The College Dropout. Late Registration. Graduation. You don’t have to be too edumacated to notice the trend in Kanye West’s album titles.
It’s only fitting, though, as one could call Kanye a “student of the game”, so to speak. He encompasses so many aspects of so many great producers. He’s openly discussed the influence that RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan has had on his production style, going as far as to admit to making his Blueprint-era beats with Ghostface in mind. He worked closely with J Dilla, honoring the late legend by chopping samples the way Dilla would have on his beat contributions to Common’s Finding Forever (and doing a fine job, I might add). And his sound has always held a sense of purity rivaling that of DJ Premier, so much so that on the few occasions where Primo has added scratches to Kanye-produced records (on “Everything I Am” off Graduation and “The Game” on Finding Forever), they could have easily passed as Primo-produced records themselves.
But, Kanye isn’t your typical “student of the game”-type rap star — Kanye isn’t your typical anything, matter of fact. ‘Ye is the student of the game who’ll stand on his desk to show off when he’d get an A+, and who’ll throw a fit and squeeze out a few tears when he’d get anything less than that. He’d be nominated for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Class Clown”. Sure, he was a mama’s boy (R.I.P.), and he idolized his big brother, but he was honest enough about it that he never set himself up to get teased. Although he had his close circle of friends who may not have been the most popular kids in school, all the cool kids knew who he was. And his personality was so likable that only the biggest bully on campus would try to pick a fight with him… AND, the bully wouldn’t even win.
To make this journey through Kanye’s beat-making career as thorough as possible, we called up some of the troops from the legendary (if I may say so myself) J Dilla Beat Drop, and also reached out to some new members of ML’s extended fam. Contributions included from…
- Andrew Barber from Fake Shore Drive;
- Brandon Soderberg from No Trivia;
- DJ Franchise from Know The Ledge;
- Ges from KNOWxONE;
- Josephlovesit from Geek Down;
- Khal from Rock The Dub;
- Friend-of-ML and past-Beat-Drop-contributor KoldShadow; and
- Travis from Wake Your Daughter Up
(Shout-out to Ivan from Hip Hop Is Read, who was set to contribute before having to take some time off to deal with some personal stuff. Hold your head, fam.)
As was the case with the aforementioned Dilla post, bringing so many great minds together may result in some repetitive ideas and terminology. I can all but guarantee that after this post, you’ll likely never want to hear the word “soulful” again.
- Nas – “Poppa Was A Player” (recorded in 1998-99)
Andrew: This track was originally slated for Nas’ planned double disc, I Am… Nastradamus. This was really the first major album leak on the Internet — all the way back in 1999 (you figured the labels would have started combating that issue back then). The double album was eventually scrapped and turned into the two albums, I Am… and Nastradamus, respectively. “Poppa Was A Player” made neither album — it did see proper release on Nas’ 2002 release, The Lost Tapes. When this track originally leaked, Kanye was apparently very distraught, as this was going to be his first major, major look. Not to mention that Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie was getting all the credit for Yeezy’s production at the time.
- Harlem World – “You Made Me” featuring Nas and Carl Thomas (off The Movement, 1999)
Andrew: Harlem World? Me neither. Actually, I can’t even front, I actually liked that album (shhh…) when it dropped — and it’s no secret that Mason Betha was once Kanye’s favorite rapper. Anyone remember this track?
- Goodie Mob – “Rebuilding” (off World Party, 1999)
Andrew: Man, people hated World Party so much that hardly anyone paid attention to the fact that Kanye had a track on it. I mean, it wasn’t their best work, but cot damn if this joint wasn’t a banger. This was one of the first tracks Kanye produced, and was credited for, on a nationally released album.
- Beanie Sigel – “The Truth” (off The Truth, 1999)
Ges: My favorite Kanye West beat, hands down. It’s a complete package, the way ‘Ye flipped Graham Nash’s “Chicago” and turned it into such a sinister sounding joint and Beans just blacking out on the track. Those organs and the bassline are captivating, it almost makes me want to throw on Michael Jackson’s infamous white glove and go out and murder monkeys. Almost.
Khal: This is the first Kanye West beat I flipped for, which is odd because it’s such a non-Kanye beat, compared to what he’s churning out today. I used to catch a ride home from work from this guy who would blast Beanie out his SUV, but all I knew was “Mac Man”. I soon replaced that cut with this, Beans’ boisterous banger over some hypnotic organ loops. Nod factor on that one is an 8.5, easy.
DJ Franchise: In Kanye’s recent production, his skills have evolved to become more and more layered and sophisticated — reaching near the heights of the Bomb Squad. However, this early Kanye production is so powerful yet so simple. Kanye’s great decision-making skills to give Beanie this beat for his aggressive persona was a great move. I think this song should be appreciated for its great simplicity and impact.
Andrew: I’ll be damned if this track doesn’t knock as hard as anything released before or after. Seriously. It’s crazy how the tables have turned between Beans and Kanye. Back in 2000, Kanye was just a hungry no-name producer, and Beans was the Roc’s next marquee act. Boy, how the mighty have fallen (sorry). Kanye is basically Michael Jackson these days.
- The Madd Rapper – “Stir Crazy” featuring Eminem (off Tell ‘Em Why U Madd, 2000)
Andrew: The best track from the otherwise mediocre Madd Rapper album (another D-Dot project). This dropped between Dr. Dre’s 2001 and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, at the height of Em pandemonium. At that point, I was buying anything that Em breathed on. Anyhoo, this is another one of Kanye’s ghost-productions — you can hear ‘Ye speak on it here.
- Jay-Z – “This Can’t Be Life” featuring Beanie Sigel and Scarface (off The Dynasty Roc La Familia, 2000)
Josephlovesit: There are so many ghastly aspects to Kanye’s production for “This Can’t Be Life”, yet each element is grounded in a thick, muddy texture, particularly the muffled organ, synth bass and sampled drums. The vocal samples are shortened to disembodied moans and shrieks, creating a sense of discomfort and anxiety. Mallet percussion accents do well to balance out the murky low-end of the song. The overall effect is a fairly elastic track that’s alarmingly creepy. It sounds ready-made for Scarface to gargle his other-worldly vocal chords over.
- Beanie Sigel – “Gangsta Gangsta” featuring Kurupt (off The Reason, 2001)
Buhizzle: Back in ’01, not only could one likely not match a face to Kanye West’s name, most probably couldn’t even pronounce the name (I had guessed that the “Y” was silent). Perhaps Kanye was still trying to find his niche at this point, as I can’t recall hearing a Kanye beat this grimey ever since. The blaring, stabbing horn sounds feel as if they’re coming from brass instruments that had been left in a closet for years and became corroded with rust.
- Jay-Z – “Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)” (off The Blueprint, 2001)
Travis: “Heart Of The City” was the joint that made me take notice of Kanye West. The Bobby Blue Bland sample that Kanye used made for a soulful feeling on the track and also cemented the track as one of the flagship songs for The Blueprint. Kanye does his thing on this track and utilizes his tools to the best of the ability, even applying a “break” of sorts right before Jay’s third verse. Everything about this track is just straight up beautiful.
DaddyL: It’s always hard to get used to a hip hop track that flips a song you’ve enjoyed for so long. Not in this case. I got down with ‘Ye’s Bobby Bland sample as soon as I heard it, and it’s still my favorite track off The Blueprint. The first few bars at the beginning, before the drums kick in, give it a nice soulful feel, and once they do come in, one can’t help but bop the head.
- Jay-Z – “The Takeover” (off The Blueprint)
Travis: The perfect orchestration for one of the ultimate mainstream diss tracks. It’s not that Kanye dug up some obscure sample for this one, in fact it’s almost poppy in nature, using The Doors’ “Five To One” track as it’s basis — it’s just the fact that it fit what Jay was doing so perfectly. The fuzzy and distorted bassline is nasty as a cheap French hooker that hasn’t changed her drawers in three days. It may not be Kanye’s most creative beat of all time, but just the way it worked for it’s purposes, Kanye nailed it right on the head.
KoldShadow: Scathing remarks call for sick guitars. Whatever Kanye was thinking when he made this beat, he had to have known he saved Jay-Z in the beef with Nas with this BANGA. Josie Scott does the damn thing and Jigga displays his over-braggadacious post-Vol. 2 flow.
- Jay-Z – “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (off The Blueprint)
DJ Franchise: When I first heard this song, my reaction was that I knew this beat’s original sample but couldn’t place it. Not until I consulted some friends and did internet research, I found out about Kanye West — often seen typed as “Kayne”. I was amazed that he took such a familiar song by the Jackson 5 and flipped it to the point of new inspiration and excitement. The most recent time where I felt that same exact way was when I heard Just Blaze’s use of Rick James’ “Super Freak” on Kingdom Come. Coincidentally, that song was with Jay-Z too.
- Cam’ron – “Dead Or Alive” featuring Jim Jones (off Come Home With Me, 2002)
Josephlovesit: Admittedly, Cam’ron and Jimmy’s performances on “Dead or Alive” make the track just as much as Kanye’s beat, but I always thought that the whole “Chipmunk-soul” thing fit Dipset best anyway. I don’t consider either Cam’ron or Chipmunk-soul annoying, but they both share a sort of outgoing intrusiveness that a lot of people probably consider annoying. It’s like the kid in school who bugs others with personal questions that most people are too prude to answer, but at the base the kid’s just trying to get others to be outgoing. The vocal sample sounds like something from a country song, and with the use of the term “dead or alive” it fits Cam’s lone-jokester-gunman role well. Someone cast dude in a Western.
- Scarface – “Guess Who’s Back” featuring Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel (off The Fix, 2002)
DaddyL: Jay really runs this track, bouncing masterfully on the upbeat bassline. I love when Kanye brings a lush sound to his track. He has great attention to detail, and he utilizes it well on this one. As a side note, I was listening to this song and “On My Block” came on next — fuck, that song kicks ass.
Brandon: This is from Kanye’s best beat-making era. Right after the success of The Blueprint and before he became a superstar, Kanye laced a whole lot of rappers’ albums with two or three beats and usually one of them ended up a street or radio single. In addition to the obvious “trademark” chipmunk-soul, all of Kanye’s beats from this mini-era had these strange, really-thick-but-rather-limp drums on them. It’s like he chopped the drums so short that he removed the beginning and end of the drum sound and sucked out all the bump. Similar drums — probably the exact same drums, really — are all over The College Dropout and critics cited them as a weakness, but it moves Kanye’s production even further away from conventional boom-bap. The drums don’t charge through, they contemplatively knock in the background as basslines and soul strings and subtle “Guess who’s back?” vocal scratches bubble up. My single of this song — it’s the B-side to “On My Block” — credits Kanye, but I’m pretty sure that’s Mos Def on the hook…
Khal: Certified dope. ‘Ye’s old soul sample matched with that throwback drum beat? Reminds me of 22′s of Heineken b/w fresh bowls of Trenton funk. A real sleeper jam if you’ve never heard it before.
- Trina – “B R Right” featuring Ludacris (off Diamond Princess, 2002)
Ges: I’m a sucker for violins — it’s something about the dark orchestration of a whole string set in hip hop that gives me chills. Escalating choir vocals and the aforementioned violins which almost seem to be crying, backed with apocalyptic basslines make for a perfect joint to get a lapdance to. Only if it was the Baddest Bitch giving you that lapdance.
- Mos Def – “Brown Sugar (Fine)” (off Brown Sugar OST, 2002)
Khal: I remember watching Brown Sugar and getting captivated by this beat, and when I peeped the original (Norman Connors’ “Invitation”), and heard how many separate pieces Kanye flipped, I was truly impressed. That vocal loop, when I hear it, is guaranteed to be stuck in my head (and on my heart) for at least a day.
- Talib Kweli – “Get By” (off Quality, 2002)
DJ01: Ahh, backpacking Kanye how I miss thee. This is a song I can listen to multiple times on any given day, instrumental or not. The combination of the piano loop, perfect drums (which were way more traditional then Kanye’s light tap sounding rapid-fire drum style at the time) and soul claps gave birth to one of the most uplifting songs in hip hop.
- T.I. – “Let Me Tell You Something” (off Trap Muzik, 2003)
Buhizzle: Sampling Zapp records is as much a staple in hip hop as fishermen hats and dookie chains, and Roger and Larry’s legacy will never die, even if it’s currently living through the rampant use of Auto-tune (or, as I like to call it, the vocoder’s ugly sister). Nonetheless, I credit Kanye for taking a chance and sampling the one Zapp record that, more than likely, no hip hop producer had dared to touch in the past — their cheesy love ballad, “I Wanna Be Your Man”. ‘Ye breathes new life into it, and it stands out as a refreshing change of pace on T.I.’s Trap Muzik.
- Royce The 5’9″ – “Heartbeat” (off Build & Destroy, 2003)
DaddyL: I’m not such a fan of Kanye as a rapper, but the dude can pick a sample with the best of ‘em. This particular flip is a J.R. Walker track. When the soulful backing voices sing “Listen to my heart beat”, it lifts the track up beautifully. Plus, Royce is just a fuckin’ beast, so that always helps.
Buhizzle: As big a fan of Royce as I am, shit always seems to get in the way of him establishing a solid working relationship with a bona fide superstar. There was his falling-out with Eminem (though that seems to have subsided over time). And, before that, when Dr. Dre was recording 2001, Royce lost ghostwriting privileges after his manager mouthed off about Dre in some magazine. And, I recall reading somewhere that Kanye claimed to have not been paid for this beat (which may explain why this ended up on Build & Destroy, and not a legit album). It’s too bad, as this duo shows promise here — Kanye’s beat is chaotic, like theme music for a fast-paced emergency room drama, more than fitting for Royce’s lyrics.
- Jay-Z – “Encore” (off The Black Album, 2003)
DJ Franchise: I love this beat because it shows Kanye’s imagination and vision for his music. If you don’t know what I am talking about, go watch Fade To Black and see the part where Kanye describes how he envisions Jay-Z on this song. Of course, everybody loves the horns and the chorus but Kanye just doesn’t make beats, he tries to create moments and memories with his music.
- Jay-Z – “Lucifer” (off The Black Album)
AaronM: The piano loop on this is so dope. Kanye brilliantly sped up and looped the a capella beginning of Max Romeo’s “I Chase The Devil”, where Max chants “Lucifer son of the mourning, I’m gonna chase you out of earth!” There’s a great scene in Fade To Black where Kanye plays his beats for Jay-Z, and when “Lucifer” comes on, Jigga just spaces out and this goofy smile plays across his face as he starts nodding his head — exactly the same way I feel whenever I hear this.
Travis: While I was aware of Kanye via The Blueprint, it wasn’t until I first heard “Lucifer” on Jay’s (*ahem*) retirement album that I was aware of just how talented a producer Kanye was. On my first listen of The Black Album, “Lucifer” was the song that jumped to the forefront in the quest for favorite song from the album. Kanye hooked everything up right on this track, with an almost Caribbean type of flavor that gives it that almost voodoo type of feeling to it. The vocal sample from the Max Romeo’s “I Chase The Devil” was really a step out as something different for Kanye. It gave Jay a track that really allowed him to branch out with a different flavor and broaden The Black Album‘s base.
- Twista – “Slow Jamz” featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx (off Kamikaze, 2004)
DJ01: A beat so funky yet soulful it gave Jamie Foxx a legit singing career, and Twista a mainstream career. Here he uses his signature drums, which he has moved away from using in the past few years. This song can almost be an R&B track, and even if it was, it would still work.
- Twista – “Overnight Celebrity” (off Kamikaze)
Buhizzle: I’m easily impressed with good double-time production, especially when it works around a vocal sample (even if it does tend to sound like a chipmunk singing). “Poppin’ Tags” is a good example of ‘Ye pulling this technique off, but I always dug the way Lenny Williams’ “‘Cause I Love You”, a song with a tempo equivalent to paint drying, is turned into a bouncy, fast-paced beat for Twista to sound comfortable over. If you want to be more impressed with this beat, check out “Girl U Know” off Scarface’s insanely-dope ’07 album Made, which samples the same song, but in a more “traditional” way.
- Kanye West – “Never Let Me Down” featuring Jay-Z and J-Ivy (off The College Dropout, 2004)
Brandon: In hip hop, “producer” often only means beat-maker, but on beats like this, Kanye’s a producer in the mad-musical genius throwing everything he’s got into the composition definition. This is one of the many kitchen-sink beats on The College Dropout where there’s just so many things going on. It begins like the baroque quasi-bangers Dropout‘s full of, anchored by a Michael Bolton sample/interpolation, and then after a verse from Jay-Z and Kanye, J-Ivy gives a spoken-word performance, and then after that, an uplifting gospel-like chorus, and then, one more verse from Jay! It’s a mess and it shouldn’t work, but it does. Check out the final moments of the beat when the chipmunk-Bolton is interrupted prematurely for that elegant piano loop. And listen real close for some way-in-the-background vocoder/Auto-tune shit.
- Kanye West – “Spaceship” featuring GLC and Consequence (off The College Dropout)
Ges: If “The Truth” is one of Kanye’s grimiest beats, then I’d have to pick “Spaceship” as his most soulful. Real talk, Marvin Gaye’s sped up crooning and the lush keys make for an almost “great” track, sans GLC’s verse. Playing Kanye’s verse makes me want to hustle just that much harder. “If my manager insults me again/ I will be assaulting him/ after I fuck the manager up/ then I’m gonna shorten the register up.”
- Kanye West – “Family Business” (off The College Dropout)
KoldShadow: A mellow piano solo followed by some chopped family values statements. For some reason, no Kanye track to date has moved me as much… so much that it gave me a dream about my family in Washington, D.C., because of how I’d go there and “not wanna eat nobody’s food but mine”.
- Kanye West – “Two Words” featuring Mos Def and Freeway (off The College Dropout)
KoldShadow: Choir-inspired hip-hopera sets the stage for Boogie Man, Kanyee Boogie and Philly Freezer to let loose, building tension pervasively juxtaposing triumph. Definitely G.O.O.D. Music.
- Slum Village – “Selfish” featuring Kanye West and John Legend (off Detroit Deli, 2004)
Knobbz: “Selfish” is more classy and just as playful as the average song about a rapper’s roster of females. At the core of the song is a piano loop that meshes really well with both the strings that come in at the
beginning and John Legend on the hook. The result is a sound that’s unique to Kanye — elegant and lush and still bouncy enough for the radio. And he has the best verse on the song.
Brandon: Kanye’s a weird producer in terms of getting mainstream-famous, because it’s only recently that he’s made anything that could conceivably play in a club. He infamously calls himself “the new version of Pete Rock” on this song, and that’s blasphemous, but it was kinda true too. Even the other Roc-A-Fella soul-beat-master of the time, Just Blaze, created these wailing explosions of soul, not the melancholy wobble of “Selfish”. The beat’s just a little off, like someone’s lightly touching the spinning LP sampled here, and it’s up to Kanye and John Legend to catch it back up with their wistful chorus. Speaking of John Legend, he really doesn’t get enough credit for how much he added to many of Kanye’s beats. He brought a lot in terms of melody and keyboard/piano-playing. We’ve since only heard hints of it in Legend’s solo work, while Kanye reaches out to over-producers like Jon Brion or electro-hop trends to fill the gap. It’s a sign of a good artist to constantly be pushing boundaries, but when you hear a song like this, you wish Kanye would’ve rode the soul-resurgence sound out for at least another couple of years.
- Mobb Deep – “Throw Your Hands (In The Air)” (off Amerikaz Nightmare, 2004)
Knobbz: The way the whistle echoes the squeaky guitar always sounded amazing to me. The song has a sense of poignancy despite the fact that it’s supposed to be party joint. It’s one of the few really dark-sounding Kanye beats, especially when the guitar goes crazy at the end, and works way better than anything Havoc has done as of late. We might get another Kanye/Mobb collabo if Kanye forgets about Havoc telling him to eat a dick a while ago.
- Shyne – “More Or Less” featuring Foxy Brown (off Godfather Buried Alive, 2004)
Khal: Another “non-Kanye” track, this one just had undeniable bounce. I was surprised that Kanye did this, but appreciate it more, because of the mash of old school hip hop drums and that operatic vocal thrown on top.
- Cam’ron – “Down And Out” featuring Kanye West (off Purple Haze, 2004)
DaddyL: One of the most thumpin’ songs on a great record. I was listening to this track once, cruisin’ through San Diego, bumpin’ and smoking a blunt. I pass the bud to my friend, look to the left, and a 5-0 pulls up next to me. He looks at me, shakes his head, and drives away. Is there any better reason to like a song?
DJ01: The intro gives a little hint of the rhythmic trip you are about to take with Kanye and Cam. This is just one of those soul samples that had hood dudes singing along to Mavis Staples’ “dooowwn dooowwn”.
Also, this is a prime example of what entertaining shit Cam can make with good production, that you acutally want to listen to on repeat instead of discarding after hearing the funny lines a few times.
- The Game – “Dreams” (off The Documentary, 2005)
KoldShadow: As the years have progressed since my hindsight-prophesized year of hip hop’s death (essentially corporate rap’s new world order), 2004, I’ve grown tired of dudes like The Game (and Slim Thug, Lil’ Flip, etc.), but he honestly did a pretty bang up job with this gem from Kanye. Hungry drums and soulful vocal samples set a solid audible stage for the second coming of NWA (?) to clinch his umpteenth hit single.
- Common – “The Corner” featuring The Last Poets (off Be, 2005)
DaddyL: It’s nice when a song makes it apparent that the producer had a vision. It’s even nicer when it’s actually executed. The storytelling theme of this song cries out for an authentic vinyl-based feel. Yeez delivers, keeping the wonderfully fuzzy sound of the samples in tact. Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s him on the chorus (correct me if I’m wrong) and that little “eh-oh” stutter thing is flossy as shit.
- Common – “Go” (off Be)
Brandon: One of Kanye’s enduring production legacies is his ability to give sophisticated but decidedly mainstream beats to “underground” guys like Talib Kweli, Slum Village, or Common, and get them back on the radio. At some point, “smart” rappers got so up their own asses that they thought even making a song that was catchy meant they went pop or something, but Kanye reminded them of that healthy middle-ground. “Go” is a smoothed-out slow jam that doesn’t have the radio rap prerequisites for songs about doin’ it — no female R&B hook and a beat that doesn’t scream out “for the ladies”. The John Mayer sample is employed the same way Kanye’s usually swiping from dusty soul LP are used, and that’s a good idea. No rock concessions or explicit acknowledgment that the source of this sample is a big-time, contemporary singer-songwriter. It’s treated the same as a Luther Vandross or Gil-Scott Heron sample would be treated, as just another part of the song. Any song that has gross-out lines like “Servin’ you while servin’ me” — I mean, really, just imagine Common’s naked fetal-pig-like body sixty-nining — and doesn’t make me reach for the radio dial must have a pretty hot beat.
Josephlovesit: With beats like “Go”, Kanye West proves that he could’ve done the emotional, floaty-keyed stuff a lot better without Jon Brion’s hand on the mixing board (or conducting baton). That light and smooth sound comes across a lot clearer without tacky orchestral arrangements getting in the way, and benefits from a propulsive break to keep it moving. This is such a beautiful song.
- Common – “Testify” (off Be)
Khal: The first couple of times I heard this one, I had no idea of the story in the track. I literally kept rewinding the track to hear the progression of that sample. Total 70′s, back of the Caddy passin’ a spliff back and forth with some old head named Flip. Ultra cool.
- Miri Ben-Ari – “New World Symphony” featuring Pharoahe Monch (off The Hip-Hop Violinist, 2005)
AaronM: I’m a sucker for string samples and this one is genius. As the title indicates, Kanye sampled Dvorak’s “9th Symphony New World (4th Movement)” for the beat. The searing violins provide the perfect platform for an always-welcome Pharoahe Monch guest appearance. This track rocks classic thick Kanye drums. I dig the high-pitched peals of violin playing near the end of each verse.
- Kanye West – “Gone” featuring Cam’ron and Consequence (off Late Registration, 2005)
Ges: “You sweat her, and I ain’t talking bout Coogi.” How can I break this down? First of all, the way the Otis Redding sample jumps off with those keys in the beginning, you already get a feeling that you’re getting into something real serious. Then slowly you start hearing subtle strings start creeping in after the first few bars — but then Cam’ron comes in harmonizing, and it seems to sort of throw things off, at least in my opinion. But the breakdown definitely makes up for it, and, again, I’m a sucker for strings and violins.
- Kanye West – “We Major” featuring Nas (off Late Registration)
KoldShadow: Probably the most triumphant track I’ve heard since “Lose Yourself” or “The Takeover”. Nas and Kanye trade post-debut-album experiences over vibrant horns and hard bass cuts. Gets more addictive the more you hear it from the jump.
- Kanye West – “Crack Music” featuring The Game (off Late Registration)
Knobbz: The horns and marching band style drums on “Crack Music” make for some righteous crack rap which is juxtaposed with the hallowed singing of the choir in a dope ass way. Whenever I play this joint, I have to get my white ass out of my chair and bop my head something fierce.
DJ Franchise: On Late Registration, Kanye talked about wanting to get a high level of an emotional feel to the instrumentation of his music. With the enlistment of Fiona Apple producer, Jon Brion, Kanye found a producer and musician that could match the emotion of his tone and lyrics to the production. In my opinion, “Crack Music” is the song on Late Registration that epitomizes this the best. From the first bars of music, the delivery, the breakdown, the chorus, the drums, the violins — it all comes together to show the emotion Kanye can deliver with both lyrics and beats.
- Kanye West – “Addiction” (off Late Registration)
Knobbz: One of the spookier Yeezy beats, “Addiction” makes unsettling use of Etta James’ deepened voice; a fitting sample, for James has survived a number of drug addictions. Kanye’s flow is custom-fitted to the beat which consists of a foreboding guitar over bongo drums. I love “Addiction” because it manages to be mellow and on-edge at the same time, an effect that was definitely no accident.
DJ Franchise: The simple sample of Etta James’s voice and the introductory guitar of “My Funny Valentine” make this song a classic. Then, the late roll-in of Kanye’s drums makes the song change pace from mellow to up-tempo. I appreciate this song for the fact that Kanye takes the song to various levels of speed and tone from a very simple sample.
- Kanye West – “Drive Slow” featuring GLC, Paul Wall and T.I. (off Late Registration)
DJ01: This has my favorite Kanye sample — Hank Crawford’s “Wildflower” is simply amazing in its own right. This was custom made for Paul Wall’s (or most any other decent southern rappers) southern drawl. The beat doesn’t change that much over the span of the whole song yet you can’t help but nod the whole way. The light trumpet sample seals the deal.
- Diddy – “Everything I Love” featuring Nas and Cee-Lo (off Press Play, 2006)
Buhizzle: Certain conditions must be met before I can justify to myself that I actually like a Puff Daddy song. First, there must be good guests, because no way am I putting up with 3+ minutes of only Puffy. Second, Puffy must have a good ghostwriter — here, Nas penned both of Puffy’s verses in addition to his own closing verse. And, third, the beat must be dope — enter Kanye. I don’t like to describe shit as “crazy”, but that’s the only thing I say about ‘Ye’s drums on here. Coupled with the signature celebratory-sounding horns on the hook (which ‘Ye teases every 4 bars) and the church organ outro, this song just feels complete.
- The Game – “Wouldn’t Get Far” featuring Kanye West (off The Doctor’s Advocate, 2006)
AaronM: This has to be the most incongruous beat/vocal match-up ever, and I don’t mean that the rappers aren’t spitting on beat. Such ugly lyrics, such a gorgeous track. Kanye has been using the classic “Long Red” break for a while, and this was before he claimed he was chopping his breaks like Dilla. The female vocals paired with the looped “yeaahhh”‘s from “Long Red” propel the track forward perfectly. Reminds me of Freeway’s “What We Do” with Game and Kanye playing off the vocal samples.
Knobbz: It’s easy for a vocal sample to get annoying (see Fabolous – Brooklyn). Here, ‘Ye has the Mountain screaming at Creative Source’s “I’d Find You Anywhere”, which in theory sounds like some producer’s obnoxious little joke. But the beat is far from annoying and actually really catchy. The little chime at the beginning gives the song a kind of game show feel, which is a great backdrop for Game to tear apart video hoes.
- Nas – “Let There Be Light” featuring Tre Williams (off Hip Hop Is Dead, 2006)
Josephlovesit: My friend, who got me heavy into Hip Hop Is Dead, was telling me about a song produced by a former Boyz II Men production team (Tim & Bob) that got cut from the album. I misheard and thought that he was talking about a track that was actually on the album. The closet Boyz II Men fan I am, I started listening closely to the tracks for a sort of soulfulness that could be likened to that of the successful, mid-’90s vocal group. I eventually decided that “Let There Be Light” must be the song that was produced by the former Boyz II Men production team. How could it not be? It was so damn sweet and soulful. And not just “soulful” in that it evoked soul music, but in that there was a nearly-tangible communication of joy that pervaded the production (the entire thing takes on this feeling of constantly rising towards climax). Later on, when I shared my revelation with my friend, he re-informed me that the Tim & Bob production had been cut from the album. Then he either told me “Let There Be Light” is a Kanye West beat or I looked it up on Wikipedia. And that Steve Miller Band drum loop is fucking sick.
- Teriyaki Boyz – “I Still Love H.E.R.” featuring Kanye West (12″ single, 2007)
AaronM: It’s pretty much a straight loop, with a bit of stretching every few bars, but the uplifting horns and stirring strings always grab me. It’s reminiscent of his beat for Jay-Z’s “Encore”, and similarly sounds like celebration music. My favorite part — the beat drops at 2:03, and the loop pops right back in a few seconds later.
- Consequence – “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” featuring Kanye West (off Don’t Quit Your Day Job!, 2007)
Ges: I was always a fan of the Cons after I first heard him on A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes & Life. I bugged when I first heard this song — started digging and found that he sampled Al Green’s “I Wish You Were Here”. The sample is straight piff, and the fact that ‘Ye kept pushing to clear the sample showed his true passion for production and G.O.O.D. music.
- Common – “The Game” (off Finding Forever, 2007)
Travis: I should really hate Kanye for jackin’ the greatest producer and my all-time favorite Primo for his steez. And I would if he hadn’t done the Primo imitation so damn good. From the bassline to the hard hitting drums to the scratched and chopped hook, Kanye crafted a beat that made me lose five bucks on a bet to a buddy. “The Game” is a great beat that encompasses all that is good with hip hop. I’m not familiar with the samples (I’m sure I could look it up, but what fun would that be?), but the fuzzy horns and the dusty drums really made me look at Kanyeezy in a different light, if only for a day or two. It was the only song worth playing more than twice on Finding Forever.
- Kanye West – “Good Life” featuring T-Pain (off Graduation, 2007)
Josephlovesit: What initially put me off about “Good Life” and a lot of the Graduation songs in general was the mix-and-match style that the instrumentation and samples were characterized by. It came off to me as a lack of clear identity. “Good Life” is the best and now my favorite example of this. The synths aren’t any musical reference or homage to a certain style of synthesizer-past, but rather sort of generic sounding — TranceSynth Preset # 8 or whatever. The beauty is in the layering and repeated buildup and dissolution of the seemingly generic elements throughout the song’s structure (I guess a dance-music staple by this point, but still, it works). Strong harmonies take precedence over quick hooks, falling into each other damn near every other measure. Instruments react to each other in a cohesive and believable way providing lots of space and taking on a sort of call-and-response between themselves so that a musical chain reaction is audible. When hearing “Good Life”, it’s obvious how much Kanye has grown as a composer and arranger.
- Kanye West – “Flashing Lights” featuring Dwele (off Graduation)
Travis: One of my problems with Kanye is that he often over produces and a lot of his beats don’t have that “soul” attached to them. They are great for the clubs, gettin’ your groove on, but they usually lack any real substance. Sort of like a McDonald’s burger — it’s great for a some quick food, but toss any nutritional value out the window. “Flashing Lights” could very easily fall in that category, but it’s just so damn catchy. It almost reminds me of a storm slowly forming, churning, building up over the horizon. You see/feel the lightning (the synths), you feel like all hell is going to break loose as it darkens. Yet, the downpour never happens. This whole track, the beat is slowly building, making you think there is an outbreak ready to happen any minute, yet it never happens. You are teased the whole way, but it’s great. The feeling this track invokes in me when listening is one of many emotions. That is what music is supposed to do, and Kanye does great on “Flashing Lights”.
- Kanye West – “The Glory” (off Graduation)
Brandon: 37 seconds into “The Glory”, this insane bassline rips through the back of the track; thick and buzzing, it barely lets up for the rest of the song’s running time. It’s the kind of sonic detail that your ears can easily gloss over — too busy with regal string stabs and uplifting quasi-chipmunk hook, no doubt — but once you hear it, it spins you in circles. The best thing about “The Glory” is how it relies on some old tricks, flips them enough to not seem derivative, and still fits in with the futuristic electronics that dominate Graduation. Simple stuff like punctuating the verse by letting the beat drop out, that heavy-rock bassline, or accompanying the sample with a chorus of voices late in the song goes a long way.
- Kanye West – “Champion” (off Graduation)
DJ01: Sampling Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”, and a rapid delivery of drums followed by some claps, Kanye made a song that non-hip hop heads can dig. He flips “… their eyes” so much that it sounds like it’s coming from an instrument, not vocals. The subtly-synthy intro before “Did you realize…” is genius.
- Rhymefest – “I Came Home” featuring Marsha Ambrosius (off El Che, 2008?)
AaronM: Kanye loops Gilberto Gil’s acoustic guitar from his “One O’Clock Last Morning, 20th April 1970″ and replaces his plaintive singing of the title with Marsha Ambrosius’s voice. I love the chunky drums and claps coupled with the gentle guitar strum. Kanye treats Ambrosius’s vocal like a sample, simply another element of his composition. Gilberto’s song was recorded during his political exile in London with fellow Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso, and you can hear the homesickness in his voice. I love how Kanye tapped into the emotion of the original and re contextualized it as the backing for Rhymefest to explain what home means to him.