Just about everyone has heard of Kanye West, an American rapper whose fame and infamy alike have made him a household name. His lyrics cover a broad range of topics, including everything from substance usage to unfair labor practices in mainstream companies. Sometimes it can be tricky for his fans to fully get where he stands–but, for many, that simply adds to his intrigue.
Whether you’re a veteran fan of Kanye’s style and lyrics or just interested in what he’s all about, these top 25 songs are a great place to start listening–and maybe learn some new facts about this music icon, too!
25 Best Kanye West Songs
1. “Gold Digger” – 2005
This song features the singer Jamie Foxx and expresses Kanye’s frustrations over the type of partner who only wants a man for his money. To add a touch of irony, this track samples “I Got A Woman” by Ray Charles–a 50s song about a supportive and kind woman who contrasts strongly with the “gold digger” archetype. This song provides listeners with a humorous story of Kanye getting tricked by one such woman.
While the song was certainly catchy and popular among fans, it received high acclaim from critics as well for its composition and lyrics.
2. “Facts” – 2015
“Facts” was first released on New Year’s Eve as a promotional single, and then a Charlie Heat version was later released on Kanye’s album “The Life of Pablo” in 2016. This song’s style is very similar to the rapper Drake’s, leading many fans to speculate that it’s lyrics were aimed at him. However, closer examination reveals lines that clearly criticize the Nike shoe company. Either way, the controversy made the song into a well-known diss track!
This song contains samples from the 1991 video game Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, alongside others.
3. “Famous” – 2016
Another hit track from “The Life of Pablo,” West’s song “Famous” features Rihanna’s vocals and samples from numerous other artists. While the almost collage-like sound of this piece was a hit with Kanye’s fans, a great deal of controversy popped up surrounding some lyrics that reference the popular singer Taylor Swift.
Kanye’s decision to interrupt Swift’s VMA acceptance speech in 2009 was already questionable enough–but then, in the lyrics of “Famous,” he took things a step further and said that his interruption was what made her famous!
Adding even more to the intriguing buildup of notoriety and uncertainty surrounding this song, Kim Kardashian released a short video in which Taylor appeared to approve the lyrics that referred to her. But Taylor said that she wasn’t made fully aware of the wording and denounced Kanye’s final song as misogynistic, refusing to share it on social media or spread its message.
4. “Ghost Town” – 2018
Released on his “Ye” album, this song puts out a very different type of energy compared to some of his more aggressive tracks. “Ghost Town” is all about mental health, acceptance, loving oneself, and releasing old pains in order to focus on what really matters.
The album title, “Ye” (meaning “you”) was actually inspired by the word so commonly found in the Bible, and is used to convey unity between oneself and others. This song in particular demonstrates Kanye’s shift in focus from fame to family, and was labeled by the Genius Community as one of the Best Songs of 2018.
5. “Real Friends” – 2016
Kanye West gets very introspective in his song “Real Friends,” with piano melodies and lyrics expressing fears that his relationships with family and friends only endure thanks to his wealth–and his concerns over whether he himself is a good friend or family member anymore.
This track features an interesting dialogue structure, with guest singer Ty Dolla $ign offering the perspective of Kanye’s friends and loved ones who feel sad as a result of Kanye being too busy for them. The visceral messages in this song hit home for fans everywhere, and the production quality of this dreamy-sounding track was deemed impressive as well.
6. “Coldest Winter” – 2008
Highly regarded by critics for its composition and considered by many to be the highlight of Kanye’s “808s & Heartbreak” album, this song features a far more electronic and synth-heavy sound than many of his other tracks. These changes create a noticeably minimalist atmosphere.
The tone of this song is also more serious, serving as a heartbroken eulogy for Kanye’s mother, Donda West, who died in 2007 shortly before he began working on this album. Donda had raised Kanye as a single mother, serving as a rock for him while he grew up. The CD release of the “808s & Heartbreak” album included a fold-out photo of the two of them together.
7. “Wolves” – 2016
Kanye’s emotional side shows itself in the song “Wolves,” the title of which refers to haters who have left him feeling worse for wear. While this song was officially released on his “The Life of Pablo” album, he technically debuted it during a fashion show in 2015, giving fans a preview of his new song alongside his new Adidas shoe design.
While this song has a mournful tone and a somber composition, it isn’t all melancholy: While Kanye expresses his pain over feeling attacked, he also highlights how he’s found comfort and solidarity in his relationship with Kim Kardashian.
8. “All of the Lights” – 2010
This popular single from his album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” features Kanye collaborating with 14 other artists, including Kid Cudie, Fergie, Rihanna, John Legend, and even Sir Elton John. In fact, the name “All of the Lights” may well refer to the array of stars who make appearances in the song! Alongside the astounding lineup of artists who contributed to this memorable hip-hop piece, the gripping beat and skillful blend of different styles also gained this song a great deal of positive attention.
Apparently, Rihanna was such a fan of the song after having heard a preview of Kanye’s album that she jumped at the offer to contribute–eagerly heading to the studio at 2 o’clock in the morning to record!
9. “Hey Mama” – 2005
Kanye paid tribute to his mother Donda in this song, honoring the close relationship that they’d always shared. Dr. Donda West was an extremely influential woman, having been a professor and chair of the Department of English, Communications, and more at Chicago State University. Kanye often welcomed her as a guest at events and was proud to have her run the Kanye West Foundation–the charity organization which she founded for him.
In addition to releasing this song on his “Late Registration” album, Kanye also performed it at the 2008 Grammys as a moving gesture of appreciation and respect after his mother’s tragic death.
10. “The New Workout Plan” – 2004
This popular song carries fans all the way back to West’s debut album, “The College Dropout”. Kanye features cameos from many different artists in this satirical piece, each of whom pretend to gush over the amazing results they’ve gotten by following a workout video. As you can probably imagine, this song is meant to poke fun at the popular workout videos that were released during the early 2000s, as well as all the outrageous claims that they could change someone’s entire life. This song doesn’t at all match the rest of the album’s style, but that doesn’t stop listeners and critics alike from enjoying it!
11. “Addiction” – 2005
This track from the “Late Registration” album addresses the many vices that Kanye found himself wrestling with as a result of his fame and the decadence at his fingertips. He expresses how, once he became famous, he got addicted to the very things he was warned against: He wanted more money, more flings, and more to smoke!
In the lyrics for “Addiction,” Kanye pushes the envelope with his girl as he pressures her to let him explore his addictions in more depth, struggling with how to balance it all. Overall, the song serves as a cautionary piece for anyone who risks letting success or their ego get to them.
12. “Monster” – 2010
Kanye collaborates with other rappers Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross in the song “Monster,” also using Bon Iver’s indie folk vibe to open and close the track. The lyrics progress with each artist taking a turn to slap back at their haters, creating an interesting and potentially divisive track. The music video for this song also references strong horror movie themes, making for a memorable experience!
Nicki Minaj said that she was glad for the opportunity to write her verse first without any external influence, so that she could really let her personality come out in full.
13. “FML” – 2016
Some of the struggles that Kanye referenced in his song “Addiction” come back into play here as he vents his feelings about trying to change his ways. He lays everything out in the lyrics about how difficult it is to leave his party lifestyle behind and settle down with Kim Kardashian and their child, North West.
Kanye brings in The Weekend as a guest artist, blending their styles to express how difficult it can be to let go of past addictions and lifestyle patterns once they start to get in the way of long-term desires such as a wife and family.
14. “Black Skinhead” – 2013
This powerful song from West’s “Yeezus” album centers around themes of racial tension and the nasty backlash that he endured as a result of him dating Kim Kardashian–a woman with a different racial background from his own. Angry and wounded, Kanye references King Kong as a metaphor for the way he was accused of “stealing” her as a partner. The title of the song is sometimes stylized as “BLKKK SKKKN HEAD” in order to lend even more of a punch to the message.
“Black Skinhead” has drawn plenty of attention from other artists, with Jack White covering the song in 2014.
15. “Mercy” – 2012
“Mercy”, in which Kanye featured rappers Big Sean and Pusha T from GOOD Music, was released for Good Friday and spotlights the contrast between Kanye’s past as a struggling new artist and his current success. Specifically, he points out how he was once willing to do anything to get a record deal as a solo artist, constantly beaten down by others’ refusal to take him seriously as a rapper. But now, as he states in “Mercy,” the tables have turned and a record company must do their best to keep him happy instead, lest he walk and pursue other opportunities.
16. “Everything I Am” – 2007
Released on West’s “Graduation” album, this song puts forth an empowering and encouraging message for anyone who’s felt belittled for who they were. Kanye uses this song to point out that, even if someone gets picked on when they’re young for the things that make them different, they can often wind up making the most of their unique qualities later in life.
Kanye said, for instance, that a girl who’s picked on for her weight could grow up to be a model, a talk show host, or a journalist. He also shared a special moment during an interview with Wendy Williams when his song moved her to tears.
17. “Send It Up” – 2013
Another hit from the “Yeezus” album, this catchy song features a guest appearance from rapper King Louie and brings in a touch of Reggae flavor alongside its strong industrial hip-hop sound and striking electronic elements. Interestingly, part of King Louie’s hook–which was entirely freestyle–wound up being moved into the chorus, completely changing the song from its original beat.
Critics received this song positively, acknowledging its exciting energy and clever arrangement: Both fans and critics say that it’s a great party song!
18. “Spaceship” – 2004
GLC and Consequence join their rapping skills with Kanye’s early style in this popular track from “The College Dropout.” Marvin Gaye’s song “Distant Lover” is sampled in this song, a creative move which many have interpreted as a way to balance out the more aggressive parts of the song and preserve a certain dreamlike quality.
While the song “Spaceship” references Kanye working at the GAP for a low paycheck during his younger days, he’s since partnered up with the GAP for his Yeezy clothing line.
19. “No Church in the Wild” – 2011
“No Church in the Wild” was recorded for Kanye’s collaborative album “Watch the Throne”, which he worked on with Jay-Z. This song explores some fascinatingly complex themes surrounding the relationship between religious backgrounds and secular decadence. Many people would define the message of this song as “secular humanist,” with emphasis on the idea that one can break away from traditional values and ethics, instead creating a new code of conduct for themselves.
Both rappers use this song to express that, no matter how many religious references they may make, they base their choices on an absence of religion.
20. “Saint Pablo” – 2016
West wrote the song “Saint Pablo” after publicly admitting that he was caught up in a level of personal debt that brought him a lot of shame. He used the song to address his personal feelings on his financial struggles, as well as his image and portrayal on social media. “Saint Pablo” also features the distinct vocals of Sampha alongside a bass-heavy beat from Jay-Z.
This song was officially released in June of 2016–but was accidentally leaked for a few hours via Apple Music earlier on in March!
21. “I am a God” – 2013
Kanye proudly released this song on his “Yeezus” album to show the confidence that he’d gained after his success as an artist. He was inspired to write the song after being invited to attend a fashion show–but only if he agreed not to attend any other shows. Kanye laughed it off with this song, stating that he was a god because he lived by his own rules and no one could tell him what to do or where to go.
Interestingly, Kanye followed up his bold message during an interview when he readily admitted that he was fallible and could make laughable mistakes.
22. “Gorgeous” – 2010
Raekwon and Kid Cudi made appearances in this song, which appeared in West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” album. Kid Cudi later stated that he’d overheard the beat of the song at the studio one day and immediately knew that it would be an incredible track. Cudi and Kanye established an incredible creative dynamic that enables them to bounce ideas back and forth and collaborate fluidly on tracks like “Gorgeous” to create a truly memorable sound. Before the song was released, Kanye previewed an a cappella version of it on the radio, and the song was immediately well-received.
23. “Crack Music” – 2005
Unapologetically speaking his mind just as his mother always urged him to, Kanye got political in this track with a number of references to conspiracies and politics, which appeared in his “Late Registration” album. The song also appeared later in 2006 on “Late Orchestration,” his live album.
Kanye used samples from the New York Community Choir in the original track, lending an emotional edge to the piece. The lyrics compare drug addiction to the spread of hip-hop in America, alongside addressing the ways in which black Americans have been exploited.
24. “Welcome to Heartbreak” – 2008
Kanye West tapped into his collaborative connection with Kid Cudi in “Welcome to Heartbreak,” and brought in Jeff Bhasker’s backing vocals as well. This track delves into Kanye’s feelings about what’s really important in life, and his efforts to get away from the pattern of comparing himself with others and their material status symbols.
The album that this song appeared on, “808s & Heartbreak,” was actually the first album from Kanye that didn’t need to have a “Parental Advisory” label on it! An appropriate detail, since “Welcome to Heartbreak” highlights Kanye’s desire to put family first.
25. “Hold My Liquor” – 2013
This song appeared on the “Yeezus” album and was leaked a couple of times under other names like “Can’t Hold My Liquor” and “Can’t Handle My Liquor” before its official release. Fans might be surprised to know that this song almost didn’t even make it onto the album!
The lyrics of this song are more complex than they first seem: Kanye describes stumbling into an ex-girlfriend’s home for an emotionless hookup, but also explores the concepts of self-esteem and substance abuse. The lyrics contain key references to Tupac Shakur and Deepak Chopra.
What a whirlwind!
Kanye West is renowned for his eclectic approach to his music, as well as his vast array of lyrical messages–many of which seem to conflict with one another. But that’s the appeal for many fans: No matter where they are in life, they can find a song for them. And remember that, for every Kanye hit listed here, there are many more out there waiting for you!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.