He’s a rapper, producer, and now a fashion designer, with an estimated net fortune of over a billion dollars. Since his music was the start of it all, what genre would best describe this legendary artist?
Kanye West is most known for being categorized in the genre of hip-hop and rap, although he has also dabbled in R&B, pop, and gospel music. Throughout the 9 studio albums that he’s released as of mid-2020, he has produced some experimental-style music, featuring jazz, psychedelia, avant-pop, electro-pop, industrial rap, punk rap, soul, crooner, and rock music.
Let’s take a further look into the extremely versatile music of West, and which albums feature certain kinds of genres.
A Brief Overview of Kanye’s Beginnings
The career of Kanye West began in the ‘90s, where he started out as a producer for artists on the local music scene. His big break came in 2000 when he was brought on to the production team at Roc-A-Fella Records.
As a producer, West worked with massive artists like Ludacris, Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, and Jay-Z.
Jay-Z requested that West produce tracks on his 2001 studio album, The Blueprint. It was a huge success, and many have attributed the revival of Jay-Z’s career to West’s contributions.
West eventually pursued his dream to have a career as a rapper and recorded a song called “Through the Wire” after his jaw had to be wired shut following a car collision.
The song had a classic hip hop feel to it with the backing track, but with West’s twist. He sped up samples from classic soul songs, which led to the development of the “chipmunk soul” style he would later become known for.
West’s Early 2000’s Albums
“Through the Wire” became part of his debut album, The College Dropout.
Kanye’s next album was Late Registration in 2005. It had a large soul hip-hop influence, with plenty of jazz, R&B, blues, rock, and even some psychedelic elements.
Graduation was released in 2007 and explored some different genres again. Among the hip hop and soul persona, West incorporated rock and electronic music after he had been listening to alternative and indie rock songs.
808s & Heartbreak was published by West in 2008. This time, there wasn’t a lot of hip-hop influence and it was more focused on the genres of electro-pop and avant-pop, with heavy electronic aspects like virtual synthesis.
A couple of years later, West came out with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This album was widely recognized as an amalgamation of his previous four albums.
Andy Kellman from AllMusic described it as, “The culmination of Kanye West‘s first four albums, but it does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them. The 13 tracks, eight of which are between five and nine minutes in length, sometimes fuse them together simultaneously.”
Entertainment Weekly chimed in about the similarities from Kanye’s previous albums, stating:
“He spends the rest of the album exploring the sounds that have defined his work since then. The luxurious soul of 2004’s The College Dropout, the symphonic pomp of Late Registration, the gloss of 2007’s Graduation, and the emotionally exhausted electro of 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak all recur at various points as if to remind us of his achievements.”
No Signs of Stopping With the Experimenting
From 2010 and beyond, West has not stopped with trying out as many genres of music as you could probably think of.
2013’s Yeezus displayed the birth of his industrial sound, where the album was described as “hostile, abrasive and intentionally off-putting” by Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune.
Aside from hip-hop, other genres that were noted on the album included punk rap, electronic, and avant-rap. The latter is a kind of subgenre of hip-hop that comprises multiple styles that are not considered mainstream.
Rolling Stone didn’t shy away from their thoughts on the album, sharing that it was “an extravagantly abrasive album full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz and industrial gear-grind.”
The Life of Pablo (2016) and Ye (2018) were slight departures from the heavy, intense sounds present in Yeezus. The Life of Pablo was prominent with soul, crooner, and avant-pop styles, while Ye featured “plump, stirring soul samples.”
Jesus is King from 2019 was West’s version of a Christian hip-hop album that had “healthy doses of bass, pretty chords, hip hop sensibilities, and pop melodies,” and it borrowed “bits and pieces from past albums like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, The Life of Pablo, and Ye,” as noted by Complex.