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Kanye West MTV VMA Performances – From G.O.O.D. to Best

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Despite a run-in with a certain pop-country singer back in 2009, Kanye West’s history with the MTV Video Music Awards is unprecedented. It’s not the fact that he’s won the most awards, because that throne is held by Madonna and her dominance of 20 Moonman statutes. Where Yeezy can at least tie (and perhaps best in the coming years) Madonna is in the realm of live performances. She’s got seven to her name and, as of Aug. 25, so does Ye.

On that night, West took the stage to perform snarling ‘Yeezus’ cut ‘Blood on the Leaves’  at the 2013 VMAs. It will be his first MTV gig since 2011, when he shared the stage with Jay Z. But more importantly, that night will serve as another notch in Yeezy’s belt of popular culture dominance. Sure, ‘Yeezus’ isn’t selling like hot cakes (or even as much as J. Cole’s ‘Born Sinner’) but no one can deny the overarching impact of Kanye West. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at Mr. West’s past performances while figuring out which one is the most impressive.


7

Kanye West & Jay Z - 'Otis' (2011)

 
 

Just about two months before embarking on their ‘Watch The Throne Tour,’ Jay Z and Kanye West offered a pyrotechnics-filled preview at the 2011 VMAs on Aug. 28. The two hit the stage with a set reminiscent of their ‘Otis’ video, fitting considering it had hit MTV that same month. And much like the track itself, the performance was hype, fun-loving, and bursting with adrenaline. Now if only they could have gotten the opening slot and not Lady Gaga. Best moment: The way Hov reacts to the guy who bum-rushes the stage.

 
6

Kanye West - 'Love Lockdown' (2008)

 
 

Kanye West was still on his white-suit game something serious back in 2008, a point he drove home throughout the promo run for his then-latest album ‘808s & Heartbreak.’ But more importantly, he was reeling from a break-up and getting through it with his art. Like lead single ‘Love Lockdown,’ which he bravely performed surrounded by a huge crowd and tribal projections. It wasn’t his best VMAs gig, but it was most certainly one of his ballsiest. It was also the first time he took the stage alone. Best moment: When Kanye gives up trying to harmonize and goes full-on screamo toward the end of the performance.

 
5

Kanye West - 'Gold Digger' Feat. Jamie Foxx (2005)

 
 

Back in August 2005, Kanye West was still obsessed with wearing white suits and flipping everyone’s favorite soul samples. He was also two days away from the release of ‘Late Registration’ when he took the stage with Jamie Foxx to perform ‘Gold Digger.’ And it was actually the comedian-turned-actor-turned-singer who tried stealing the show from the jump, flexing those Ray Charles-mimicking vocals. But West demanded and commanded the crowd’s attention like the showman he is. Best moment: The money exploding from the crowd like confetti when Kanye proclaimed “We want prenup!”

 
4

Kanye West - 'Blood On The Leaves' (2013)

 
 

Despite cutting the track in half (or so), West's live version of 'Blood On The Leaves' remained just as visceral and heavy-hitting as on 'Yeezus.' A key component of his performance was how it was all presented. He went with an (almost) all-black-everything setup, cutting the lights to put the focus on the backdrop of poplar trees. They were the same trees you hear Nina Simone singing about in the track's sample, 'Strange Fruit,' and their disturbing significance. Good luck not feeling a chill or two watching this one. Best moment: The horns brought in by production duo TNGHT.

 
3

Kanye West - 'Jesus Walks/All Falls Down/Through The Wire' (2004)

 
 

You know those moments when you know you’re watching a star in the making morph into an actual star? That occurred for Kanye West at the 2004 VMAs, when he ran through a medley of hits from his debut, ‘The College Dropout.’ He and his immaculate live band transitioned perfectly from ‘Jesus Walks’ to ‘All Falls Down,’ the latter featuring John Legend and Syleena Johnson, before closing out with ‘Through the Wire.’ It was a moment of triumph for Yeezy and one encapsulated by the sample-turned-real life appearance of Chaka Khan during ‘Through the Wire.’ Best moment: Chaka Khan throwing a middle finger at laryngitis joining West for ‘Through The Wire.’

 
2

Kanye West - ‘Stronger’ & ‘Good Life’ Feat. T-Pain (2007)

 
 

You want to see an irrepressibly buoyant Kanye West? All you need to do is watch his performance of ‘Stronger’ and ‘Good Life’ with T-Pain at the 2007 VMAs. Without question, this is his most exuberant and enthusiastic MTV gig, even if it arrived with some controversy. You see, West didn’t win any awards that night <em>and</em> didn’t get to open the show, despite apparently recording ‘Stronger’ with that in mind. No matter, because he and T-Pain still brought more electricity to the show than anyone could have imagined (or hoped for). Best moment: Kanye (and T-Pain) going everywhere in the venue while still killing it.

 
1

Kanye West - 'Runaway' Feat. Pusha T (2010)

 
 

While Kanye West’s other VMA performances have been notable for numerous reasons, be it the energy or song choices, his appearances at the 2010 show felt like a movie. There’s a good reason for that, of course, because he actually released a short film based on the track he performed, ‘Runaway.’ A toast to the douche bags and a--holes never sounded quite as powerful, or as epic, as it did that night.

Best moment: The set--from the ballerinas to the stage and everything in between.

 

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