That’s How You Let The Beat Build: Popular Songs You Probably Didn’t Realize Kanye West Produced
At the beginning of the new Millennium, not many people knew who the hell Kanye West was. Though he had been concocting cold beats for folks since the mid ’90s, his hopes and dreams of becoming a major producer in hip-hop and even having the chance to rap didn’t happen overnight. But fast forward to 2013, and he’s one of the biggest artists in the world. Sure, he’s a complete arse at times, but everybody has a Kanye song, or a Kanye-produced song that their iPod can’t live without (just think of the joy you felt when you discovered Bey’s “Party” for the first time…he’s a genius!), and many of the samples he’s used over the years helped bring major musicians and songs from the past back into the forefront. While you know most of his contributions to music, here are a few bangers that you might not have realized he was behind (unless you are a major hip-hop head or stan).
“Knock, Knock” by Monica
Listed as a co-producer, the talented producer teamed up alongside the incomparable Missy Elliott to help turn a Masquerade’s sample (“It’s a Terrible Thing to Waste Your Love”) into a big hit for singer Monica. Featured on her fourth album, After The Storm, it received positive reviews and peaked at 24 on the Hot R&B Charts, a solid follow-up to the album’s lead single and hit, “So Gone.” And who could forget the video with the very fine Derek Luke?
“’03 Bonnie and Clyde” by Jay Z feat. Beyonce
Damn. Thinking back on the 850 collaborations Bey and Jay have worked on together since they started dating, it’s always interesting to go back to the first one, and yes, that would be “’03 Bonnie and Clyde.” With its ode to Prince and Tupac and a great beat, it showed that Kanye could continue delivering after receiving major exposure from his work on The Blueprint. The song did great on charts all over the world, but it did create a little drama between Jay, Bey and Toni Braxton, who claimed they sampled a Tupac song that she had already planned to sample and were trying to take food out of her family’s mouth. Kanye responded:
“I had no idea about Toni Braxton’s [song]. She can’t act like ain’t nobody ever heard ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ before. People hear the song all the time. I can [understand her complaint] if it [was] an original song.”
Jay would later say that had he known she wanted to use the same sample, he would have done the duet with Braxton…Who knows, maybe they would have ended up the “It Couple” had he swapped Bey for Toni…
“You Don’t Know My Name” by Alicia Keys
Who didn’t love this classic R&B song by Keys about a woman digging a guy who literally has no idea she exists…even if she makes him a mean hot chocolate every day when he comes in for lunch? With the help of West as producer and a great sample from the Main Ingredient (“Let Me Prove My Love To You”), the song was able to peak at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and go number one on the Hot R&B Charts. And it also went on to win a Grammy award for Best R&B song. Blame it on the genius phone call breakdown (“Cause you know, I look a lot different outside my work clothes”).
“Comfortable” by Lil Wayne feat. Babyface
Speaking of “You Don’t Know My Name,” the song was so popular that Kanye went on to sample his own production work on it to help make a new song (and a pretty popular one) for Lil Wayne (one that even Weezy’s mom could appreciate according to the track). Off of the Carter III album, this song featured a killer chorus blessed by Babyface, and a clever play on Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”: “…to the left to the left/If you want to leave be my guest, you can step/Feeling irreplaceable listening to Beyonce/But ok ill put you out on your BDay.“
“Find Your Love” by Drake
After the fail that was the boob-flopping “Best I Ever Had” video (which was ironically directed by Kanye West of all people), he redeemed himself by providing Drizzy Drake with the beat to this much-loved song from his first studio album, Thank Me Later. West teamed up to produce the track with Jeff Bhasker, and his mentor No I.D. The song, with its drums and light piano, went on to be named the eighth best song of 2010 by TIME and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Brown Sugar” by Mos Def
Love this song, and I know I’m not the only person who loved the movie it came from and is named after (Sanaa and Taye were just too cute together, and Mos was also adorable in Brown Sugar). Ye produced both the original “Fine” version and the “Extra Sweet” version that featured Faith Evans. Both were step-worthy songs that we initially didn’t even know West had anything to do with.
“Brooklyn Go Hard” by Jay Z feat. Santigold
Before it was used on the soundtrack for the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, “Brooklyn Go Hard” was originally recorded for the Notorious soundtrack–the so-so biopic about the Notorious B.I.G. The beat was so mean that everybody from Mos Def to Fabolous and Joell Ortiz tried to freestyle over it, and even Raekwon felt he needed to show love for Staten Island using it, making a track called “Staten Go Hard.”
“Stay The Night” by Mariah Carey
Jermaine Dupri wasn’t the only one producing hot tracks for Mariah Carey’s uber-popular comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi. The song featured a sample of Ramsey Lewis’ cover version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” and is about a woman (Carey basically) being persuaded by an ex-lover to stay with him for the night, even though he’s supposed to be with someone else. It was definitely one of the standout tracks from the platinum-selling album not only because Carey killed it vocally, but because of West’s solid production.
“Stand Up” by Ludacris
“When I move you move…just like that.” No offense, but as with most Luda songs post-Word of Mouf, the song was comical, but there was nothing to it that really made it stand out as one of Ludacris’ best. But the beat always receives a lot of love. Co-produced with Ludacris, it had a jazzy feel to it (thanks to that clarinet in the chorus) and the song would wind up being Ludacris’ first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, helping to move major units of his Chicken-n-Beer album. Shout out to Lauren London for another pre-stardom music video appearance.
“Encore” by Jay Z
This was supposed to be the major song that helped usher Jay Z into retirement, and with the help of West and John Legend, it was a great jam…it just didn’t keep Jigga on the sidelines for long (and to that I say, “What the hell are you waiting for???” especially after Magna Carta Holy Grail…). While the song did well, ironically, it did even better and won a Grammy Award when it was mashed up with Linkin Park’s “Numb” for the Collision Course album Jay did with the rock group.
“Let The Beat Build” by Lil Wayne
“THAT’S HOW YOU LET THE BEAT BUILD BISH!” Sorry, I just had to do it. “Let The Beat Build” is one of the fan favorite songs from the Carter III album that could get anybody out of their seat. Co-produced with Deezle (and with the help of a sample of “Day By Day” by Eddie Kendricks), the beat literally does build. Add to it some dope lyrics by Wayne (we all know that after this album his output declined greatly), and it’s definitely one of his best songs if you ask me.
“Show Me A Good Time” by Drake
Another Kanye contribution to Thank Me Later, I can thank Drizzy and West for the song I considered my Twerk anthem (next to Soulja Boy’s “She Thirsty”) before Miley Cyrus corrupted the Twerking game. It’s a like an emotional Drake song hyped on sugar (or maybe acid) but still manages to have a bit of soul in it as well thanks to some piano (and a free Tribe Called Quest reference). It actually reminds me of Kanye West productions before they were of epic stadium proportions, circa the early 2000s.
“Get By” by Talib Kweli
With samples from Nina Simone and Love, the song is one of my absolute favorites and is one of those take-em-to-church classics that gets folks’ heads bobbing and hands clapping. A hit from his album Quality, the song is a soulful joint that centers around a bevvy of social issues, and it’s perhaps my favorite Talib song (next to “The Blast” with Hi Tek).
“This Can’t Be Life” by Jay Z
This song has a special place in my heart for more than one reason (and it’s not just the beat with the emotional chorus and its killer sample of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes “I Miss You” and Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive”). It’s about the hustle and the struggle (as Jay would say, “We all ghetto, B”) and West managed to create a beat that managed to fit the mood of the lyrics. It also helped that Beanie Sigel (before he and Jay decided they couldn’t get along anymore) and Scarface laced the song with some sick verses as well…