Kanye West's Best Music Videos...OF ALL TIME!
Kanye West has a history of re-allocating awards, or simply giving his own away, but there's no question he deserved the "Video Vanguard" award at the 2015 MTV VMAs. Yes, the prestigiousness of the award is up for debate, considering 95 percent of MTV's programming isn't music videos. Regardless, the Chicago native's visual catalog belongs in the MoMA, from his nostalgia-inducing breakthrough music video for "Through The Wire" to the cinematic opus that is Runaway.
Choosing a favorite Kanye West music video is like choosing a favorite child, and Ye's got more children than the late Bob Marley, visually speaking. We lost sight of that in the midst of his acceptance speech (?) and 2020 Presidential candidacy announcement (?!!). Accordingly, we're going to break down the best Kanye West music videos—OF ALL TIME, bruh!—so that folks remember why he was on that stage in the first place.
To avoid making this process any more painstaking, we're going to leave live performances out of the debate and only consider official music videos that were tied to a major-label release from Yeezy.
(And for all you salty haters that can't stand the 'Ye praise, get that bottle of Lawry's out ya ass crack, jack!)
One could argue that Kanye West's magnum opus is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The hype leading up to the album was unparalleled, especially after he scorched the Internet with GOOD Fridays. So when he dropped a feature-length film ahead of the album's release, the music industry came to a screeching halt. Runaway is a visual exercise in self-reflection, capturing the ego, genius, and insecurity of West. While the storyline and his acting skills could've have been sharper, there's no doubt West's music-video-as-film set the standard—and the bar unrealistically high for anyone who dared call themselves a peer.
9. "The New Workout Plan"
While the track is full of ridiculous quotables—"It's a party tonight and ooh she's so excited / Tell me who's invited: you, your friends and my dick"—the official music video for "The New Workout Plan" is even mo' over the top. Featuring cameos from Fonsworth Bentley, Tracee Ellis Ross, and the late Anna Nicole Smith (just to name a few), the Little X-directed visual finds Kanye leading some sort of groupie gauntlet. (By modern-day standards, it's pretty misogynistic. We'll give Ye the benefit of the doubt and say this was all in good fun.) The on-set chemistry is palpable, which results in Kanye embracing his role as boot[y] camp instructor wholeheartedly. Shout out to everyone that was able to cut a broke-ass Ray Ray out of their life because of this song.
8. "Good Morning"
Kanye West repeatedly hit fans over the head with college-themed visuals in the first half of his career, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the aesthetic package of Graduation, which is ironic considering Mr. West notoriously dropped out. However, we can thank Ye for putting budding art enthusiasts up on Takashi Murakami, who provided the artwork for the majority of Graduation's rollout, including the video for "Good Morning." While West and Murakami both had on their director's caps for this, Japanese production company OLM gets the credit for bringing the vision to life.
7. "Jesus Walks (Version 1)"
Kanye West knew he had a breakthrough record on his hands when he made "Jesus Walks." On "Last Call" he bewilderedly states, "Everybody out there, listen here: I played them 'Jesus Walks' and they didn't sign me." He also famously boasted on "Otis" that making the track earned him a 'Get Out of Hell Free' card. Ye felt limited by the constraints of a traditional music video and decided to shoot three visuals. Most will be familiar with Michael Haussman's treatment (above), which features Ye hitting his inimitable preacher-handshake-and-stomp-dance-thing. The second was helmed by frequent collaborator Chris Milk, who took a metaphorical approach to the biblical theme. Finally, Kanye returned to Chicago to shoot the literal-and-lower-budget final version. In my humble opinion, the first version stands apart for finding the right balance between abstract and literal while remaining true to the message of the track.
6. "All of the Lights" ft. Rihanna, Kid Cudi
Hype Williams and Kanye West have teamed up for numerous music videos, but "All of the Lights" stands out for its unforgettable cinematography. Rihanna murders her Fifth Element-reminiscent look and Kid Cudi tries to figure out where the camera is while stunting in red leather, but the most memorable shot is Sir Yeezy going H.A.M. on top of a cop car. (Something a few people would like to do right about now.) I'd like to give an extra special shoutout to Jet Jaguar and the person that handled the text treatments for this joint.
Members of the hip hop community, let's admit that we set the bar unrealistically high for Watch The Throne. At the time, Kanye West and Jay Z were arguably at the top of their game—aka Kanye hadn't released Yeezus and Jay hadn't released Magna Carta Holy Grail—so the album was anticipated to be an undeniable classic. Wrong! However, we were blessed with "Otis," which we treated with more care than "Ni**as In Paris."
The Spike Jonze-directed clip for the Otis Redding-sampling joint famously features Ye and Hov smashing through an abandoned lot in a recklessly renovated Maybach. They ultimately put the Frankenstein-of-a-whip up for auction and donated the proceeds to charity. Which kinda-sorta makes up for all the opulent shit-talking that was on display while regular folks were dealing with the recession.
This is the most you'll ever see Kanye West smile, so enjoy it.
4. "Touch The Sky" ft. Lupe Fiasco
It's hard to tell whether Chris Milk and Kanye West were aiming for a blaxploitation-inspired flick or a action-packed visual with vintage flare when they shot the music video for "Touch The Sky." Regardless, it's easily one of Kanye's greatest acting performances. It probably wasn't much of stretch, all things considered: Seemingly reckless superstar with an amateur pornstar love interest. Sound familiar? (This also marked the arrival of Lupe Fiasco into mainstream consciousness. Needless to say, it wouldn't be the last time the two Chicago natives got together on a track.)
One of Kanye West's best music videos of all time almost never saw the light of day.
The track "Spaceship" appears on The College Dropout, which was released in 2004, but West kept the video under wraps until 2009, when he randomly released it via his now-defunct blog, Kanye Universecity. “I directed this video four years ago, but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I never released it," he explained. "But now looking back at it I like it.” Simple explanation from a complicated man.
If you've ever worked retail, you know it's probably one of the worst fucking things on Earth. You've also probably dreamed up the most fantastical way of quitting. Kanye takes the cake, though, for dipping out in an actual spaceship.
2. "All Falls Down" ft. Syleena Johnson
Chris Milk and Kanye West can't take credit for pioneering the use of first-person POV in music videos, but "All Falls Down" certainly serves as one of the most notable examples of this cinematographic style in hip hop history. The attention to detail in West's bathroom scene is immaculate, even the audio changes to reflect the acoustics of the setting. And then there's Stacey Dash. I mean, there are lot of cameos in this video, but Stacey Dash.
"All Falls Down" is timeless, and we're thankful Milk and West put in the work to deliver a fitting visual.
1. "Through The Wire"
I'm not afraid to admit this shit damn-near brought a tear to my eye when I watched it again today.
Kanye West's legacy is ever-changing: celebrated producer, iconic emcee, tortured genius, heartbroken maniac, twitterpated motorcycle rider. Perhaps that's why "Through The Wire" stands out as his best music video of all time. Originally conceptualized by Coodie Simmons and West, the video features footage from Simmons that was intended for full-length documentary about Kanye's rise to stardom. However, a fateful meeting with then-MTV employee Chike Ozah changed the course of history.
While they're been many iterations of Kanye Omari West, the one fans initially fell in love with was a misunderstood artist with dreams of one day becoming a hip hop legend. He was relatable in his inability to fit into the mainstream. And while that may have changed since his ascension to self-proclaimed "God" levels, we can always look back to this moment as his genesis.
thank you, Kanye.