/ 8 June 2022

Beats by Yeezus: 6 of Kanye West’s most brilliant productions

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Kanye West (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)

Kanye West is perhaps one of the most influential and polarising artists in the history of modern hip-hop and pop music.

The Atlanta-born, Chicago-raised Gemini is known for pushing boundaries in music and fashion, all while triggering heated public discourse around his brash opinions on, well, mostly everything. He is provocative. He gets the people going. But, love him or hate him, Kanye (or just Ye these days) is a musical genius who has worked with a range of artists from Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar, to Beyonce and D’banj, as well as Lil Nas X and Jay-Z.

While his sound has evolved over the past two decades, West is best known for crafting his soulful beats that feature reimagined samples from a plethora of genres. But there is one specific type of Kanye West beat. This type of beat sounds big and is spiritually anthemic, usually inspiring lyrics and performances that aptly match it. These beats sound like the Creator herself crafted them. 

In honour of his 44th birthday, on 8 June 2022, here is a list of six unforgettable instrumentals.

1. Common – Be (Intro)- 2005

The opening track of the eponymous album marked a return to form and fanfare for fellow Chi-Town emcee, Common. The beat starts off with a few notes from an upright bass that turns into an infectiously jazzy bassline. After the synths, comes the keys supplied by (then) frequent collaborator John Legend.

Just when you think it can’t get any better, West throws in a chopped sample from Albert Jone’s Mother Nature to create the perfect canvas for Common to wax poetic about life, the state of the world and his own spirituality. It is the perfect opener to one of the most perfect rap albums ever released. Listen here.

2. DJ Khaled – Grammy Family – 2006

By the time this song was released in 2006, Kanye had cemented himself as an iconic figure in the hip-hop world. With two successful albums, a string of Grammy Awards and his own label, his trajectory from rap star to global music icon was set.

At the same time, DJ Khaled was working his way up from club DJ to the curator of blockbuster albums that he’s known as today. 

The song is built around a larger-than-life brass section and thumping boom-bap drums while the featured artists, West himself, rapper Consequence and Legend triumphantly speak about their collective and individual successes in the industry. Listen here.

3. Kanye West – Father Stretch My Hands Part 1 – 2016

Notorious for its shock-factor opening lyrics (yeah, that horrible X-rated line about anal bleaching), the second track of Kanye’s Life Of Pablo album, is arguably his most notable.

This is for three reasons — the gospel song that it samples, Father I Stretch My Hands, it being Ye’s foray into his controversial gospel era and the back and forth it caused between West and his frenemy, Drake.

The production itself sounds and feels like ascension music — it’s bright, churchy and uplifting. What makes it even better is how amazingly it is blended with contemporary hip-hop sounds. Watch it here.

4. Kanye West – Diamonds From Sierra Leone– 2005

Like the sample it is based on (Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever), 2005’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone is as epic as a James Bond movie. What sets it apart from the soulful jams we had gotten to know him for at the time, is the sheer magnitude of this production.

Having recently joined forces with multi-instrumentalist and film composer, Jon Brion who is known for his vivid soundscapes on films such as Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, Diamonds was the first glimpse we got into Kanye’s ever-evolving style of production. Watch it here.

Similarly, We Major, taken from the same album as Diamonds, sees Kanye experimenting with big drum sounds as well as brass sections reminiscent of the big band music of the 1930s and 1940s. With a crescendo laden with frantic piano trills, this new sonic direction made it clear that West was transitioning from being just a beatmaker for rap artists to the certified super pop producer we know today.

5. Kanye West – No Mistakes – 2018

Following a very public meltdown and a stint in a mental healthcare centre, West returned with his eighth solo studio album, Ye. After having been diagnosed with bi-polar and being admitted, allegedly at the behest of his in-laws and against his will, Kanye touches on his mental health issues throughout the album. 

On No Mistakes, he speaks about his undying love for reality TV star and model Kim Kardashian, despite their marriage being a troubled one (and eventually ending in divorce in 2022).

The beat saw a return to his earlier soul-based and sample-driven compositions, borrowing heavily from gospel singer Edwin Hawkins’ Children Get Together and an interpolation from rapper Slick Rick’s Hey Young World. The already uplifting and spiritual tone of the music is taken a notch higher by the crooning of Charlie Wilson to create what is possibly West’s best production. Listen to it here.

6. Kanye West – All Of The Lights – 2010

At five minutes long and having at least 14 notable artists (including Rihanna, Drake, John Legend, The-Dream, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi and Elton John, among others) providing backing vocals, Kanye’s 2010 hit is a lot of song.

Released as the fourth single from his acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark TwistedFantasy, considered by many as West’s magnum opus, the song has since become one of his most popular tracks of all time.

But, what makes the instrumental to this song so great is the audacity of it all. It’s layered with synths, trumpets, trombones, violins, cellos, as well as heavy drums and keys that are so well layered over each other it feels like a symphonic hip-hop masterpiece. It’s no wonder that the All Of The Lights took home two statuettes at the 54th Grammy Awards (Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song). It’s one hell of a song amplified by one hell of a beat. Listen to it here.