s pure man”. He also goes political as he ties in lines about two United States presidents, “How we stop the Black Panthers?/Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer” and “Who gave Saddam anthrax? George Bush got the answers”. The gospel-like ambiance was a perfect backdrop for Kanye’s sermon.
1. Murder to Excellence (2011)
Kanye West and Jay-Z teamed up to release Watch The Throne in 2011. It was a strong joint project that spawned hits like “Otis”, “Niggas In Paris”, “H.A.M.”, and “No Church In The Wild”. The Beyonce-assisted “Lift Off” and “Gotta Have It” also generated considerable buzz. However, the crown jewel on this album is a track titled “Murder to Excellence”. The first half of the song (Murder) discusses the cycles of drugs, poverty, violence, and police brutality that many blacks find themselves trapped in. At the 2:42 mark, the song transitions into the second part (Excellence) as Kanye and Jay-Z rap about the many achievements in the black community, “From parolees that hold G’s, sold keys, low keys/We like the promised land of the OGs/In the past if you picture events like a black tie/What the last thing you expect to see? Black guys”. A superb song with evergreen subject matter.