To call Kanye West a polarizing figure would be an understatement. The 43-year-old rapper/producer/fashion designer has been at the forefront of numerous controversies for the past ten years. Yet, despite what your opinion on him may be, he boasts one of the most impressive discographies in music history. From his debut album The College Dropout in 2004 to his Grammy-winning gospel album Jesus is King in 2019, West has demonstrated impressive versatility. By constantly shifting his style and influencing a generation of artists for over a decade, West has contributed to some of hip-hop’s most unforgettable musical moments. In the midst of a dismal virtual exam season, I repeatedly find myself returning to his music due to its incredible diversity and the range of emotions it provokes. His exciting, dark, and emotional moments are all perfect matches to the range of emotions one experiences when studying for finals. To fully bring these worlds together, I compiled a few Kanye-focused Spotify playlists to accommodate the various moods, challenges, and (hopefully) victories students tend to face this time of year.
CalmYe – For The Calm Before the Storm
CalmYe accompanies the earliest moments of a study session. For some, this could mean getting set up, planning out what to do for the day, communicating with professors, or making an outline. Rather than intense work or extreme brainstorming, this is a state of menial, tedious work before you dive into the good stuff. For this state of mind, I focused on melodic Kanye tracks that function as chill background music. Despite their function, it is without question that some of West’s greatest songs are his more relaxing ones. “Gorgeous” shows Kanye displaying politically-driven lyrics regarding American racial inequality over an echoing guitar, while Kid Cudi delivers a simple but catchy chorus. My personal favorite of the list is “Spaceship,” which focuses on the challenges of working a minimum wage 9-to-5 job while pursuing a life as a musician. The soul sample, Kanye’s singing on the chorus, and the guest features from GLC and Consequence all mesh together to produce one of the best songs of West’s early career. The playlist concludes with “Ghost Town,” a standout track from Kanye’s most personal album to date, 2018’s Ye. His verse seems to address himself, as he raps about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol, and he hopes that someday all the drama surrounding him will be long gone. Kid Cudi delivers a sorrowful chorus about unrequited love, as American musical artist 070 Shake blows the house down with a beautiful, optimistic outro. The words “Nothing hurts anymore I feel kind of free” are echoed and repeated, serving as a perfect transition into the next playlist.
*Bonus: The unreleased version of “Internet” by Post Malone featuring an unfinished but mellow Kanye verse.
LoudYe – For the state of pure Energy
LoudYe is the soundtrack to being wired and in the zone. After warming up and taking care of less important tasks, it is now time to truly grind. This playlist accompanies grueling assignments and deadlines that we unfortunately left to the last minute once again. As we stare up at the academic mountain in front of us, Kanye’s loudest, craziest songs join us until we reach the summit.
LoudYe is the scary sequel playlist that throws everything from CalmYe away. Catchy choruses, relaxing instrumentation, and smooth soul samples are replaced by throbbing bass, violent, vulgar verses, and even the occasional scream. Aggressive Kanye is fast, boastful, and unhinged. Further, he seems to shine when accompanied by others. Several standout tracks come from his joint albums with Kid Cudi (Kids See Ghosts), his record label GOOD Music (Cruel Summer), and his mentor turned equal Jay-Z (Watch The Throne).
The energy of others allows Kanye to stand out even more, which led me to include numerous songs listing him as a featured artist. Despite only providing one verse, West somehow always manages to steal the spotlight from respected artists like Schoolboy Q and Travis Scott. My personal favourite from LoudYe is “Feel the Love,” the opening song from Kids See Ghosts. As Kid Cudi repeats the words “I can still feel the love” over a simple melody, Pusha T delivers the song’s only rap verse. Finally, Kanye comes in yelling at the top of his lungs. He doesn’t actually say any words, mind you. Rather, he simply ad libs gun sounds and other crazy sound effects. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it results in pure energy, and it provides an unparalleled level of hype that never fails to help me churn out lengthy assignments during the wee hours of the morning at the library.
*Bonus: Smokepurpp’s unreleased song “No Problem” featuring a hyper-aggressive hook from Kanye.
Although some people may not admit it, there is often a moment during studying where everything suddenly clicks. For a moment of time, we find ourselves in “the zone,” in what feels like a prolonged “ah-ha moment.” To match this mood where everything comes together, look no further than Kanye 2049, a fanmade album. The seventeen tracks mash up Kanye’s discography perfectly, in a way listeners never could have imagined. The project was spearheaded by Toasty Digital, a talented YouTuber who specializes in creating mashups that sound too good to be true. In addition, the website is more than a way to stream the project; it is an experience in and of itself. The website boots up as if it were vintage software from the early 2000s, while a faint humming sound looms in the background. The site is password-protected, but it hints that the password is the name of the greatest album of all time. (Ye, Yeezus, and Graduation all work.) Once the retro desktop loads up, we are able to click and interact with a number of items. One of the text files informs us that we are in the year 2049 and that Kanye has gone missing for thirty years. As global warming threatens to wipe out the planet, the United States president makes contact with an alternate universe seeking answers. The alternate version of Earth provides the president with a gift: an unheard Kanye album that may be the key to saving the world. The computer’s other text file presents a list of real organizations accepting donations towards climate change relief. Although the backstory is admittedly silly, it adds a layer of immersion, and more importantly, fun to the album. Overall, the 2049 experience is a must-listen for all Kanye fans, especially when one is trying to reach a more creative headspace.
Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we plan. We often put an assignment off for weeks, and we end up spending an entire night working on it. Sometimes we miss our deadlines, or we spend hours writing a horrendous paper just to get it over with. Sometimes we honestly just need a good cry. Thankfully, Kanye’s discography contains some brutally sad songs to perfectly complement these sorrowful times. SadYe is a deeply personal playlist that finds Kanye at his most vulnerable and honest. For the first time, we hear West address his family. With the single “Only One,” he addresses his first daughter North from the perspective of his late mother. Since West’s mother never got to meet her grandkids, he copes with it through this moving, spiritual song. Kanye explores death further in “Roses,” a vivid song detailing his visit to his grandmother after a near-death experience. He details his frustration being recognized by the nurses as a celebrity, all while being unsure about whether his grandmother will make it. Many of the selections on SadYe come from his minimalist 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak, a deeply personal work following the death of his mother and breakup with his ex-fiance. 808s is shrouded in themes of loneliness and never finding love, and it finds West almost exclusively singing through autotune. For some reason, West’s auto-tuned voice carries incredible emotion. It comes off as a barrier between the listener and his authentic voice, as if hearing his genuine delivery would be too vulnerable. This brief selection of tracks reminds us that despite his billions of dollars and seemingly endless controversies, Kanye is still a human being. His insecurities provide a window into his mind, inviting the listener closer to join him during times of misery.