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Kanye West Vinyl Albums: Shopping Guide

Kanye West Vinyl Albums: Shopping Guide

Since exploding onto the hip-hop scene nearly two decades ago with Slow Jamz, Kanye West has worn more hats than any rapper on the planet. But his road to success wasn't always easy. He struggled getting signed until he was signed to Roc A Fella Records and Def Jam Recordings. And while West has shape-shifted from pioneering producer to cocky up-and-comer to reclusive performance artist, no hip-hop record collection is complete without at least one Kanye record.

Ye has never been an easy artist to keep up with, and he made it more difficult than usual in 2022 by dropping Donda 2 exclusively on Stem Player. Still, a lot of people are still eagerly waiting for new releases. With most fans cut off from checking out West’s latest release, that makes now the perfect time to kick back, drop a needle, and reacquaint ourselves with his deep vinyl catalog.

The College Dropout (2004)

Kanye West started growing his reputation as a producer in the late 90s and, with his credits on JAY-Z’s The Blueprint (2001), steadily became one of the most in-demand beatmakers in the business.

And yet, West still couldn’t get signed as an artist because he didn’t fit the rapper image of the era (think DMX and 50 Cent). Label presidents would listen to the tracks that would later become the backbone of The College Dropout, asking if they could buy his beats to use with other rappers.1

After shopping his album around, West’s longtime home Roc-A-Fella finally signed him—just to keep him from jumping to a different label. However reluctantly the partnership started, both reaped the rewards later with a four-time Platinum album and the early makings of one of this century’s rap legends.

Key Tracks

With its flawless production specs, The College Dropout sounds impeccable on vinyl. Each song holds up nearly twenty years later, and many eerily foreshadow the arc of Kanye’s career. Some tracks songs include:

  • “Through the Wire” – After nearly dying in a car accident, West committed renewed fervor to getting his freshman album released. On the album’s first single, Kanye reflects on his near-fatal accident while rapping with his jaw wired closed.
  • “Jesus Walks” – Uniting a bottom-heavy beat and a children’s choir sample, “Jesus Walks” is a thunderous hit track. Notably, the song foreshadows Kanye’s premiere effort as a gospel artist—2019’s album Jesus is King.
  • “Spaceship” – Nowadays, it can be hard to imagine Ye working at the mall—and rapping about it—but that’s what he does here. The track reminds us that while West looms large, his creative roots had humble beginnings.

  • Late Registration (2005)

    With droves of rappers nipping at the heels of his trademark “chipmunk soul” sampling technique, West evolved his style for Late Registration. He brought in composer-producer Jon Brion for a suite of tracks, looking for “that Coldplay, Portishead, Fiona Apple style,” which, at the time, was a musical point of reference you’d be hard-pressed to hear from rappers.2

    After the success of The College Dropout, West no longer needed to prove his vision to record executives or his fellow rappers. The unusual collaboration with Brion worked, and West avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.

    Key Tracks

    Besides the unique partnership between West and Brion, the array of featured artists on Late Registration makes it an iconic record—and must-have Kanye West vinyl. Its greatest hits include:

  • “Gold Digger” – This track features both an actual Ray Charles sample and Jamie Foxx doing a Ray Charles impression (which he’d later take to Hollywood). “Gold Digger” was West’s first #1 charting single—one of only two in his long career.
  • “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” – West rerecorded this track after learning about blood diamonds. There are two versions on the Late Registration vinyl: one features a guest verse from JAY-Z and the other live drums from, oddly, the film director Michel Gondry.
  • “Heard ‘Em Say” – The album’s opening track features some of Kanye’s tightest verses and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine crooning on the chorus.

  • Check out your favorite tunes or discover new ones. Explore the record store!

    Graduation (2008)

    The conclusion of Kanye’s college-themed trilogy finds West at his biggest and most bombastic. West spent a summer touring with U2 and returned to the studio with a desire to create some tracks that could rock a stadium like Bono.3

    Notably, Graduation was released head-to-head with 50 Cent’s Curtis. The rivalry led to record-breaking sales for both albums, but West ultimately sold more units. For Kanye, this victory symbolized his final triumph over the “gangsta” rap image that had held him back at the start of his career.

    Key Tracks

    Perhaps West’s biggest and brightest album, Graduation is the vinyl to put on when it’s time to get the party moving. The record features three renowned tracks:

  • “Stronger” – As West’s second #1 charting single, “Stronger” is the kind of grandiose knockout you’d expect from an album aspiring to stadium-ready rap.
  • “Flashing Lights” – While it never charted at #1, “Flashing Lights” is a critical favorite and regarded by many as the best track on Graduation. The synth groove and chorus sung by Dwele are hard to get out of your head.
  • “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – Here, West begins to reflect on his fame and success, resulting in some of the album’s edgiest verses. The ultra-popular music video, which features comedian Zach Galifianakis, complements one of Ye’s moodiest tracks with a tongue-in-cheek touch of humor.

  • 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

    Kanye incubated his first three albums for months or even years, addled by frequent delays and long stints editing and re-editing tracks. 808s, however, was hatched and recorded in a mere three weeks and released shortly thereafter. For this record, West scaled back his production style and relied more on auto-tuned vocals instead of raw rapping. The emo results were somewhat divisive among critics and audiences alike, but the moody, brooding 808s & Heartbreak remains a must-have vinyl if only to highlight this sea change in Ye’s career.

    Key Tracks

    Inspired by Kanye’s break-up with an ex-fianceé, 808s & Heartbreak is a fusion of autotune, loneliness, and angst. Two of its seminal hits include:

  • “Heartless” – With the rapper at his most sensitive (and his most autotuned), Kanye delivers a catchy tune that’s nevertheless a clear-as-day reflection on his bad break-up.
  • “Love Lockdown” – With its stripped-back production and drum machine beat, this track builds gradually from a heartbeat to a percussive bacchanal—arguably the most danceable song on an otherwise dark album.

  • My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

    By many estimations, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the quintessential Kanye album and a crown jewel of any vinyl collection—no matter what type of music you favor.

    The record represents Kanye in perfect balance: swaggering but sensitive, over-the-top yet grounded, with exacting production techniques that give way to moments of naked sincerity. The result? A no-skip, beautifully rendered masterpiece of an album.

    Key Tracks

    Twisted Fantasy belongs to Kanye, but he didn’t do it alone. The album includes killer collaborations between guest producers and artists, among them:

  • “POWER” – With an unforgettable sample from progressive rock band King Crimson, “POWER” serves as a fiery rebuttal to critics after their lukewarm reception to 808s. It’s a patent pump-up song—the perfect track to spin when you’re blazing down the freeway or getting amped up before a workout.
  • “Monster” – “Monster” graces audiophiles with a seismic lineup: West, JAY-Z, Rick Ross, and Bon Iver all contribute to the track. But, rapping hard over a sinister and heavy beat, the real breakout star of this track is Nicki Minaj. Her electric 32-bar performance on this track was, many would argue, her breakout moment in the mainstream rap game.
  • “Runaway” – Recorded during West’s exile in Hawaii after his Taylor Swift VMAs controversy, “Runaway” observes West grappling with his abrasive tendencies. The isolation and self-loathing here would become a staple of much of Kanye’s work in the decade to come.

  • More of Our Favorite Kanye Albums

    Over the last decade, West has continued to evolve as an artist, at times in ways that have challenged or alienated his fans. Still, even if you aren’t a Kanye completionist, every one of his later records is worth a spin:

    • Watch the Throne (2011) – A collaboration with longtime buddy JAY-Z, Watch the Throne finds two rappers at the top of their craft, both reckoning with what it means to be Black and famous in America. Featuring opulent production by two masters of excess, tracks like “No Church in the Wild” (featuring Frank Ocean) and “Otis” (which focalizes a brilliant Otis Redding sample), are must-spins for any fan of West or JAY-Z.
    • Ye (2018) – Recorded in Wyoming (nowadays, West’s preferred hideaway), Ye is a complicated and provocative burst of an album. Tracks like “I Thought About Killing You” and “Ghost Town” involve frank depictions of West’s struggles with bipolar disorder and violent thoughts. The album clocks in at only 23 minutes, making Ye one of Kanye’s briefest, rawest releases to date.
    • Jesus Is King (2019) – West followed up the darkness of Ye with an unmistakable religious reawakening a year later. The album garnered West and his collaborators the Top Christian album and Top Gospel album awards at the Billboard Music Awards, so it’s safe to say the artist’s second (or, judging by his discography 12th) coming is just around the corner.

    Take Kanye For A Spin with Victrola

    As one of rap’s most vibrant, unpredictable titans, there are countless shades of Kanye to experience—and only one way to experience his range with full fidelity.

    Victrola’s Kanye West vinyl collection spotlights the rapper’s production perfectionism across each era of his evolution, from his conscious rap style of the early millennium to his experimental jams of recent years. Whatever side of Ye you’re craving today, browse Victrola’s complete catalog to get a world-class education in one of rap’s reigning legends of our time. But our record store has albums from great musicians, such as Adele vinyl and Ariana Grande vinyl.


    Sources:

    1. Billboard. Kanye West’s ‘The College Dropout’: An Oral History. https://www.billboard.com/music/rb-hip-hop/kanye-wests-the-college-dropout-an-oral-history-5893976/
    2. Rolling Stone. Late Registration. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/late-registration-205149/
    3. MTV News. Kanye's Graduation: Inside The NYC Listening Party For West's So-Called 'Comeback'. http://www.mtv.com/news/1568459/kanyes-graduation-inside-the-nyc-listening-party-for-wests-so-called-comeback/

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