Solo Albums Between 2008-2013: 808's & Heartbreak (2008), My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Yeezus (2013)
Group Albums Between 2008-2013: Watch the Throne (2011), Cruel Summer (2012)
Biggest Hits Between 2008-2013: Kanye West f/ Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver "Monster" (2010), Kanye West "Power" (2010), Kanye West f/ Jay-Z "Ni**as in Paris" (2011), Kanye West "All of the Lights" (2011), Kanye West "New God Flow" (2012)
Mixtapes: Can't Tell Me Nothing (2008)
Look, we'll keep this brief, since we already know what some of you are going to say.
Angry Complex Hate-Reader: (in caveman-esque angry commenter voice) Man, fuck Complex, y'all are just a bunch of Kanye dickriders. I'm going to leave a comment! [Leaves comment that reads 'FUK COMPLEX U JUST KANYE DICKRIDEERZ thats yur opinion and its stupid bcuz j cole/wale/mac miller/TDE/ace hood is the best you bitchz.']
We'll stop you right there, and save you the comment:
1. Calling Complex "dickriders of Kanye" or whathaveyou for crowning him the best rapper of the last five years is like calling your math teacher a "dickrider of algebra" when solving for X.
2. No, whatever rapper you put in there is not the best rapper of the last five years. They just aren't. You can argue, but you're wrong.
3. The reason for this is that Kanye has done more to push the musical boundaries of rap than anyone on this list, while still maintaining what is more or less an impossibly high standard.
4. And also, actually, thanks for reading!
Let's review, shall we?
2008: Kanye releases 808s and Heartbreak, an album that takes the autotune trend of the moment to the utmost extreme, and records a heartbreaking record that involves singing, rapping, and a transformation that puts him past the realm of rapper, and singer, and producer.
2009: Kanye flips his shit at Taylor Swift, but also, basically speaks the truth. Destroys Jay-Z on "Run This Town." Crushes it on "Make Her Say" and "Kinda Like a Big Deal" and "Walkin On The Moon" and every other monster guest verse he drops that year.
2010: Kanye drops My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, indisputably one of the greatest rap records of all time, a pop masterpiece that is as vulnerable as it is bombastic, a theatrical production in every sense of the word. The art for the album is done by George Condo. The line of singles released in the lead-up to it are almost alll stunners. His VMA performance makes the actions of a passive-aggressively vengeful Taylor Swift look like those of pop music's borderline-Grand Wizard aspirant.
2011: Kanye raps on and produces Watch The Throne, the long-awaited luxury rap superalbum, featuring himself and Jay-Z, packaged inside a gilded Riccardo Ticsi box. When touring for the album, Jay and Ye would go on to play "Paris" as many as eight times in a row on some stops.
2012: Kanye releases G.O.O.D. Music's first crew album, Cruel Summer. Initially met with critical hesitation, the album eventually yields a few bangers, three of which become the summer's biggest songs ("Mercy," "Clique," and "Cold"). Oh, yeah, and kills it on "Birthday Song."
2013: Kanye releases Yeezus, a ten-track album that is utterly fucking transcendent in that it infuriates rap fans who wanted club-banger Kanye to feed them hits, and instead got Artist Kanye who made a record about telling corporate sponsorships, the government, the rap game, and anyone who wants to box him in to rightly fuck themselves. It is still the best album to come out this year, in any genre of music, let alone rap. Its collaborators range from the hardest pride of Chicago's 2013 rap scene (Chief Keef, King Louie) to his high-note go-to, Justin Vernon, to TNGHT, to Daft Punk, to Rick Rubin, to dancehall artist Assassin, and then some. Kanye first debuted songs from the album during the Met Costume Gala, and then on walls, projected, around the world. He rapped about coming on your Hamptons spouse's blouse on Saturday Night Live. He released his funniest, angriest, most artistically risk-taking and rewarding album to date. And he released it the same week his first child was born.
So where are we in 2013? Well, Jay Z is shilling for Samsung and taking dashes out of his name. Lil Wayne is still rapping about his scat fixation and cashing in on the first two years of the last five. And then there's Drake, who is undoubtedly nipping at Kanye's heels, but still lacks the sheer artistry to pass Kanye, relying on a bevy of brilliant, young, scrappy collaborators to help him do so. And not that Kanye didn't do the same thing with Yeezus, but the difference is in the people, and Drake, Jay, and Wayne don't even need more of them. Consider: Drake's only real feature on his new album is Jay. Jay needs features like Justin Timberlake to attract the attention of the masses, who he pre-purchased a million albums for. And Wayne is still trying to recreate the success of the first half of the last five years, and like Jay, is tapping all the help he can get to do so (while being slightly less discerning about it).
The most popular act to guest on Kanye's new album is Daft Punk, and they're a production credit. He doesn't need Jay. He doesn't need Wayne. He doesn't need Drake. Kanye can simply rely on his own instincts as an artist, and rely on his reputation to be able to tap the help he needs, even if that help isn't always going to get the most prominent look from it. The people Kanye are working with now know the reward isn't in the look so much as it is in the art, in the place in history, which is how he can convince them to do it. Of all of the aforementioned rappers, which of them truly have vision? Which of them have vision and can rap like there's no tomorrow? And which of them have vision, can rap like there's no tomorrow, and continue to turn out bangers?
There's only one. Kanye's the best rapper of the last five years not just because he's done more for transcending the simple and prescribed role of rapper as artist, although that could be enough. But beyond that, quite simply, he's just made better music than anyone else. That's it. That's just all it comes down to. —Foster Kamer