I have been listening to Kanye West's music for well over a decade now, and it has, undoubtedly, been a significant fixture in my life. I can trace individual albums and songs back to specific moments growing up whether they be happy, frustrated, or melancholy ones. Kanye's ability to express the way many people feel, or hope to feel, musically, is one reason why I believe his songs are so universally popular. Whether or not you're a fan of Kanye West the person, hopefully, this list will provide some clarity into why I, and many others, love his music.
1. "Man I promise, I'm so self-conscious. That's why you always see me with at least one of my watches. Rollies and Pashas done drove me crazy. I can't even pronounce nothing, pass that Ver-say-see (Versace)!"
What? Kanye admitted he's self-conscious? You're damn right he did! Even though Kanye comes off as a narcissist, he's always been the first to admit that things bother him just like everyone else. For minor clarification, at the end of the verse, he says "Ver-say-see" instead of the proper pronunciation of Versace. The point of this line, and the others preceding it is to explain how he would buy expensive clothes just to show other people that he's wealthy. I love these lyrics because they tackle the insecurity that a lot of us have.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been concerned with the clothes that we wear, the house that we live in, the devices that we own and the possession of any other material objects that have social implications. I mean, think about the whole AirPods thing where if you didn't have them, people made jokes that you were poor. It's really cool that Kanye was tackling this same issue back in 2004 when the song was released. Kanye's creativity, honesty and humor in this song make it an all-time classic and a must listen for anyone, whether they love or hate Kanye's music.
2. "I parallel double parked that motherf*cker sideways!"
I'm going to level with you — I don't know what this line means, but I couldn't care less. Whenever this song comes on, my friends and I scream this line at each other, and we feel like we're on top of the world. To understand why I love this line so much, I would ask you to look at the broader context of the song. This song is basically about making a bunch of money and reaching a point in your life where no one can tell you what to do.
So, for Kanye to truly show you that he doesn't care what his haters say, he disses them in a way that makes absolutely no sense. Confused? Think about it this way. If you hated someone and decided to call them ugly, you're making the effort to insult them in a way they'll understand. The fact that you're making the effort to insult them in an understandable manner, in a weird way, actually shows you care somewhat since you want that person to understand you. However, Kanye doesn't care about his haters at all, so he makes no effort to insult them in a way they'll understand. It's high-key stupid but low-key brilliant.
3. "As we knelt on the kitchen floor, I said, 'Mommy, I'm a love you 'till you don't hurt no more. And when I'm older, you ain't gotta work no more. And I'm a get you that mansion that we couldn't afford'"
Wow… Whew… Excuse me. I just got a little emotional there. You can say what you want about Kanye, but there's no denying that this man loved his mother a lot. I say loved because, unfortunately, his mother passed away a year after this song was released. These lyrics about not wanting his mother to be in emotional pain and struggle financially are beautiful. I think every kid who loves their parents wants to achieve this same goal of being able to support their family. For me, Kanye articulated this goal perfectly his lyrics. If you really feel like getting emotional, I would look up Kanye trying to perform this song on his Yeezus Tour. Kanye can barely get through this song without crying, and it makes me tear up every time. Rest in peace, Donda West.
4. "Y’all been telling jokes that’s gon stress me out. As soon as I walk in, I’m like, 'let’s be out'"
I feel you, Kanye. I feel you. One of my favorite quotes from an unknown author, is "I can take a joke. I can't take disrespect disguised as a joke." The reason this is one of my favorite quotes is that it touches on something that I've experienced in my life. I've met people who, either I know or don't know, insult me, but play it off like it's a joke when I get offended. It is hands down one of the most frustrating feelings ever since they assume no accountability if I decide to call them out. That's why this line from Kanye speaks volumes to me because in those same moments I feel like walking out, too.
5. "I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny. And what I do? Act more stupidly. Bought more jewelry, more Louis V. My Mama couldn’t get through to me"
Again, Kanye is tackling the ideas of public perception and material wealth, but he switches things up a bit. He is still letting his listeners know that chasing material objects is pointless. However, you might realize that he's still subtly flexing the fact that he can afford these expensive chains and designer brands. Kanye's ability to maneuver both sides of a spectrum in his lyrics is one of the reasons his music is so universally accessible. In other words, a verse like this that simultaneously showboats and critiques material wealth would appeal to all people, whether you love or hate the pursuit of expensive things.
What I also love about these lyrics, and this is apparent for a lot of Kanye's music, is how accurately he describes himself and his constant life predicaments. In the first two lines of this verse, he says that even when the world is scrutinizing him for his mistakes or deems his actions as stupid, he continues to travel down the path of error and stupid decisions. Interestingly, this song was released in 2007, but these two lines are still applicable today. Without getting too deep into past events, Kanye was recently scrutinized for wearing a MAGA hat and proclaiming his love for Donald Trump. While he faced a lot of backlashes, instead of backpedaling and apologizing, Kanye did what his lyrics suggested: he kept on going. Kanye would later make controversial comments about slavery and continue to wear the hat, allowing the scrutiny to pile on. While I don't always agree with Kanye's actions or words, I can at least respect that he is candid about who he is in his lyrics.
6. "Don’t say you will. Unless you will"
Simple to read. Simple to understand. But nearly impossible for most people to execute. For 20 years and counting, I have been repeatedly disappointed by the fact that many people choose to be silent rather than honest. Whether that be in the context of a relationship, a friendship, or a family tie, so many people either don't express to each other how they feel, or they make false promises. I understand that sometimes you don't want to hurt someone's feelings or you'd rather not deal with the consequences of being candid, but as a personal request, be straight up with people. It may seem hard, but it's way better in the long run. Kanye gets it.
7. "Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses. Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive"
If I had to put this list of lyrics in order of importance, this would be pretty close to the top. I've mentioned before that Kanye loves to juxtapose two opposite sides of the spectrum, and here, he does it with the concepts of sophistication and vulgarity. He deems his raps to be top-tier, and even though they have curses in them, which are seen as vulgar, his raps are so flawless that they come off as sophisticated, nonetheless. I mean, the alliteration of "write my curses in cursive" allows this line to roll off your tongue so easily. I'm serious, say it out loud and see for yourself. Also, the fact that Kanye produced the beat to this song and Jay Z, who people claim as one of the best rappers ever, is featured makes these lines even more dope.
8. "I'll never let my son have an ego. He'll be nice to everyone, wherever we go. I mean, I might even make him be Republican. So everybody know he love white people"
These lyrics contain some of my favorite things that I love about Kanye's music: he's self-aware, funny, and loves his family. If you've ever watched a Kanye interview, you would know that he prides himself on being a confident individual. Most of his music, in fact, is created for the sole purpose of motivating others and giving them the fuel to accomplish their dreams. However, in this emotional verse, Kanye is self-aware of the repercussions of having an ego and being confident. In other words, he knows how much scrutiny and trouble he gets into because of his ego, and he doesn't want his children to suffer the same backlash that he did.
For context, these lyrics were written in 2011. Thus, this song preceded any of the Donald Trump stuff, so I'm going to ignore the irony of those last two lines for now. Additionally, Kanye has always been known to discuss heavy topics like race, religion, class struggles, and more, in a very humorous way. He does this because creatively is the best way to make difficult topics easier to digest. We saw this earlier when he mispronounced "Versace" in the context of material obsession, and here he pokes fun at the stereotype that all Republicans are white people. While this is pretty funny, at least to me, he's actually tackling a pretty sensitive issue: racism. Ultimately, as a black father who has endured racism, he wants his children to be accepted by everyone and not face the same racism that he had.
9. "Screams from the haters. Got a nice ring to it. I guess every superhero needs his theme music"
This might be one of the most motivating lines I've ever heard. If you listen to the song, the beat drops after he says this and it's the an all-around eargasm. Aside from the metaphor of his hater's words being theme music, what makes this line so real for Kanye is the context of events surrounding the making of the song. Kanye came back to making music after taking a break for a bit in 2009. He took this break because of his mother's death, which he never took time away for, and the Taylor Swift VMA incident. He received media scrutiny, and even President Obama called him a "jackass." Needless to say, Kanye hate was at an all-time high. To come back into the public eye with a song where you're calling out all your haters was a bold move on his part, and I'd say that it paid off. Anytime people are trying to pull me down or stop me from doing what I love, I take Kanye's advice and treat their voices like theme music, too.