“There are decades where nothing happens,” the Russian leader Vladimir Lenin once wrote, “and there are weeks where decades happen.” Kanye West’s album rollouts tend to be spectacles — remember the frantic, 11th-hour revisions to 2016’s The Life of Pablo? — but even by the 41-year-old’s frenetic standards, his latest era has been volatile and unpredictable. After laying low for more than a year following a very public breakdown in late 2016, West has crammed volumes of creative output and tabloid drama into just a few brief weeks.
In mid-April, West announced that his G.O.O.D. Music label would release five West-produced albums on five consecutive Fridays, beginning with a Pusha-T LP on May 25. Then came a solo West album, a collaborative project between West and Kid Cudi called Kids See Ghosts, Nas’ first album in six years, and, finally, a Teyana Taylor project to conclude the series. For anyone familiar with West’s loose adherence to deadlines, the likelihood of all five coming to fruition seemed unlikely. But barring a few rollout delays — on the afternoon of her scheduled release date, Taylor was retweeting fan memes about the record not yet being available — the improbable has come to pass. From a creative fortress outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, West oversaw the release of five miniature albums (all are seven-track sets, except for Taylor’s eight-song LP) that captivated the music world.
Naturally, the intervening two months have been filled with tumult. The highlights read like the plot of a soap opera with an experimental writers room: West posed in a Make America Great Again hat in a picture retweeted by President Trump; West released a scatological troll as his big comeback single; West appeared on a TMZ talkshow and suggested that American slavery was a choice (he has since clarified); Pusha-T began a no-holds-barred feud with Drake and won; West flew a cadre of music industry luminaries (and Jonah Hill) to Wyoming for a campfire debut of his album; and, in the most surprisingly normal move of all, West appeared on an episode of Celebrity Family Feud.
It’s been a whirlwind, but as the dust settles, what remains are 36 tracks of varying quality from some of hip-hop’s biggest names. Some are revelatory, some less so. Below, a comprehensive ranking of every song from the Wyoming sessions.
36. Nas feat. Diddy and 070 Shake, “Not for Radio”
When Diddy ad-libs are the best part of your song, you know you have a problem. As overdramatic strings swell, G.O.O.D. breakout 070 Shake sings her only lackluster hook from the Wyoming sessions while Nas rattles off mind-boggling lines like “Edgar Hoover was black” and “Fox News was started by a black dude, also true.” (Fact-check: Not true!) Unlike other, less-sterling moments from the Wyoming sessions, “Not For Radio” doesn’t hint at fresh creative directions that were just landed poorly — it’s just bluster without a purpose.
35. Kanye West, “I Thought About Killing You”
West has a knack for impressive album openers, from College Dropout’s “We Don’t Care” to Life of Pablo’s “Ultralight Beam,” but “I Thought About Killing You” begins with a meandering monologue that’s more lurid than revealing before an odd ambient sample enters to accompany unfortunate West-isms like “Don’t get your tooth chipped like Frito-Lay.”
34. Teyana Taylor, “No Manners”
K.T.S.E. improves after its underwhelming start: The unimpressive 99-second opener is built on a shoddy pun (“I got a man, but ain’t got no manners”), and both syrupy strings and an off-putting, pitch-shifted vocal sample hamper the outing further.
33. Kanye West feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR, “Wouldn’t Leave”
In which West apes Chance the Rapper’s soulful, West-inspired brand of sing-song-y hip-hop — and abjectly fails. Despite his wholesomeness and earnesty, Chance himself can barely sell his most cloying moments (see: the insufferable 2017 DJ Khaled collaboration “I Love You So Much”), so it follows that West’s problematic verses about a woman in denial who refuses to leave her man tank the saccharine cut.
32. Kids See Ghosts feat. Ty Dolla Sign, “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”
Like any blockbuster sequel, the follow-up to Ye‘s emotional centerpiece is bigger and bolder — but not quite better. The song’s a Frankenstein’s monster, with limp snippets of bombast and reflection haphazardly stitched together.
31. Kanye West, “Violent Crimes”
070 Shake lends a gorgeous hook to Ye’s closer, which Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker co-wrote. So it’s a shame that West lays on such sleazy verses — sexualizing his young daughter’s future adult body and urging her to dress demurely to deter suitors — over the album’s most delicate, inviting instrumental.
30. Nas feat. Kanye West and The-Dream, “Everything”
At seven-and-a-half minutes, the longest track to emerge from the Wyoming sessions far overstays its welcome. An unobjectionable, spare beat undergirds Nas’ troubling verses: When he suggests “the media slings mud” and encourages journalists to “go write whatever blog,” he seems to obliquely dismiss the reporting that has emerged in the wake of ex-wife Kelis’ accusations of domestic violence.
29. Kids See Ghosts feat. Pusha-T, “Feel the Love”
Why did “Feel the Love,” whose only full verse is by Pusha-T, end up on Kids See Ghosts and not Daytona? Why does the vamp in the song’s first half sound so much like the outro of My Morning Jacket’s “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2”? Why did no one on the G.O.O.D. team prevent West from putting bursts of miserable scatting on the track’s back half? All great questions that the poorly executed Kids See Ghosts opener leaves listeners to ponder for the subsequent six tracks.
28. Nas feat. Tony Williams, “Bonjour”
Like a cream puff at a mediocre French bakery, “Bonjour” seems appealing on first glance — until you dive in and realize there just isn’t much there. It’s the type of song that, on a project of traditional length, would make for serviceable filler. But Nasir’s seven-track length heightens expectations for each component, and generic outings just don’t cut it.
27. Kanye West, “All Mine”
West potently combined eye-popping lyrics and industrial screeches on 2013’s masterful Yeezus. “All Mine” seems designed to rekindle that magic, but the unpolished beat just exposes some of the most groan-worthy verses of his career. Try unhearing lines like “Let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome / None of us would be here without cum.”
26. Kids See Ghosts, “Fire”
Despite an Andre 3000 co-write, “Fire” doesn’t go anywhere interesting in its two-minutes-and-change runtime. The track’s solid, hinting at the longstanding rock aspirations Cudi explored on 2012’s WZRD and 2015’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, but the bland, brief verses make it sound more like a rough draft than a finished product.
25. Nas feat. The-Dream, “Adam and Eve”
The-Dream was West’s secret weapon on Pablo; here, he feels underused. His oddly sped-up vocal hook demonstrates the consequences of the breakneck approach West and his collaborators employed to meet their ambitious June release schedule. Or maybe it was on purpose — those vocals, along with the song’s plinking piano and strummed acoustic guitar, establish an unsettling backdrop only leveled out by clever turns of phrase like “Chinchillas shake on the hanger, the force of this banger.”
24. Nas, “Simple Things”
“I’m lookin’ in longevity’s eyes/ I play with infinity’s mind/ forever’s my guy,” Nas rhymes at the outset of Nasir’s short closer. As with many of the songs from the Wyoming sessions, the brevity feels more like a lack of polish than perfectionism distilled — better Nas rhymes, and more of them, would bolster the track’s sturdy beat and hook.
23. Teyana Taylor feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “3Way”
With a contribution that far exceeds his appearance on Kids See Ghosts’ “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2),” the omnipresent Ty Dolla $ign joins Taylor for an ethereal if unremarkable homage to a ménage à trois. Save this one for until after the kids hit the sack.
22. Kids See Ghosts feat. Louis Prima, “4th Dimension”
Forget releasing five albums in as many weeks — West’s greatest accomplishment in 2018 may be getting revered jazz artist Louis Prima on the Hot 100 after a 57-year absence, the longest gap between appearances in the chart’s history. Pairing a sample of 1936’s “What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’)” with thumping drums makes for an exhilarating contrast, though West and Cudi’s verses are forgettable.
21. Pusha-T, “Santeria”
070 Shake’s Spanish-language refrain is supposed to sound ominous, but instead sounds overwrought — drama for drama’s sake. Its repetition toward the song’s conclusion, paired with overbearing, rat-a-tat drums, drags the track out and makes it seem far longer than its three minutes. “Santeria” isn’t a bad track, but it’s a weak link considering Daytona’s overall strength.
20. Teyana Taylor, “Never Would Have Made It”
This celebratory tune energetically interpolates Marvin Sapp’s 2007 gospel No. 1 “Never Would Have Made It,” but the lyrics about overcoming hardship are more derivative than the rest of K.T.S.E.’s writing. Serviceable and pleasant might suffice for other artists, but “Never Would Have Made It” doesn’t hold up next to K.T.S.E.‘s stronger moments.
19. Kids See Ghosts feat. Yasiin Bey, “Kids See Ghosts”
The duo’s eponymous track could be West’s most lyrically limber moment of the Wyoming sessions — “Got a bible by my bed, oh yes, I’m very Christian/ Constantly repentin’, cause, yes, I never listen” — and the chilly beat also yielded a quality Tyler, the Creator remix.
18. Nas, “White Label”
Pedestrian Nas musings about wealth and fame can’t obscure a revelatory West sample: Iranian artist Shahram Shabpareh’s ’70s funk cover of Graham Nash’s “Prison Song.” One wonders what could’ve been had another rapper hopped on the beat — or had Nas put some more effort into his verses.
17. Pusha-T, “Come Back Baby”
Two very good tracks exist on “Come Back Baby,” but Push and West clumsily flip between them. It makes for a jarring listen — and proves that West’s tested Yeezus trick of juxtaposing harsh minimalism and sunny soul doesn’t always work. Even so, Push’s lyrics are a blast: “Wrist for wrist, let’s have a glow-off/ Fuck it, brick for brick, let’s have a blow-off!”
16. Kanye West, “No Mistakes”
The vocal trio of Kid Cudi, Charlie Wilson, and Caroline Shaw round out a buoyant sample of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Children (Get Together)” for a triumphant track that recalls the uplifting soul of West’s 2010 loosie “G.O.O.D. Friday.”
15. Teyana Taylor, “Rose in Harlem”
West juices up The Stylistics’ downtempo 1976 song “Because I Love You, Girl” with muscular drums as Taylor adds some soul-baring swagger to her verses about dealing with the dishonest characters in both life and the music industry. “It be the ones who say they ride for you/ It be the ones, the ones you love, them too/ It be the one who swear they real,” she sings, later positing, “All these fake smiles/ These chicks must just came from a dentist/ I can tell it ain’t genuine.”
14. Kanye West feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR, “Ghost Town”
Yes, Kid Cudi’s interpolation of “Take Me for a Little While” sounds disconcertingly like the “Why You Always Lyin’?” guy. And, yes, West periodically lapses into incoherent mumble-singing. But 070 Shake and PARTYNEXTDOOR save the track, as does a fusion of two samples — both from the revered Chicago archival label Numero Group — from Shirley Ann Lee’s “Someday” and the Royal Jesters’ “Take Me for a Little While.”
13. Teyana Taylor, “Issues/Hold On”
The laser sounds that interrupted the end of Ye’s “Ghost Town” resurface here, and the pew pews don’t exactly jibe well with the sample of GQ’s sumptuous “I Do Love You.” But this K.T.S.E. standout makes up for that in other ways: Taylor’s subject matter contrasts with the lusty instrumental in a subtler, more provocative way: “This is deeper than you and other women/ This is daddy issues,” she sings.
12. Kids See Ghosts, “Cudi Montage”
West has always boldly sampled musical icons, from Ray Charles to Daft Punk, and on Kids See Ghosts’ closing track, he chops up an exhumed Kurt Cobain demo to great effect. It’s tough to miss the emotional lineage between Cudi and the troubled Nirvana frontman, though the morose rapper seems to have turned the corner: “Pain in my eyes,” he raps, “in this time I find, I’m stronger than I ever was.”
11. Pusha-T feat. Kanye West, “What Would Meek Do?”
When Daytona dropped, many assumed that West would occupy much of the five G.O.O.D. albums with the 4chan-ready comments he’d shared on Twitter and in the lyrics of the non-album single “Ye Vs. The People.” Instead, his verse on “What Would Meek Do?” turned out to be his most direct and cogent acknowledgement of his affiliation with conservative thinkers and President Trump. “If you ain’t drivin’ while black, do they stop you?” he wonders. “Will MAGA hats let me slide like a drive-thru?” And West’s decision to sample Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise” is a prog-rock-meets-hip-hop masterstroke that continues in the vein of the King Crimson clip he used on 2010’s “Power.”
10. Teyana Taylor, “Gonna Love Me”
Was someone at the Wyoming sessions spinning Nicolas Jaar? “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream,” from the experimental electronic artist’s outstanding 2018 album as A.A.L, samples The Delfonics silky “I Gave to You,” which crops up again here. Taylor’s use of the sample hews closer to the source material as she sells her devotionals — “I’m sorry if I made you feel less than who you are/ A little insecure, oh, you’s a shining star” — with unshowy vocal acrobatics. Following lackluster opener “No Manners,” “Gonna Love Me” puts K.T.S.E. on a strong footing that it maintains for its duration.
9. Pusha-T, “The Games We Play”
As West’s sinewy, minimalist beat reverberates in the background — a slowed, isolated loop of the guitar from Booker T. Averheart’s “Heart ‘N Soul” — Push seems lyrically unstoppable, rhyming methodically about his drug-dealing roots, hip-hop origins, and eventual success. Steely lines like “If you ain’t energized like the bunny for drug money/ Or been paralyzed by the sight of a drug mummy” impress, as do casually colorful boasts about his current lifestyle: “With Ye back choppin’, the cars and the women come with options/ Caviar facials remove the toxins.”
8. Kanye West, “Yikes”
West grapples with his public mental health struggles — “Shit could get menacing, frightening, find help/ Sometimes I scare myself” — on this bleak, spiritual successor to Pablo’s “FML” before concluding that his “bipolar shit” makes him a “superhero.” The lyrics on “Yikes” are hardly career-best, but they are the strongest of the project, and an instrumental that conjures early Crystal Castles makes it a highlight. West’s exploration of inner turmoil, and the earworm of a hook he presents it with, also gets a little help from a frenemy: Pop’s sadboy-in-chief Drake penned the song’s hook.
7. Pusha-T, “Hard Piano”
It’s a testament to Push’s talent that he manages to upstage West’s relentless production, Tony Williams’ earworm of a hook, and Rick Ross’ stellar guest verse — possibly the best cameo to decorate an album from the Wyoming sessions. In dismissing the genre’s rising class of youngsters, Pusha memorably quips, “I’m too rare amongst all of this pink hair/ Still do the Fred Astaire on a brick.”
6. Nas feat. Kanye West, “Cops Shot the Kid”
The jittery, propulsive track flips Slick Rick’s seminal 1988 single “Children’s Story” as Nas and West trade lucid bars about police brutality and its young victims of color. While West’s has drifted toward far-right ideology of late, here, he exasperatedly asks, “Tell me, who do we call to report crime/ If 9-1-1 doin’ the drive-by?”
5. Teyana Taylor feat. Kanye West, “Hurry”
In a verse that sounds preserved in amber from his ’00s pop-rap heyday, West matches the track’s effortless, playful mood by rapping that “She know that pussy gon’ leave him seasick/ Every time she round, she get treated like the sidekick/ Until that side chick went and got some side dick.” And Taylor one-ups him, too, with a taut verse hilariously analogizing her lover’s premature ejaculation to a “rocket-rocket-rocket-rocket ship blast like it’s Jimmy Neutron.”
4. Kids See Ghosts, “Reborn”
Kids See Ghosts’ longest track by more than a minute pushes ahead with the underdog spirit that defined early Cudi gems like “Sky Might Fall.” And considering how out of touch with the world West has seemed lately, his revelation that “I was off the chain, I was often drained/ I was off the meds, I was called insane/ What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame” stands out for its candor.
3. Pusha-T, “Infrared”
Many will remember Daytona’s simmering closer for the Drake feud it reignited: “How could you ever right these wrongs/ When you don’t even write your songs?” mocking Drizzy’s appropriation of a lyric from West’s “Touch the Sky” on not one but two songs and referencing longstanding accusations that the superstar uses a ghostwriter for his verses. But the tabloid fodder only adds to an already-superb cut, driven by a haunting sample of early ‘70s Stax act 24-Carat Black and Push’s knotty verses about maintaining his longevity and integrity in a mercurial genre.
2. Teyana Taylor, “WTP”
It’s easy to compare this number to “Fade,” the slice of throbbing house bliss from The Life of Pablo whose internet-breaking music video starred Taylor. But the pulsating bass, blaring horns, and, of course, the looped sample of Taylor instructing listeners to “work this pussy” yield not just the only compulsively danceable track of the Wyoming sessions, but also one of the series’ biggest highlights in general. Because (often toxic) masculinity dominated the conversation around the Wyoming sessions, from Pusha-T’s feud with Drake to West’s periodically misogynistic lyrics to Nas’ skirting of the domestic abuse allegations him, it’s noteworthy that the final song of June’s final G.O.O.D. album ends with a vocal sample from the pivotal 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning, which chronicled the marginalized communities involved in New York City’s ball culture in the late ‘80s.
1. Pusha-T, “If You Know You Know”
The rush of pressing play on “If You Know You Know,” the opener from the first album of the Wyoming sessions, was deceiving: Was it really this good, or was this simply the joy of having a West-produced Pusha-T album actually in hand, the relief of seeing the initial release from West’s ambitious calendar arrive on schedule? After a month of gestation, the answer’s definitively the former.
“If You Know You Know” comes on fast, with Push immediately dispensing warnings to his contemporaries (“you could never do what I do, boy”) as an agitated drum track ticks in the background. But the tension dissipates when West drops in a sample of “Twelve O’Clock Satanial” — yet another snippet likely culled from a Numero Group compilation, the Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles set of proto-metal rarities. Beyond marking a production peak for the Wyoming sessions, it’s one of West’s greatest moments as a producer, morphing a Black Sabbath-esque sample into a dispatch from a twisted tropical oasis, an inverted cousin of Pablo‘s Sister Nancy-sampling “Famous.”
Naturally, Push rises to the challenge, turning out high-octane verses that deftly marry wit and wisdom. “A rapper turned trapper can’t morph into us/ But a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff,” he explains, laying out Daytona’s stakes. Unforgettable one-liners — “I predict snow, Al Roker,” “When we all clickin’ like Golden State,” “Been grantin’ wishes like a genie/ To bad hoes in two-piece bikinis,” to name a few — elevate the song to the next level. When it comes to greatness, if you know, you know.