From the beginning of his career, Kanye West‘s lyrics have revealed a conflicted relationship with money.
And while the rapper’s recent Twitter rant was relatively blunt about the state of his finances, his musical oeuvre is considerably more nuanced. From broadcasting his financial fears, to boasting about his prosperity, here’s a quick look back at some of the rapper’s more obvious statements about money, culled from the music that’s made him famous.
‘All Falls Down’
West’s early work saw him take an honest, if conflicted, look at the state of rap music’s obsession with material wealth. And nowhere is that more apparent than in “All Falls Down,” with lines like, “It seems we living the American dream / But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem / The prettiest people do the ugliest things / For the road to riches and diamond rings.” There’s also this personal (and prescient) lyric: “I want to act ballerific like it’s all terrific / I got a couple past-due bills, I won’t get specific / I got a problem with spendin’ before I get it.”
“Gold Digger” is a pretty funny song, yeah, but it also paints a somewhat disturbing picture of West’s views on money, women and children. For starters, given his recent comments about how Wiz Khalifa let Amber Rose “trap him,” a line like, “18 years, 18 years / She got one of your kids, got you for 18 years” seems a lot less comical and a lot more, well, dark. “If you ain’t no punk holla, ‘We want prenup!’ ” Given that West is apparently the more financially precarious one in his family, this line suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.
‘Diamonds from the Sierra Leone’
The first single off West’s second album, “Diamonds” further explores the rapper’s conflicted relationship with his time as a struggling artist and his success. “I remember I couldn’t afford a Ford Escort / Or even a four-track recorder / So it’s only right that I let the top drop on a drop-top Porsche / It’s for yourself, that’s important.” Funnily enough, this early in his career, West was already rapping appraisingly of his own irascibility, here referencing his habit of storming out of awards shows he felt he’d be robbed at. “What more could you ask for? The international a–hole / Who complain about what he is owed? / And throw a tantrum like he is 3 years old / You gotta love it though somebody still speaks from his soul.”
‘Heard ‘Em Say’
A clear-eyed, sober look at poverty and income inequality, with lines like, “Where I’m from the dope boys is the rock stars / But they can’t cop cars without seeing cop cars,” and “The devil is alive I feel him breathin’ / Claiming money is the key, so keep on dreamin’ / And put them lottery tickets just to tease us.” Kanye was even light-years ahead of the minimum-wage-hike debate: “Before you ask me to go get a job today / Can I at least get a raise of the minimum wage?”
‘Touch the Sky’
West was always preoccupied with status – “Back when Gucci was the s— to rock, back when Slick Rick had the s— to pop / I’d do anything to say I got it / Damn, them new loafers hurt my pocket” – even at the expense of solvency: “Before anybody wanted K. West beats / Me and my girl split the buffet at KFC.”
‘The Good Life’
Okay, most of this entire song is about money. But as much as it validates that having money can be nice, it also undercuts that notion with a line like, “Having money’s not everything, not having it is.”
“They ain’t seen me ’cause I pulled up in my other Benz / Last week I was in my other other Benz,” West raps alongside Jay Z on this collaborative track from Watch the Throne. He also name-checks Hermès and Maybach in later verses.
‘Ni–as in Paris’
On another Watch the Throne track, West namedrops designers Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Margiela.
On this new cut from The Life of Pablo, which is still pretty hard to find online – or at least put in this article – Kanye raps, “10 thousand dollar fur for Nori, I just copped it / Your baby daddy won’t even take your daughter shoppin’,” simultaneously flaunting his own wealth and shaming some unnamed dad who can’t do the same. (Possibly Wiz?)