Before most people outside the hip-hop cognoscenti knew who Kanye West was, he was known less as a rapper and more as a producer and beat master putting together dope productions and remixes for a bevy of stars and up-and-comers alike. To think this man who worked behind the scenes early in his career would come up to be such a massive influence not only on hip-hop, but pop culture in general, would have surprised many people back in the day. It wouldn’t have surprised Kanye West, of course, but most other people.
He hasn’t stopped, as we all know. When he’s not in the headlines for his Kardashian connections, his politics or occasional controversial comments, he’s still behind the mixing desk and at the mic, both for albums released on his own behalf, and that of others. We’ve taken a stroll through his massive discography as a producer and come up with five of our favorite great tracks made greater by virtue of West’s involvement. They are, in a word, Ye-tastic.
Jay-Z, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”: “That’s the anthem,” indeed. Jay-Z extols the virtues of being Jay-Z, over an ingenious Jackson 5 sample – one early example of Kanye West knowing when bringing two dissonant forces together would make a terribly pleasing combination.
Mos Def, “Sunshine”: Even on a record with such sonic variety as Mos Def’s 2004 The New Danger, this track stands out. West uses a sped-up Melba Moore sample, combined with an old-school soul string undercurrent, to give Mos Def a perfect platform over which to share his poetry and flow.
Common, “Go”: West himself takes the hook (with vocal support from John Mayer), but he also gives Common a lovely bed of keyboards (sampled from an old Linda Lewis record) over which the Chicago MC can share the story of a lover and what they used to do with (and to) one another.
Nas, “Not for Radio”: There’s a definite sense of drama in Nas’ voice just about every time he steps up to the mic. When he delivers his words over a bed of movie-score Soviet-choir music, as West adds here, that drama is amped up considerably.
T.I., “Let Me Tell You Something”: The excellent use of Roger’s vocorder-enhanced vocal sample (“I Want to Be Your Man,” in case you’re curious) provides a great lift to this song off T.I.’s instant classic Trap Muzik (2003). Because if you have to let down your guard to discuss matters of the heart, as T.I. does here, it’s best to do so while a choir of robots sings behind you.