On Thursday (August 12),
On Sunday, September 12 — live from Los Angeles at 9 p.m. ET — things are gonna get really interesting, because while Kanye is perhaps best known for his awards-show tirades, tantrums and troublemaking, he has a lengthy list of downright amazing performances over the years too.
So, in anticipation of Yeezy's triumphant return to the VMA stage, we've compiled a list of his greatest awards-show performances yet:
"Love Lockdown," 2008 MTV VMAs
One year after vowing he'd "never return" to MTV, Kanye thankfully went back on his word, closing out the 2008 VMAs with a stirring premiere of "Love Lockdown," the first single from his 808s & Heartbreak album. Decked out in a gray suit (complete with beating, LED heart), backed only by a line of riot-gear-clad Japanese drummers, this was an introduction to West's stripped-down, vulnerable 808s era. Of course, given that he performed the tune in front of an acre-sized wide screen, "stripped down" is a relative term. It's Kanye we're talking about, after all.
"Power," 2010 BET Awards
West returned from his self-imposed exile (after the Taylor Swift incident at the '09 VMAs) with this performance, a fiery, fierce debut of his brand-new single "Power." Standing atop a volcano, impossibly huge Horus chain draped over his neck, the message was clear: Not only was he back, but West was stronger than ever. And also, apparently, fire-retardant.
"Swagga Like Us," 2009 Grammys
Joined by fellow hip-hop heavyweights T.I., Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and (a very pregnant) M.I.A., Kanye wowed the Grammy audience with an appropriately swaggering take on the epic posse cut. The performance recalled the glory of the Rat Pack years — tuxedos, bandstands, etc. — and, judging on his verse alone, West was most definitely the Sinatra of the evening.
"Jesus Walks," 2005 Grammys
Arguably Kanye's biggest performance of all time. Joined by Mavis Staples, John Legend and the Blind Boys of Alabama, he took the audience to Sunday service, danced around like Diddy, died in the arms of a silhouetted woman, attended his own funeral, then ascended to heaven, in a white suit and angel wings. Seriously, all of that happened. Oh, and moments later, his College Dropout wins Best Rap Album, at which point West gives an ultra-cocky speech that culminated in him proclaiming, "A lot of people were wondering what I was going to do if I didn't win anything tonight ... I guess we'll never know."
"Stronger" and "Hey Mama," 2008 Grammys
The polar opposite of "Jesus Walks," this performance starts off with a typically Kanye-ian take on hit single "Stronger" (smoking lunar landscape, glow-in-the-dark suit, Daft Punk cameo) but then makes an abrupt about-face, as West ditched all the flash and did an updated version of his song "Hey Mama," changing lyrics to reflect the recent death of his mother, Donda. Crouching beneath a single spotlight, he nearly breaks down at several points, and when he's done, the Grammy audience gives him a much-deserved standing ovation. It's his most straightforward performance to date. And yet, it's also his most powerful.
What is your favorite Kanye awards-show performance? Are you looking forward to what he'll do at this year's VMAs? Let us know in the comments!
The 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on September 12 at 9 p.m. ET.