Publicly ranking Kanye West albums is like declaring war on your timeline. Insults will be hurled. Friendships will be ruined. And more than likely, your list will be brutally roasted for the world to see. As a music journalist, however, my job is to take one for the team, with a key twist. It’s indisputable that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus are Kanye’s best projects of the decade, but which one reigns supreme? I dove deep into five key categories to determine which classic deserves a spot in the “Album of the Decade” discussion:
MBDTF: How does a global superstar and self-proclaimed genius respond to being ostracized by the media, clowned by the public and called a “jackass” by the president of the United States? Doubling down, of course. When Kanye West emerged from his eight-month self-exile in Hawaii after his latest controversy with Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, it wasn’t with a white flag and a heartfelt apology — opting for one enormous middle finger instead. “Power,” released in May 2010 and the first single from his yet-to-be-announced forthcoming album, is self-described as “superhero theme music,” but the haunting track sounds more like a supervillain whose evil plot of world domination is finally coming together. In August, Kanye began releasing one new song every Friday in the buildup to MBDTF, dubbing the occasion “G.O.O.D Fridays” — a star-studded mixture of loosies (“Christian Dior Denim Flow”, “Looking For Trouble”) and unmastered tracks that would eventually make the album (“Monster”, “Devil In A New Dress”). The promotional tool exploded, becoming a massive weekly event for music fans and the first step in West’s illustrious comeback.
Yeezus: How ironic that the artist who can’t seem to stop talking kicked off his Yeezus album rollout with a simple two-word tweet in May 2013, “June Eighteen.” The mysterious date whipped social media into a frenzy, with media outlets speculating that the next chapter of Kanye’s legacy was on the horizon. Outlandish theories floated around as the Internet attempted to connect the dots of what exactly Kanye was planning behind closed doors. A few weeks later, West debuted his first single “New Slaves” via video projections on buildings in 66 locations across the world. The unorthodox approach culminated in the revealing of the album cover — a clear CD case with a piece of red tape, adding more questions than answers as to what kind of project Yeezus would be. After the grandiose unveiling of MBDTF, Kanye surprisingly played his cards super close to his chest with Yeezus, a method that perfectly encapsulated the minimalistic nature of the project itself. No gimmicks or marketing ploys. Just some cryptic tweets, an SNL performance and a surprise album that divided listeners as soon as it dropped.
Winner: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The Yeezus video projections were innovative, but nothing can beat the promotional genius behind “G.O.O.D Fridays”. By the time MBDTF dropped, Kanye managed to do the impossible — clawing his way back from shunned outcast to beloved visionary once again.
MBDTF: Nearly every Fantasy song is a treasure chest of lyrical gems. There are just too many outrageous brags, hilarious quips and thought-provoking commentaries to mention in a novel, let alone one paragraph– a testament to how perfectly these bars were assembled. Kanye successfully addresses the relationship between rap music and the projects (“Inter-century anthems based off inner-city tantrums / Based off the way we was branded”), commentates on his own disregarded status amongst the music elite (“And what’s a black Beatle anyway, a f****** roach? / I guess that’s why they got me sitting in f****** coach”), poses questions regarding the importance of hip hop music in modern culture (“Is hip hop just a euphemism for a new religion? / The soul music of the slaves that the youth was missing”) and vehemently snaps back at his haters ( “‘Cause the same people that tried to blackball me / Forgot about two things, my black balls”) The best part is all of these bars happen to be on only one song, “Gorgeous,” one of the many lyrical standouts on the project. As I said, MBDTF is jam-packed with some of Kanye’s most focused writing yet. His masterful lyricism even rubs off on his peers, as both Rick Ross on “Devil In A New Dress” and Nicki Minaj on “Monster” unleash career-defining features that rank among some of the most iconic verses of the decade.
Yeezus: Yeezus’ lyricism operates in the same realm as his late-career rants — angry, passionate and all over the damn place. It’s not that his spitting is necessarily bad, but the complexities that defined much of his previous work have given way to a direct approach that suits the album very effectively. Yeezus, all in all, is a ‘f*** you’ record. There’s no tiptoeing around the point, it’s shoved in your face with as much intensity and vulgarity as possible. “New Slaves” is a personal onslaught on materialism and consumerism (interesting, considering Kanye’s expensive exploits in the fashion industry), and features the bridge, “You see it’s leaders and it’s followers / But I’d rather be a d*** than a swallower.” “I Am A God” is a lyrical barrage against his critics and naysayers, with Ye starting off his first verse with “Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you / Cause kissin’ people ass is so unlike you.” Every song is like a bare-knuckled brawl against another corporation, pundit or societal norm. But that’s what made Yeezus age so well in the heart of the Trump era in America, even without the lyrical intricacies music fans typically adore. You’re not going to show up to a protest with metaphors and triple entendres — but with attention-seeking statements and bold declarations.
Winner: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is a landslide. Yeezus’ aggressive bars are no match for the variety of cleverly-constructed lyrics woven all throughout many of MBDTF’s tracks. Plus, the man rhymes “sarcophagus” with “esophagus.” There’s no competition after something like that.
MBDTF: The chopped-up chipmunk soul samples are impressive. The creativity brought to every piece of music he releases leaves you awe-struck. But, admit it, one of the main reasons Kanye constantly remains in your rotation is the ego-centric vibe he possesses. The confidence he exudes, no matter how irrational or absurd, can make you feel on top of the world, and Ye delivers enough braggadocious bars to make Muhammad Ali blush. On Fantasy, he refuses to pull any punches, standing toe-to-toe with Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj on the posse-cut “Monster”, and claiming he’s the “best living or dead hands down” and just his mere “presence is a present, kiss my ass.” On “Power”, Kanye creates an entirely new meaning to loving yourself, claiming “I don’t need your p****, b****, I’m on my own d***.” “So Appalled” is home to West drawing parallels between himself and royalty, spitting “Address me as your highness, high as United / 30,000 feet up and you are not invited.”
Yeezus: Where do I even begin with Yeezus? Maybe the album title itself, merging his own nickname with the central figure of Christianity. Maybe the brief choir interlude randomly airdropped into the chaotic “On Sight” after Kanye says “How much do I not give a f***? / Let me show you right now ‘fore you give it up.” Maybe the fact that one of the tracks is brazenly titled “I Am A God” and apparently features God — only to showcase two verses that are both just Kanye and Kanye talking about himself in the third person. Yeezus is Ego 101, a 40-minute crash course into the psyche of a man who truly believes he is larger than life, while not being afraid to tell you as many times as possible.
Winner: Yeezus. MBDTF holds its own with a few iconic, egotistical lines but the fact that Yeezus inspired countless think pieces debating Kanye West’s supposed god complex makes that project the clear frontrunner.
MBDTF: Fantasy is victory lap music — a ceremonious showcase of the different styles of production Kanye had perfected over the course of his career up until that point. Chipmunk soul elements yanked straight out of College Dropout embody standout cut “Devil In A New Dress.” An orchestra of strings from Late Registration embraces your ears on the single “All of the Lights.” Futuristic electronic synths that defined Graduation jolt you out of your seat on “Hell of A Life” and the solemn auto-tune permeating 808s And Heartbreak are utilized on “Runaway.” While Fantasy feels like a collection of Kanye’s greatest production hits, it’s his partnership with legendary multi-instrumentalist Mike Dean and his crisp electric guitar riffs that separates this album from the rest. “Gorgeous” and “Devil In A New Dress” wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without the entrancing melodic guitar chords of Dean. Kanye even uses his own voice as an instrument, distorting his words through a vocoder at the end of “Runaway” beyond understanding — marking the most emotional and artistic part of the project.
Yeezus: Kanye has always been a fearless musician, unafraid to push the boundaries of what an album’s soundscape could become– but I doubt anybody expected the rough, and at times uncomfortable, nature of the Yeezus production. The project should’ve come with a warning label, as pressing play for the first time and hearing the industrial synths of “On Sight” was about as startling of a surprise as I could remember listening to music. Yeezus isn’t too kind on the ears, but when you consider the anarchic atmosphere Kanye was attempting to display to unleash his most controversial opinions, the beats become strangely beautiful. The bass drop on “Blood on the Leaves” and the old school Kanye loop on “Bound 2” receive the most praise when discussing Yeezus, but it’s the deep cuts that consistently blow me away. The buildup throughout “Hold My Liquor” is as intoxicating as the title suggests — woozy synths and a pulsating bass are a powerful backdrop for Kanye’s inner struggle with himself and his drug and alcohol-fueled lifestyle. “Guilt Trip” is Kanye at his peak, combining synth chords that lift you into the clouds with a descending piano and saxophone melody. A Kid Cudi bridge is just icing on the cake.
Winner: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is a clash between two polar opposites: Yeezus being the abrasive, minimalist agent of chaos while MBDTF represents the lush, perfectionist side of Kanye. It depends on your sonic preference but I give the personal nod to Fantasy.
MBDTF: While the excellence of Fantasy assisted in salvaging Kanye’s damaged public persona, the classic’s influence has also been felt throughout the music industry for the majority of the decade. Sonically, the extravagant beats set the bar extremely high for artists and producers to push their talent to the brink, encouraging intricately-crafted production with an abundance of lavish instrumentation and synths. Kendrick Lamar referenced Fantasy as one of his major inspirations when recording Section 80, his breakout project. While concocting Fantasy, Kanye brought all of his closest friends, peers and untapped potential to a remote location in Hawaii, which became a shared marketplace for ideas that morphed the album into what it was on release day. This process inspired an age of collaboration, where any variation of rappers (Kanye/Jay-Z, Future/Drake, etc) and record labels (TDE, Dreamville) have since joined forces to create their very own joint projects. Lastly, artists like Nicki Minaj, CyHi da Prynce and Bon Iver rode the momentum of their features on Fantasy to stardom, using the enormous platform to accelerate their own careers.
Yeezus: The ripple effect of Yeezus’ influence all throughout the hip hop landscape in recent years has managed to make the once-maligned album age like fine wine. The emergence of SoundCloud rappers, a fearless bunch of musicians that boost their bass, rap with a chip on their shoulder and disregard any authority, can attribute much of their sound and attitude to Yeezus. Rappers aren’t the only members of the far-reaching Yeezus family tree — pop darlings like Billie Eilish have managed to morph the sound and make it easily-digestible for a mainstream audience. During a recent interview with The Fader, artist James Blake gave his thoughts on Eilish’s new single “bury a friend,” saying it “was one of the most interestingly produced things I’ve heard since Yeezus, which I think was some influence.” Billboard also claimed that the track “jostles, quakes and screeches like a Yeezus outtake.” Eilish was the second-most streamed artist on Spotify in 2019, showing that the ghost of Yeezus continues to live on through promising young talent.
Winner: Yeezus. This was, by far, the hardest decision to make. Both albums deserve their roses for shifting the culture, but the electronic, minimalist Yeezus sound recently bursting into the mainstream gives the project a slight edge, in my opinion.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: 3 (Winner)
While Fantasy arrived as an instant classic among the majority of music fans, Yeezus was the misunderstood slow burner that eventually found its way into the public’s heart. While dissecting each category, I consistently found myself on-the-fence when comparing the two albums — proving how gracefully Yeezus appeared to age. Fantasy may rightfully earn the accolades as the magnum opus of Kanye West’s discography, but I don’t believe any project captured the essence of the latter half of the decade quite like Yeezus.