Yeezy season bears upon us like a nuclear warhead. With the world waiting for the impending release of Mr. West’s ninth solo studio album, Jesus is King—the album isn’t done yet, according to sources—it’s worth it to look back at the rough road that led us here.
Like Kanye’s previous two albums—The Life of Pablo and ye—the rollout for Jesus is King has been plagued by drama, missed deadlines, name changes, and manic tweets. Kanye teased whole projects—like how So Help Me God preceded The Life of Pablo and Turbo Grafx 16 preceded ye—before he settled on their final iterations.
Before his focus was drawn and quartered by his creative empire, young Kanye would prophesize and execute albums flawlessly. He announced Late Registration and Graduation in press interviews for The College Dropout. But he’s always used scrapped projects as rocket fuel. After the original version of The College Dropout leaked, he reupholstered the whole album, making small but impactful changes. He scrapped Good Ass Job, the sequel to Graduation, in favor of the more epic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In fact, there are so many unfinished Kanye projects—and so many snippets we’ve heard—one could rank an entire list of them.
So that’s exactly what we did.
Reviewing unreleased albums will always be a tricky endeavor—like trying to weigh butterflies, their silhouettes impossible to trace with exactitude. Only the artist and his collaborators—like engineer Andrew Dawson, who we interviewed last month—know what’s real or not. But there are good folks on the internet who’ve put together approximations of the albums, and you can find certain projects—including So Help Me God, Yandhi, and the original version of The College Dropout—all online.
Our criteria for inclusion on the list were the projects had to be named and started. We based our rankings on the quality of the demos we heard and the anticipated result. Everything is lost to time eventually, but some things erode faster than others. Each year, download links disappear, and copyright claims bury what remains. So, find and listen to these fragments while you still can.
Wolves is the name for the Drake-Kanye joint album teased from 2015 to 2016. We got a taste of their synergy—2016’s “Pop Style” and 2017’s “Glow,” both of which ended up on Drake projects.
Unfortunately, Kanye and Drake aren’t a great combination. Kanye is a fantastic producer for Drake—2011’s “Find Your Love” worked perfectly—and I’m still salty we never got to hear the No. 1 single that a Drake “Lift Yourself” would have been. But a collaborative album with both artists jockeying for mic time feels like it would be a strained, cringey, and even include some passive-aggressive barbs at each other.
Kanye is best when the “hot temper” pairs with “a cold killer,” as Pusha-T once rapped. It’s why Kanye and JAY-Z are a great duo. As Pusha-T said on ”Infrared”: “When the CEO’s blinded by the glow, it’s different…”
9. Yeezus 2
Yeezus 2 isn’t Yandhi. Yeezus 2 is a hypothetical album composed of the six to 10 songs lopped off Yeezus by Rick Rubin, then spoken back into a possibility by Rubin’s offhand comment in a Complex interview.
At this point, those songs are probably never coming out, and I assume the best ones ended up on Yeezus. Kanye songs are like Jay Electronica verses: I’ve never heard a wack one, but sometimes you have to move on.
8. Cruel Winter
For the longest time, I thought the name of this album was Good Winter—a far better title, in my opinion, to 2012’s G.O.O.D Music compilation album Cruel Summer. But the second G.O.O.D Music compilation’s name shall be Cruel Winter if it ever comes out.
“Champions” was released as Cruel Winter’s lead single in 2016, but we have heard nothing since. Cruel Winter doesn’t feel necessary at this point. G.O.O.D Music’s championship-grade roster—which once included John Legend, Mos Def, and Kid Cudi—feels depleted. Valee is doing his thing, but signees like Teyana Taylor, Desiigner, and Sheck Wes have all expressed dissatisfaction with their label, and I’m not interested in hearing more Big Sean or Desiigner in 2019. No offense.
7. Turbo Grafx 16
Ah, the fabled Turbo Grafx 16 album. Announced in a now-deleted tweet after the release of 2016’s The Life of Pablo, this project has generated its own mythology among Kanye stans—mostly because of its endearing title and the video game soundscapes it might have mined.
Unfortunately, we heard nothing more than sketches. The songs that leaked—collaborations with Young Thug and A$AP Rocky—were colorful and kinetic but never progressed beyond their alpha build. At least we can enjoy the pixelated fan art.
6. Love Everyone
We now move onto albums that have some semblance of completeness. At one point, Turbo Grafx 16 became Love Everyone—the album that Kanye infamously played at TMZ then scrapped after he said, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years... for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”
Up to that point, Kanye seemed to be on an ideological spree; he already voiced his support for Trump; conservative personality Candace Owens accompanied him to TMZ; screen-grabs of Kanye’s open tabs included talks by controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson and right-leaning cartoonist Scott Adams.
Kanye outlined his broader political views at the White House last year—his desire to unify blue and red America, to look toward the future, materially synthesized in the “Make America Great” hat he placed upon Trump, and the Wyoming listening party for ye: an uncomfortable union of heartland cowboys and braided youth.
After the massive backlash that his TMZ comments received, Love Everyone seemed to cannibalize into ye, and its focus shifted toward mental health. That may have been the right move. It takes time—years—to articulate thoughts that don’t slot easily into a narrative, and you can’t take any chances in today’s soundbite economy.
Even when Kanye tried to explain them at the White House, unhemmed by rhyme or line, he was roundly mocked and condemned. It’s like people didn’t even notice that an outspoken black artist spoke freely for 20 minutes in the Oval Office, dominating and stunning the president, superimposing his own, more inclusive message literally onto the president’s head.
Anyway, we have heard little of this album, and the messaging would likely have been well-intentioned but misunderstood.
Yandhi, the album teased after 2018’s ye, seemed to have been another attempt at the unifying message of Love Everyone. The name hinted as much, and the symbolism of purple—unifying blue and red—as the primary color on Yandhi’s cover wasn’t lost on me. Fortunately (or unfortunately), much of the album has leaked and is easily findable online.
There are a few songs on “Yandhi” that have true greatness in them. “Law of Attraction,” built around a car alarm sound, has “Pinocchio Story” overtones, with its chorus: “The law of attraction / be careful what you ask for / cause I got what I asked for / exactly what I asked for.” The American Dream came true—it was a nightmare.
“We Got Love,” a clear holdover from Love Everything, is beautiful even in its hatchling form. Teyana Taylor’s first verse—“I gave birth on the bathroom floor / just me, Iman, and headphone cords”—should have been a star-making minute, but is now an unfortunate reminder of how G.O.O.D Music has bungled some of her best moments.
4. So Help Me God
So Help Me God was the album designed to follow up Yeezus. There are versions online that nearly sound complete, as many of its finished records—“Piss on Your Grave,” “Tell Your Friends,” “FourFiveSeconds”—were given to other artists or live on in corners of the Internet. This list includes the moving ballad “Awesome” and one of the best songs of Kanye’s entire catalog, “I Feel Like That.”
Kanye seemed to abandon So Help Me God after its lead single, “All Day,” failed to stick to the charts. (I still think the Travis Scott version was the best.) Then again, when you use a medieval Christian symbol for the lead single's artwork while simultaneously recording songs about fucking models who bleach their assholes, it's hard to keep all the disparate parts together.
Five years later, it seems like Kanye is finally ready to deliver a focused, coherent, non-degenerate and God-fearing album in Jesus is King. Maybe he’s seen the “Love Everyone” message has been chiseled and honed over millennia by the best of our religions and using Christianity as a vehicle to communicate that is a wise move. Jesus was saying “love everyone” 2,000 years ago, and it was as revolutionary then as it is today. And I’m not even Christian.
3. The College Dropout (original version)
There are a few versions of the original The College Dropout, but the bulk of the album seems to have existed by 2003. After the entire project leaked, Kanye made some changes—he took off collaborations with GLC, Consequence, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the overall tenor became less commercial.
The only good track removed was the warm “My Way,” which, like “Bittersweet Poetry,” should receive more attention in Kanye’s oeuvre. All the other cut songs, including early versions of “Hey Mama” and “Gold Digger,” eventually came out, so the original version of The College Dropout is entirely listenable. You just have to spend an afternoon doing some old-fashioned MP3 downloading and iTunes library arranging.
Even in its original form, The College Dropout is still fantastic. Any album with “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” and “Never Let Me Down” is an instant classic.
2. Good Ass Job (both versions)
There are two Good Ass Jobs. The first was the proper sequel to Graduation and a continuation of the Dropout Bear trilogy. It morphed into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye was at the peak of his musical powers then, so that album would have been epic no matter what.
The second version of Good Ass Job is proposed by Chance as a collaborative album between the two. Some have written Chance off after The Big Day, but I still think he has an important, necessary message that aligns with Kanye’s more than ever.
I admit my ratings degrade at this point a bit—objectively, 100 years from now, even the original version of The College Dropout would likely trump a Chance-Kanye collaboration. But Chance and Kanye have made magic before—“Ultralight Beam” and “Waves” are unforgettable. Chance might give Kanye enough focus, and Kanye might return enough edge, for the two to pull off something wonderful. Good Ass Job is an album we have a high chance of seeing in the next few years. Pray for it.
1. Watch the Throne 2
I wasn’t going to include this on the list, as it seemed JAY-Z never fully endorsed the idea. But when I told my friend, NYC rapper Vaughn PM, about my list, without including Watch the Throne 2, he began to clown me mercilessly. “You know you fucked up,” he repeated with a sneer.
Begrudgingly, I agreed. If I’m going to include Yeezus 2—merely hinted at by Rick Rubin—then I need to include Watch the Throne 2, directly announced by Kanye in a tweet last year.
Done right, a sequel can be even more epic than the first. Eight years later, Kanye and Jay are still triple-A artists. Like Voltron, the different sectors of hip-hop fandom—Kanye stans, the suburbs, the streets, the youth, the oldheads—would assemble to carry this album to the stratosphere.
Jay still got it, Kanye still got it, and haters gonna hate, but this album would be another seismic event and likely the most significant hip-hop event of the year.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that West released ye in 2017. The album was released in 2018.