Within the last 10 years there hasn’t been a music success story quite like the one of Kanye West. He managed to transform himself from a well respected but not yet household name producer to a global rapper. He began producing in the late 90s for heavy hitting acts and became known for his soulful beats. It wasn’t until 2001 when he got his big break from Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” From there he continued producing but began vocalizing his interest in rapping. Admittedly, no one one believed he could rap, thus labels weren’t willing to take the risk on signing him. Finally he signed to Dame Dash and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella record label and debuted College Dropout in 2004. Kanye had proved everyone wrong, not only showing that he could rap, but that he could be great while doing it (College Dropout debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts).
That was eight years ago when Kanye was a hungry 27-year-old trying to turn his dreams into reality. Today he’s 35 with five albums under his belt, one collaboration album, countless producer credits, a fashion line and his own G.O.O.D. Music record label. Publicly, he’s been scrutinized for his crass statements on live TV. His public missteps and ego aside, Ye continues to be one of the greatest music talents that has emerged in the last decade. To honor his 35th birthday, check out our list of his 35 greatest songs (which we have also turned into a Spotify playlist). Feel free to disagree with our list and add your own in the comment section below.
35. “Who Gon Stop Me”
The production is insane, Kanye and Jay’s verses are a mere bonus.
34. “Hell of A Life”
Yeezy’s darkest moment has him falling in love with a porn star. Naturally, it doesn’t end well.
For the dream chasers out there, “I wonder/if you know/what it means/ to find your dreams.”
32. “All Falls Down”
We can’t help but think of Stacey Dash every time we hear this one.
31. “Gotta Have It”
Outside of the tambourine in the opening, there’s a whole lot of flossing in this one track.
30. “Dark Fantasy”
Can we get much higher?
29. “Murder to Excellence”
Two of the biggest rappers philosophize about social issues, inspiring us to reach for excellence.
28. “Love Lockdown”
808s and Heartbreak remains misunderstood and underappreciated, but there’s no denying the tribal force of this classic.
Ye’s love letter to Chi City.
26. “Last Call”
In this 10+ minute track you get the unfiltered Kanye West story of how he made it in the industry.
25. “Blame Game”
Sorry, Amber Rose, but this is a relatable relationship song.
24. “Bring Me Down” ft. Brandy
Violins + Brandy + Kanye = greatness.
23. “No Church In the Wild”
“Sunglasses and Advil. Last night was mad real.”
One of Kanye’s song that you blast for motivation. “For me giving up is way harder than trying.”
21. “Street Lights”
Kanye waxes reflective. “I know my destination, but I’m just not there.”
This song is for anyone who’s ever felt they hustled hard with no recognition.
19. “Slow Jamz” feat. Twista and Jamie Foxx
Yeezy’s first #1 song!
The closing cut on Late Registration shows Ye feeling frustrated yet also reflective about his life before becoming a superstar.
16. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
An anthem no matter where you play it, or who you play it around.
15. “Hey Mama”
This song took on an extra layer of resonance after Donda West’s unfortunate passing in 2007.
14. “Gold Digger”
Arguably Yeezy’s most popular song to date, this one landed at #20 on our list of the 100 Greatest Songs in Hip Hop.
12. “N**** In Paris”
Anytime a song is played 11 times in one concert you have something magical.
11. “Jesus Walks”
Listen up Illuminati conspiracy theorists, this song is for you.
When he debuted this track on the 2010 VMAs, it signaled a new artistic peak for the immensely talented Mr. West.
Kanye’s decision to sample Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger” proved that he was operating on a different creative level than anyone else in hip-hop.
8. “Heard ‘Em Say” Ft. Adam Levine
Adam Levine’s voice and the piano really shine. Kanye raps about faith and his family life giving a small glimpse into his personal life. Whoever had the bright idea to put Adam Levine on this specific track, we bow down to you. Pure music orgasm.
7. “Touch the Sky” ft. Lupe Fiasco
The horns, the horns, the horns, are everything! “Touch the Sky” is a fun song where Kanye brags about his extravagant style. His Chi-town rapper buddy Lupe Fiasco kicks a smooth verse. Arguably the video to the already amazing song is one of the best videos ever. This song is a perfect example of where Kanye’s creativity takes him.
“I guess every superhero needs his theme music.” If that’s the case, Ye’s theme is about as grandiose as it gets, musically speaking, with its samples of prog rock, funk and choirs.
5. “Never Let Me Down”
Produced by Ye, “Never Let Me Down” is an upbeat yet soulful track featuring his big brother Jay-Z and spoken word poet J. Ivy. The words are so powerful they’ve been known to give people chills (myself included). Hov opens and closes this instrumental and lyrical masterpiece.
4. “Good Life” ft. T-Pain
Who doesn’t want to live the good life? Throw this on at any party, doesn’t matter what kind, people will instantly dance and rap along to “Good Life.” Kanye’s verses coupled with T-Pain’s auto-tuned crooning turned out to be a heck of a collaboration. When T-Pain sings, “It’s the good life better than the life I live/When I thought that I was going to go crazy/Now my grandma-ma ain’t the only girl calling me BABY,” people sing along at the top of their lungs.
3. “All of the Lights”
The last song of Yeezy’s Lights Trilogy (which also includes the aforementioned “Flashing Lights” and 808s And Heartbreak‘s “Street Lights”) is one of this century’s most musically ambitious epics. WE GOIN’ ALL THE WAY THIS TIME!
2. “Flashing Lights”
“Man, why can’t life always be this easy?” This track from 2007’s Graduation somehow manages to feel old-school and really futuristic at the same time, using pulsating drumbeats, elegant symphonic strings, and a wave of synths to build itself into a sonic crescendo. It carries all of the hallmarks of a Kanye classic — a few sly pop culture references, a staggering amount of braggadocio, and a hint of self-doubt (as evidenced by Dwele’s “What do I know?/What do you know?” hook in the chorus).
1. “Through The Wire”
What better way to introduce yourself to the world as a rapper than to a remake of Chaka Khan’s 1985 “Through the Fire?” Kanye’s debut single was not only a personal one, but a testament to his skills as both a producer and rapper. He recorded the breakout record with his jaws wired due to a serious car wreck he’d had two weeks prior. All around—lyrically, sonically and content-wise—this remains Kanye’s number one hit.