Kanye West is a visionary.
It’s tough to dispute this, given his artistic output over the last decade-plus. From legendary production to his classic albums to his influence in the world of fashion, Yeezy has made a creative impact in an array of artistic realms.
Included among those worlds he’s touched, of course, is the music video. He’s had someincredible videos.
When ’Ye receives the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV VMAs, it’ll be much-deserved recognition of a career that’s produced dozens and dozens of videos, each remarkable in their own right.
There were tons to sift through, but to celebrate Yeezy, here are 25 of my favorite, which take us from the beginning of his career to today and display Kanye’s diverse palate, approaches and innovation.
“Through the Wire”
The video for Kanye’s breakout single compiles old home videos and polaroids to create an intimate look at the new artist, from footage of his post-accident swollen face to studio sessions.
“All Falls Down”
Yeezy barely appears in this College Dropout favorite. Instead it’s shot from his perspective, as he follows Stacey Dash around the airport. When we do get a glimpse of him, rapping one of his verses into a bathroom mirror, its even more powerful because of the rarity.
“Jesus Walks” (Version 2)
This was the first taste we got of Kanye shooting three videos to one song, something he’s done multiple times in the years since. We’re presented with seemingly contradictory images — like a Ku Klux Klan member carrying a burning cross, and then young black girls jumping rope — to accompany the video that, in the end, didn’t take away from his spins.
The shots and style of this collaborative jam gives it the feel of Civil Rights Movement protest videos from the ’60s.
“New Workout Plan”
This 8-minute visual takes a lighthearted approach, putting Kanye as the face of an informercial-style workout video. We also get a guest verse from Fonzworth Bentley, plus an appearance from Tracee Ellis Ross.
The classic Kanye dance is born, as he twists his neck and shoulder abruptly while facing the camera with his back. You know the one.
“Heard ’Em Say” (Version 2)
Shot in black-and-white, this Late Registration collab is primarily an animated effort, though ’Ye and Adam Levine do appear in the flesh at times.
“Touch the Sky”
Yeezy gets his daredevil on here as Evel Kanyevel, and pulls off some ’70s-style sideburns. Pamela Anderson, Nia Long and, once again, Tracee Ellis Ross all show up for the Lupe Fiasco-assisted rocket launch video.
“Diamonds from Sierra Leone”
Yeezy took the title very seriously with this one, as the visuals, in black-and-white, portray kids mining for diamonds, and a woman’s hand streaking with blood the instant she puts a diamond-encrusted ring on her finger.
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
For almost the entire video, it’s Kanye, alone in the plains with a camera and his music. He’s the center of the universe. What better complement to what’s still one of his most beloved songs?
The futuristic sounds of the track are matched by the futuristic stylings of the video. ’Ye gets operated on, becoming a “stronger” version of himself — and also rocks those shutter shades that he helped make so popular.
This was sort of like a lyric video before the lyric video wave really hit — and it’s much more than that. Colorful words and objects are flying in from every which way, contrasted by Kanye and T-Pain standing in black-and-white, living the good life.
“Flashing Lights” (Version 3)
Another three version opus, the final video installment of this Graduation banger finds ’Ye tied up in a trunk, bludgeoned with a shovel and, presumably, buried — all by a beautiful, lingerie-wearing woman.
For the video to his third album’s opening track, we follow the Graduation bear on his graduation day. Unlike the “Heard Em Say” animated video, this one’s extremely colorful and feels fun, especially if you like personified animals.
Kanye becomes a rapping, race-running puppet. Nuff said.
Another animated video, this one has a different feel in that it seems like you’re watching a live-action video. Plus, there’s a real contrast in some of the darker themes of the song and the bright colors of the animation.
Kanye cast Rihanna to star in this video. Has there ever been a better casting choice in the history of music videos?
The moving painting? Yeah, this was one-of-a-kind.
“All of the Lights”
All of the lights in the video might make you seize, but if they don’t, then you’ll be able to stick around to see Kanye rapping on top of a cop car and get a glimpse of Rihanna’s revealing outfit.
With all due respect to Yeezy, the highlight here — like, in the eyes of many, on the song — is the way Nicki Minaj goes crazy.
What more fitting way to “toast to the douchebags” than by Kanye playing the piano for some tutu-wearing ballet dancers? Or at an all-white, elegant dinner party? He’s playing with our perceptions here.
’Ye and Jay Z riding around in an expensive car, doing donuts, and hanging with Aziz Ansari? Yup.
“N—as in Paris”
If you make it past the trigger warning about seizures in the beginning, you’ll get to footage of Yeezy and Hov performing their smash over and over and over again, which they did in headline-grabbing fashion while on tour.
The rotating scene of Kanye and Co. is sleek and captivating, as the rappers are in one frame one moment and then gone the next, dancing around an empty parking lot having one hell of a time.
Yeezy got his wife, Kim Kardashian, to star in the video for the soulful jam with him. That was bound to happen eventually, and it’s good that it did in this video — because Seth Rogen and James Franco created a hilarious parody.