The Kanye Paradox

Having a consensus selection on which song is Kanye’s best is impossible, but what are some of Bronx Science’s favorite songs by Kanye West?


Ryan Goldsmith

“I think Kanye’s music can be a soundtrack to different points in my life. If I’m having a sad week I might be listening to an album like ‘808s’ and ‘Heartbreak’ more. I’m not Christian but I sometimes find myself listening to ‘Jesus is King’ just because I can appreciate the sentiment behind it. If I press shuffle in a Kanye playlist, depending on what song pops up, it could change my whole day.” said Ryan Goldsmith ’22.

Kanye West has one of the most diverse discographies of all time. In the 17 years since his debut, Kanye has demonstrated a wide variety of skill sets, merging genres with ease. As a result, he has differentiated himself from his contemporaries, making music that appeals to almost everyone; from hip-hop purists to lovers of gospel music. Many listeners have found reasons to love Kanye. 

This variety, however, makes it difficult to decide on a consensus for the best Kanye song. This is true with many artists, of course, but Kanye’s library of distinct sounds makes it nearly impossible. 

It is a famous saying that you can expect any one of Kanye’s albums to be a fan’s favorite. The same is true with his songs. Despite this, I wanted to look into what Bronx Science students think is Kanye’s best work, to search for agreement within the student body.

My dream of a general consensus on Kanye was swiftly crushed by the Bronx Science student body. On a survey of over 300 students, sixty-eight different songs were submitted as students’ favorites. 

The most common vote for best Kanye song was “Runaway,” followed by “Devil In A New Dress” and “Stronger.” The album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) took three of the top five spots in the best song category, with “All Of The Lights” coming in fifth.

Charted: The top eleven songs according to Bronx Science students. (Issay Niki)

“Runaway” is widely regarded as one of Kanye’s best songs. It is a nine minute epic with a feature from Pusha T and an instrumental outro that lasts three and a half minutes. “The dynamic nature of the song is quite unique. I haven’t heard a lot of music with as sudden of a shift in rhythm and mood. Moreover, the enduring presence of this song in popular media is a testament to its distinct sound,” said an anonymous student.

Indeed, the characters Kanye and Pusha T portray are polar opposites. Kanye’s verse evokes vulnerability – he is a man on his knees begging for forgiveness for his mistakes. He screams at everyone to run away from him, showing insecurity in his tendency to disappoint others. Pusha T’s verse comes in to shatter this atmosphere entirely – he views himself as a god who can do no wrong with no care for how others feel.

Kanye extracted every bit of artistry out of Pusha T. He rejected initial verses, telling Push to become more of an irritating person, to really get into character. That verse is one of my favorites on the album, and it all stems from Kanye pushing him to the limit, forcing him into a character he wouldn’t have otherwise known he could play.

As noted above, the song has a distinct sound. The high E note that plays throughout is immediately recognizable by any Kanye fan. It is incredible how such a simple tune is so identifiable, and a testament to the impact Kanye West has had on music as a whole.

Unlike “Runaway,” “Devil In A New Dress” is not a song that is appreciated by everyone, with some thinking the song is overrated. However, the people who do love the song believe it is one of, if not the best work, Kanye has put out.

“‘Devil in a New Dress’ has an amazing guitar solo, an awesome hook, and such a well-flowing feature by Rick Ross. It honestly has everything you could want in a Kanye song,” said Jessica Singh ’24. Kanye’s ability to spotlight specific parts of a song and make them stand out is second to none. After all of Kanye’s verses, the guitar solo takes the show, perfectly fitting in with the rest of the production. Next comes Rick Ross’s feature. The boastful energy he releases in his verse is unparalleled by even some of the greatest rappers. Fans make it their goal to be able to recite the verse bar for bar. The song would be a shadow of itself if the verse was omitted.

In contrast to the top two songs, “Stronger” is one of Kanye’s most popular songs and played all over mainstream radio. Many of those who said this was their favorite song said so because it was the only song they were familiar with by Kanye.

In fact, within the students who stated that their familiarity with Kanye’s music was an eight or greater out of ten, the two most popular votes were still “Runaway” and “Devil In A New Dress,” while “Stronger” only garnered one vote. “Stronger” has a much different purpose than the two other songs; it is more of a pump-up song than one trying to convey a story or character.

There is no better place to talk about Kanye than the Modern Music Appreciation club, where students become engaged in discussions about their favorite artists. When asked about his favorite Kanye album, Bix Weissberg ’22, co-president of the club, said, “My favorite Kanye album is Late Registration. He had a lot of good collaborations and he had a lot of interesting orchestral instrumentation that I really liked.”

Good collaborations are not specific to Late Registration. Kanye has had great features and collaborations his whole career. I have even become a fan of artists after being introduced to them on a Kanye track. He elevates those around him by pushing artists to their limit.

“‘Lost in the World’ is my favorite [song],” added Weissberg, “I mean, how can you say why one is your favorite? Kanye has so many genre bending songs, and I think that ability to fuse different sounds and break out of traditional sounds just made it harder to choose.” “Lost in the World” is a masterpiece that demonstrates Kanye’s skill as a producer and sampler rather than his excellence in lyricism.

“Lost in the World” has a special place in my heart because of its features and samples. Kanye samples “Woods” by Bon Iver, a very simple song that is turned into a maximalist work by his production. I became an avid listener of Bon Iver because of the masterful way that Kanye utilized his work.

Not only is Kanye’s discography greatly diverse, but his skillset is as well. He is not just a lyrical genius or one of the most innovative producers of all time, he is both of them, and a song like “Lost in the World” showcasing this has to be considered one of his best works.

Ryan Goldsmith ’22 had similar thoughts about Kanye’s versatility, stating, “My favorite Kanye song right now is “Only One,” but my favorite Kanye song changes by the week which is a testament to how long he has been putting out good music.” It is typical of Kanye fans to never have a set favorite song – their tastes can change in a split second.

Kanye’s music is so diverse that your favorite song might depend on what mood you’re in, where you are, or even what you just ate. It could also be at what point you heard the song. A song might be more special to you if you have been listening to it your entire life compared to just a few months. All of these factors matter, and the different styles of music that Kanye produces adds to the changing nature of one’s favorite songs.

When talking about the song, Goldsmith said, “It’s a song that Kanye wrote for his daughter from the perspective of his late mother. It was a really emotionally ambitious song to make and is really well executed on Kanye’s behalf.” 

A lot of the love for Kanye’s music comes from the fact that it reflects his personal emotional growth over the years. “Violent Crimes” relays this shift in his music with the lyrics, “Father forgive me, I’m scared of the karma, ‘Cause now I see women as something to nurture, Not something to conquer,” and we also see this shift in “Only One,” a beautiful ballad where Kanye is showing his care for his daughter, a radical difference from the elegant excess of “Lost in the World.” 

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, as music is a subjective topic. However, music is all about learning different perspectives, and why one song is a masterpiece in someone’s eyes, but not in another. It is interesting to look at the different preferences people have concerning Kanye’s works, especially within high schoolers as this is the time when many started to listen to Kanye more and appreciate his music. Kanye’s versatility is matched by no other, and his diverse discographies makes it so that any fan of music can find appeal in his work, and because of this, his impact on music has been one of the greatest.

“If I press shuffle in a Kanye playlist, depending on what song pops up, it could change my whole day,” said Ryan Goldsmith ’22.