Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ Conversion Kit: 13 Old Kanye Songs That Foreshadowed The New Album
Kanye West‘s Yeezus received stellar reviews from critics, but fans seem to be split about the abrasive, anti-pop album. But we’re here to convert the haters! Yes, the sticky hooks have been replaced with confrontational lyrics and jarring rhythmic shifts. But the chipmunk soul samples are still present — although to be fair, they take a backseat to doombahton chants and ominous electro. But you disgruntled Kanye fans shouldn’t abandon his latest effort just yet, because this iteration of Ye was long in the making. Like any evolution, it was slow and gradual, but the seeds of Yeezus can be heard throughout West’s catalog, going all the way back to 2004’s The College Dropout.
So if you think Yeezus doesn’t showcase the same Yeezy you’ve known and loved for all these years, we’re here to convince you otherwise with a list of 13 old Yeezy songs that foreshadowed Yeezus. Head below for the list, and then if you’re still unconvinced, you can always just jam out to “Bound 2,” the album’s throwback to West’s backpack days. Or just focus on the Justin Vernon parts and pretend you’re listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
1. “Jesus Walks” (2004) Kanye’s deft ability to bring bold religious imagery into the pop world was apparent right from the start. And while this was one of the biggest songs off his debut, it’s also one of the gloomiest. Not to mention there were vocals so heavily Auto-Tuned they sounded like snake-charming music. This track is the blueprint to just about everything Kanye did afterwards.
2. “Get Em High” (2004) A quietly ominous beat with stretches of near-silence. There weren’t any dancehall elements or rhythmic swerves yet, but West would later add that complexity to this simple foundation.
3. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” (2005) Here’s an expert example of Kanye’s ambivalence, swinging between brash materialism and virulent verbal attacks against that very culture. Also, this was his first truly adrenaline-pumping song.
4. “Stronger” (2007) Ye’s first collaboration with Daft Punk is much glossier and poppier than the four subsequent tracks they’d do on Yeezus. But when you compare this to the original DP song, Ye’s sample has an added punch and drama. This was a landmark moment in the marriage of hip-hop with electro, and it shows Ye’s ability to harness visceral squelches and booming bass, skills the two acts would intensify on their latest collabs.
5. “Drunk And Hot Girls” (2007) The song that’s so stupid it’s smart. West takes one of his most left-field samples (Can‘s “Swing Swan Song”) and puts it over a minimalist fog about wasted groupies, with a bizarre singing bridge. It’s one of his first songs that’s more about the mood.
6. “Love Lockdown” (2008) Obviously, 808s & Heartbreak is where everything changed. The disregard for mainstream approval, furious commitment to cold electronics and downcast mood make it easy to posit that the entire album foreshadowed Yeezus. But I’ve highlighted this specific track because of its use of nearly-obnoxious robo-bleating of the type we’d hear on “Blood On The Leaves.” There’s also ground-rattling percussion and a captivating use of empty space that calls to mind “Black Skinhead” and “Leaves.”
7. “Take One For The Team” (2010) This high-octane G.O.O.D. Friday cut boasts one of Ye’s most minimalist beats ever — truly minimalist, not the “aspirational minimalism” he went for on Yeezus, as it’s a glorified beat box with electro pulses layered in. And at the time, it was also one of his meanest-sounding songs.
8. “Christian Dior Denim Flow” (2010) Fuzzed-out vocals, clanging percussion, screwed-down grumbles, an abrupt mid-song shift, a closing guitar solo — this is a longer, more hook-laden framework for the unpredictable twists and abrasive bursts within songs on the new album.
9. “Hell Of A Life” (2010) The most lurching song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, thanks to that serrated bass line. Throw in the “fuck with the lights on” breakdown, that chant-filled bridge and a spare outro of female cooing, and we’re really coming up on Yeezus territory.
10. “Niggas In Paris” (2011)Watch The Throne was the clearest indicator yet of Kanye’s fascination with what the world had now begun calling EDM. This standout track is built on Hit-Boy‘s frenetic, bleep-based beat, and the static-burst breakdown blurs the line between noise and music, a line Kanye became obsessed with in 2013.
11. “Who Gon Stop Me” (2011) This is a pure EDM song that just happens to have a couple guys rhyming over it. West was clearly influenced by acts like Flux Pavilion, who seamlessly integrated soul samples into their computerized churning. Not to mention, this song goes full-on brostep at the halfway point. Kanye was now moving from bedroom bleeping to big-tent electro-blasting.
13. “Mercy” (2012)Cruel Summer‘s “Mercy” was the first real taste we got of West’s newfound fascination with dancehall and transforming foreign/indecipherable chants into demonic specters. This was his most menacing release yet, and he’d further tap into that dark side on Yeezus, combining sinister minimalism with confrontational beats, to thrilling effect.