Readers’ Poll: The Ten Best Kanye West Songs – Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The Ten Best Kanye West Songs

Your picks include ‘Jesus Walks,’ ‘Power’ and ‘Stronger’

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Kanye West certainly didn't plan to drop his new album, Yeezus, at the exact same time that Kim Kardashian was dropping his firstborn child, but it led to wall-to-wall coverage of all things Kanye. He's such a polarizing figure that even President Obama has called him a "jackass," but denying his talent is pretty much impossible. He's basically the Muhammad Ali of 21st century music.

We asked our readers to vote on their favorite Kanye song last week. There were 170 votes for "none" (really, you guys?) while a highly suspicious 560 identical votes for the relatively obscure "Gone." We left those out of the final tabulations. Click through to see the results. 

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5. ‘Power’

Kanye West has pissed people off in all sorts of crazy ways, but nothing riled up the public quite like his upstaging of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Judging by the fierce reaction, one might think he shiv'd her in the stomach as he left the stage as opposed to just briefly grabbing the mic in a stupid, drunken stunt. Kanye dealt with the blowback by yanking a planned tour with Lady Gaga and heading to Hawaii to begin work on his fifth album. He obsessed over every note of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and "Power" was no exception. Built around a sample of King Crimson's 1969 classic "21st Century Schizoid Man," the song displays Kanye's intense resolve in the face of overwhelming negativity.

It's also a favorite of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Greg Lake, since he's the lead vocalist on "21st Century Schizoid Man." Each show of his ongoing solo tour kicks off with this song. 

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4. ‘Flashing Lights’

"Flashing Lights" wasn't a huge radio hit, but in hindsight it's probably the best song on Graduation. Featuring vocals from soul singer Dwele, "Flashing Lights" manages to feel like a throwback to disco and a future rock song at the same time. Like many great Kanye songs, it's about a man struggling with the end of a relationship. "Feeling like Katrina with no FEMA," he raps. "Like Martin with no Gina/Like a flight with no visa." 

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3. ‘Gold Digger’

"Gold Digger" turned Kanye West from an acclaimed rapper and producer into an international pop sensation. It also created awkward situations for white people everywhere: how exactly do you sing along to this song when it repeatedly uses the word "nigga?" There's the clean version of "she ain't messing with no broke broke," but nobody feels cool singing the Glee rendition of a song. The usual answer was to merely not vocalize that word, but sing along with the rest.

Uncomfortableness aside, the song is absolutely brilliant. It's in your head after one listen, and it's hysterical. Could anyone else come up with a line like "She was supposed to buy your shorty TYCO with your money/She went to the doctor got lypo with your money?" Also, the song ends with the line "But when you get on he leave your ass for a white girl." Kanye is particularly proud of that one. "When I said that line in my head I was like, 'This is why I get paid the big bucks,'" he told Rolling Stone in 2006. "It's lines like that that separate the good from the great."

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2. ‘Jesus Walks’

The Beach Boys faced some resistance when they tried to release a song with the word "God" in it in 1966, and 38 year years later Kanye West faced a similar issue with "Jesus Walks." Kanye started the song before he established any sort of solo career, and executives felt people would assume it was a Christian rap song. They also felt it wouldn't get any radio play, and West addressed this fear in the final version of the song. "But if I talk about God my record won't get played," he rapped. "Well let this take away from my spins/Which will probably take away from my ends."

Turns out it didn't take away from his spins or his ends. Radio and MTV embraced the song, and it was soon blaring from cars all over America. If he hadn't insisted on pushing the song out it's quite possible his career would have fizzled at that crucial moment. 

1. ‘Runaway’

If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye's Kid A, then "Runaway" is his "Idioteque." The hugely ambitious album was a steep departure from his previous work, and its genius only revealed itself slowly. There's way too much there to take in after one or two listens. The nine-minute "Runaway" is the longest track on the album, and the most whacked-out. It's the sound of him absorbing all the hate coming in his direction, and feeding off it. If everyone agreed with Obama's assessment of him, then Kanye will offer a toast to the douchebags, scumbags, assholes and jerk-offs.

The song is constructed around a single, haunting piano note. At the end, his vocals are scrambled beyond recognition. It's Kanye's way of conveying that nobody is able to understand him or even hear his words properly. The song seems aggressively un-commercial, but it actually hit number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. If nothing else, it proves that the public will embrace something more complex than a short pop song if they're exposed to it enough.

No matter what Kanye comes up with over the next few decades, "Runaway" will almost certainly stand up as one of his greatest works. 

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