The School of Yeezy has been in session for 11 years — and we've seen so many Kanye Wests come and go.
The "pink-ass polos with a fucking backpack" Kanye (as he referred to his old self on 2013's "I Am A God") started to transform almost immediately after he established himself on 2004's The College Dropout. We've seen Daft Punk electro Kanye transition into brokenhearted R&B Kanye, and then again into the second coming of Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Walt Disney Kanye.
With each renaissance in style and persona came an accompanying musical reformation — and The Life of Pablo marks the beginning of yet another era. West has described it as "a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it," during an interview with radio personality Big Boy. Looking closely at the lyrics, the description fits. West hasn't included this much biblical imagery on an album since The College Dropout. However, looked at from other angles — such as the level of vulgarity and of writers and producers involved — the two albums couldn't be more different.
With the help of Michael Heal and Stephen Niday over at Genius, we've broken down the development of Kanye West's lyricism and songwriting process over the course of his career. The visualizations below offer some data-driven lenses to view the life and work of one of most consistently unpredictable artists hip-hop has ever produced.
He used to keep a much smaller team of songwriters.
In the beginning, there were 13 writers in Kanye West's cadre. That small circle, which grew even smaller for Graduation, also produced some of his biggest hits, such as "Stronger" and "Good Life." The credits for his most recent album are astronomically long in comparison, so much so their release warranted awed posts on many music outlets.
The same goes for Yeezy's production wing.
West broke into the game producing hits for Jay Z and Talib Kweli, but he quickly became so much more. The Life of Pablo credits 32 producers, versus The College Dropout's three.
There's a lot more cursing
Over the course of his career West's number of curses charts out a reverse bell curve, hitting its valley with his crooning 808's & Heartbreak. The Life of Pablo is Kanye's most vulgar album, followed by The College Dropout and Yeezus.
The most significant change is in his use of the word "bitch." Over the course of his first four albums, he uses the word a grand total of eight times. Compare that to The Life of Pablo, where he raps the word "bitch/bitches" 20 times.
Known for his high fashion name drops, these days Kanye's really only talking about his own
Over the course of Kanye's career, he has gone from name dropping labels from Gucci to Dior, to claiming himself one — as the "Louis Vuitton Don" — to finally getting his own through Adidas. His fashion mentions reflect this. Since Yeezus, West has rarely mentioned another brand aside from Adidas or Yeezy, unless he's dissing Nike.
In the most salient example, "Facts," he boasts "Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman," a nickname for Michael Jordan's line of Nike sneakers. Earlier in February, West actually apologized to Jordan in a tweet, clarifying that his beef was not with the basketball legend but with Matt Parker, CEO of Nike.
He used to talk about the Chi a lot more than he does now
Chicago used to have a powerful presence in West's music, but over time his mentions have gotten fewer and farther between. The College Dropout featured 11 mentions; on Graduation he gave Chicago its own song with "Homecoming." The Life of Pablo, on the other hand, contains only three nods to the city.
Yeezy is back on his Biblical kick
From West's first album, he's always saved a place for the Lord on his records. His struggles with faith have served as an ongoing subplot throughout his records and has a huge presence on the trap/gospel fusion he created for The Life of Pablo. It's by far his most religious album, with 17 mentions of God and Jesus, followed by 15 for The College Dropout.
On the other hand, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is by far West's darkest album. His "apology album," as he's described it in the past, includes five mentions of the "devil," one of "Lucifer" and one of "Satan" — nearly three times the number of demonic images that appear on The College Dropout.
Kanye is talking about Kanye more than ever
As many times as West has talked to God, he's talked to himself more. West refers to himself in the third person four times more on The Life of Pablo than any of his previous albums — 33 times total. Many of these, obviously, come from "I Love Kanye" where he raps the word Kanye 25 times, making 18.1% of the lyrics his name.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Watch the Throne and The College Dropout tie for second place with eight mentions each. Ironically, on his semi-self-titled album Yeezus, he only mentions himself four times.