If there’s one thing Kanye West is known for, it’s his massive ego, and he’s not afraid to let that shine through in his music. But on the rare occasion that he does reflect on himself, his introspection makes the music much more meaningful. Without further ado, here are ten sad Kanye West songs that remain immensely memorable all of these years later.
Sad Kanye West Songs You Will Enjoy
Let’s begin with the song Runaway.
This masterpiece is one of the most intimate pieces Kanye has released. He’s taking accountability for his faults and feels guilty for them, but he doesn’t see himself changing (“I guess you’re at an advantage / ‘cause you could blame me for everything.”) Despite this, he still doesn’t want it to affect his personal relationships (“I don’t know how imma manage / if one day you just up and leave.”)
He talks about how he never really could commit to women, and emotional vulnerability is not his strong suit (“never was much of a romantic, I could never take the intimacy.”) On top of that, his brain somehow always nitpicks situations for negativity and holds on to that. He’s too scared to change his ways but is also afraid of people leaving him because of his destructive tendencies. This paradox makes him want to yell at them to Runaway before his behavior hurts them.
It’s the musical embodiment of an avoidant attachment style. On inspiration for the song, Kanye said, “the song sounds like it’s talking about a girl, could also be talking about my relationship with society or the fans or anyone I let down or people who had to defend me that really love me.”
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Street Lights is an easily relatable song about knowing where you want to be in life, but not knowing how you’ll get there—or even if there’s time to do so. The vocals are melancholy but sung over a rather hopeful and simplistic beat. He knows things aren’t set in stone, a bittersweet thought, but still wonders “do I still got time to grow?”
He tells a story of getting in a cab without knowing its route and compares the streetlights flashing by to his past, and how time flashes by as quickly as the blur of lights. It’s very nostalgic, even if you don’t relate it to any specific memories. So often we are told to enjoy the journey of life, but that can be difficult when we’re so caught up in getting to the destination we’re chasing.
On the flip side, miscellaneous moments really can be what makes life, life. Being in the present moment is a beautiful thing, and even more so for those who have to put in work just to relax their minds.
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Only One ft. Paul McCartney
Only One is a pinnacle in Kanye’s journey of healing from the death of his mother. He feels that he had a spiritual experience of the late Donda West speaking to him through his daughter, North. The song title seems self-explanatory, as Donda was a single mother who sacrificed a lot for her son, and we only get one mother. But it goes a little deeper than meets the eye, as “Kanye” translates to “only one.”
In the song, he recalls the words he heard his late mother say to him one night; that she’s always with him, she’s proud of him, and she understands him. One chilling and unforgettable line of this song is, “you’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes.” She talked to God about him, “he said he sent you an angel, and look at all that he gave you.” Kanye finds peace with the fact that she’s passed on because he knows one day he’ll see her again.
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This one is another tribute to his mother, as well as another relationship he lost, according to the Genius profile for the song. He ended a six-year relationship with his then-fiancé, Alexis Phifer, soon after their engagement in 2006. His mother passed away in November of 2007, so it could be safe to assume the breakup was related to his grief, considering his tendencies to pull away from loved ones when his life feels hectic.
It’s his rendition of the song Memories Fade by Tears for Fears. The band wasn’t pleased with it, as they felt Kanye deserved less credit for it than he gave himself. The chorus of both songs are essentially the same, and the instrumentals are strikingly similar. Of course, Kanye added his own elements of R&B, in addition to changing the lyrics of most of the verses.The original song says, “memories fade but the scars still linger,” while Kanye’s version says, “memories made in the coldest winter.”
Both songs say goodbye to a loved one and wonder if they will ever find love again. In Kanye’s version, he expresses how far away he feels from his loved one and wonders “if Spring can take the snow away, can it melt away all our mistakes?” Donda passed away from plastic surgery complications, and it seems that Kanye feels guilty for this. She moved to California to be with him and likely felt pressure to undergo the cosmetic surgeries that everyone with money in Los Angeles seems to have.
If you’re looking for one of the best Kanye West songs, especially ones on the more somber end of the scale, look no further than “Coldest Winter.”
Lost in the World
This is another raw masterpiece where Kanye expresses his emotions about his current life. With Bon Iver on some of the vocals, it’s certain to tug on some heartstrings. Woods by Bon Iver was sampled for this song and at the time of writing, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver was in a cabin in the woods. It’s written in the song directly, “I’m lost in the woods, I’m down on my time.” Kanye’s version of the chorus is similar, but the context is different: “I’m lost in the world, I’m down on my mind.”
Though these men have completely opposite narratives in their lyrics, they have the same thing in common: feeling lost. Both were having intense and conflicting emotions, but Kanye talks about feeling lost despite being surrounded by people, and Vernon was “lost” in a more literal sense. Kanye doesn’t feel understood by the people around him (“lost in this plastic life / let’s break out of this fake a** party, turn this into a classic night).
Inspiration for the song came from a poem Kanye wrote for Kim Kardashian before they were publicly together. Only a few verses directly reference a romantic connection, but it was enough to get Kanye out of his writer’s block for the song. These lines could also reference what it’s like to be in love amidst (untreated) bipolar disorder, as he compares conflicting things to one person (you’re my devil, you’re my angel / you’re my lies, you’re my truth).
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This song is the perfect one to finish Kanye’s fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak. It was a freestyle acapella at one of his shows, and the recording is complete with fans screaming in the background. The rawness of this recording complements what he’s saying in the song, while he questions if fame is worth it and talks about how he struggles with it. It’s a struggle no one can really understand unless they’ve been through it.
He says when he turns on the TV, “I see me, and I see nothing / what does it feel like to live real life, to be real?” He repeats throughout the song that he just wants to be a real boy; he feels like Pinocchio but has no Gepetto to guide him. This line is likely a reference to his mother’s passing, as Gepetto was the creator of Pinocchio.
The audience cheering as he sings these lyrics is a bittersweet sound. They clearly are proud to be experiencing an intimate moment of hearing an unreleased song, but don’t grasp the intimacy of the lyrics. This twisted irony increases the weight of what Kanye is saying.
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This one is very somber and is about the death of Kanye’s grandmother, with critiques of what the U.S. healthcare system is like for working and middle-class citizens. (“you telling me if my grandma was in the NBA, right now she’d be okay?”) The lyrics tell his experience of visiting her in the hospital and watching the rest of his family grieve as they wait to find out if his grandmother will survive surgery or not.
He says watching his grandfather keep his composure is what inspired him to be confident. While the focus of the song is loss and ultimate disappointment, it also alludes to finding comfort through sadness with your loved ones (“we know where home is / instead of sending flowers, we the roses.”)
Come to Life
From his latest album Donda, Come to Life is a song many can relate to. He begins the song with “here go all your problems again, ever wish you had another life?” repeating that question multiple times. It’s easy to think if you had an entirely different life, you might be facing different obstacles that aren’t as soul-crushing.
Listening to this song is like listening to Kanye trying to radically accept the way his life is. He touches on his bipolar disorder affecting his relationships, saying he doesn’t want to die alone but “I get mad when she’s home, sad when she’s gone.”
There’s a tinge of hopefulness, saying that maybe his ideas will Come to Life. On the flip side, he talks about the “sadness setting in again.” The use of this phrase instead of directly referring to it as depression separates the feelings from his identity.
He accepts that he can’t control how other people see him (“they cannot define me, so they crucify me”) but he can’t help from wishing that he was more understood generally, which is reasonable. He admits his faults, specifically referring to his daughter North asking for Nikes (Kanye is a firm Adidas enthusiast) then saying, “this is not about me.” The outro is a long, peaceful piano riff as if he becomes free once he accepts things as they are.
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Hey Mama (Grammys Version)
Hey Mama originally is a happy song on the Late Registration album about how thankful he is for his mother and everything she’s done for him. The death of his mother was unexpected, and he took it very hard (as many would). She passed away in late 2007, and just a few months later Kanye was asked to perform at the 2008 Grammys. He began his performance with Stronger, one of his most popular songs even years later.
It was complete with flashing lights, Daft Punk, and Kanye hyping up the crowd. Once that song ends, it instantly transitions into a new rendition of Hey Mama, with an orchestra playing in the background. He performs the raps as they were originally written, though you can hear him seem to choke up multiple times. He changed the chorus by saying, “Last night I saw you in my dreams, now I can’t wait to go to sleep.” He says this life is a dream, and that his real life starts when he goes to sleep, as that’s the only time he gets a chance to see his mother now.
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Never See Me Again
This song has never been officially released but is easily accessible on platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud. It was obviously recorded during a period of depression for Kanye, and it’s speculated that he wrote and recorded it around the time of the infamous VMAs incident (got on stage while a teenage Taylor Swift was accepting an award and said that Beyonce deserved it) which led a lot of people inside and out of the industry to dislike him. He received so much hate for that moment, that he left the country to avoid the paparazzi.
This is almost ten minutes of him speaking his truth on how he feels over ironically rather upbeat piano music. The beat is simple and repetitive, as he talks about how he feels like he is a liability and can never seem to do anything right. He tells listeners to worry about themselves and not him, and “it’ll be a long time before you ever see me again.”
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Whether you love or hate Kanye West, the revolutionary changes he caused in the hip-hop world are undeniable. He’s become a household name known for his inflated ego. To someone who doesn’t listen to him, that’s all he is. But those who give him a chance see that he’s a troubled soul in a constant battle with himself, there’s a good chance that these ten sad Kanye West songs will really resonate with you.
This article was written by Brianna and edited by Michael.