It’s “Watch The Throne” week, online in stores and on my blog. Today charting the essential Kanye West productions. I took note of him as a producer probably around the same time as everybody else, around 2001 when he blessed Jay Z with some soulful tracks for his classic “The Blueprint” album. West quickly became one of my favorite producers, and since than he’s contributed a wide array of excellent tracks to an eleclectic bunch of artists. I decided to exclude any of Kanye’s solo songs to file down the list some., even though those are some of his best this list still shows off how great he is. His versatility, ability to take a sample and make it something totally different, and his growth show he’s possibly the best at what he does. Here we go.
25. Jay Z “Young Forever” (Feat. Mr Hudson)
> The third in a tri-fecta of Hip Hop meets Pop singles from “Blueprint 3”, paying a nice homage to the classic “Forever Young” by Alphaville, Kanye flips the track with hard hitting electro beats to make the sound more current and something that everybody could love.
24. Lil Wayne “Let the Beat Build”
> A track that’s completely self explanatory thanks to the title. The complexities including the soul sample and some playful 808 beats help to make it a moody and fun track, and a standout on a very solid album.
23. Common “Go” (Feat. John Mayer)
> The first single from a very winning combination. Common and Kanye would go on to produce other excellent music together, but this was a statement and a preview of Common’s breezy yet radio accessible tracks.
22. Dilated Peoples “This Way” (Feat. Kanye West)
> A strong message is delivered over this hype, hard and dense track that you can also get your dance on to. Another case of Kanye being able to create something that’s 100% Hip Hop but can be enjoyed by the masses thanks to it’s chant-y hook.
21. Brandy “Talk About Our Love” (Feat. Kanye West)
> A bit of an off-kilter R&B track, with exagerrated background vocal play and stuttering rhythms. Easily one of Brandy’s best songs (and she has a bunch), and a flawless production that’s both mellow and danceable.
20. Jay Z “Encore”
> After “The Blueprint” you might have thought Kanye and Jay were “soul’d” out, but Kanye brings such an energy to this Stadium song. The crowd chants, the horn samples, and the intensity of the verses and hook. Amazing on first listen, and still holds up to this day.
19. Common “Drivin Me Wild” (Feat. Lily Allen)
> Kanye goes a little POP on this single, but doesn’t lose his Hip Hop edge or his style. Using a Chaka Khan sample, he merges Hip Hop with Brit-Pop and it results in something really fun and funky.
18. Alicia Keys “You Don’t Know My Name”
> Proving he’s not just a Hip Hop guy, Kanye teams with Alicia Keys to deliver a perfect 70’s Soul record that could have been a hit in that decade. Though it offers a “rock” that brings it to the contemporary age, it’s smooth and gets even better during Alicia’s “sugar and cream” breakdown.
17. The Game “Wouldn’t Get Far” (Feat. Kanye West)
> Kanye transforms Creative Source’s slow jam “I’d Find You Anywhere” into a club-banger. The song was also sampled on another beautiful Jadakiss track “By Your Side”, but Kanye shows his mastery of manipulation here and chops up random bits of the song giving one of his best uptempo’s.
16. Jay Z “Run This Town” (Feat. Kanye West & Rihanna)
> While being a song that’s catchy and danceable, this Jay Z anthem is also very dark and intense. A harder edged production from West, that even Rihanna’s pop vocals can’t soften up.
15. Talib Kweli “Get By”
> At times Kanye can put too much in the pot (see “Jesus Walks”), and this Talib production is no different. There’s the Nina Simone sample, there’s heavy drums and harsh piano plucking. Still, even though it can come off cluttered at times, it’s a really strong standout track in his discography because of the ambition.
14. Ludacris “Stand Up” (Feat. Shawna)
> The song and it’s title called for a serious club banger, and surprisingly Kanye plays it a little more subtle and subdued. Yet while scaling back a bit, he still manages to get the job done of getting people on the floor with this addictive and undeniable dance cut.
13. Common “The People”
> Playing like the “light hearted, neo soul” cousin to “Finding Forever” cut “Southside”, this single from Common’s “Finding Forever” was perfect for the artist it was made for. Undeniably a more underground Hip Hop track, but the overall vibe is so earthy and tailored for Common’s style.
12. Nas “Still Dreaming” (Feat. Kanye West & Chrisette Michelle)
> Like one of Kanye’s own best tracks “Late”, this Nas “Hip Hop Is Dead” cut wins because of the ambient feel of it. It’s extremely mellow, but there’s a layer of seriousness to the track that helps bring out Nas’ lyricism.
11. Drake “Find Your Love”
> While this track has some harsh and hard hitting loops, it still remains a really sweet and pleasant work. It’s one of his tracks that are really so versatile that you could imagine anyone from a rapper, a pop singer or an R&B crooner attacking it.
10. Jay Z “Brooklyn Go Hard” (Feat. Santigold)
> A relatively simple track actually. Aside from the Santigold loop and eery background sounds, it’s a basic Hip Hop number for the clubs but still somehow stands out amongst his other productions. When you can do something basic and have it be better than most of the overproduced junk out there, you are doing something right.
9. Common “Testify”
> Common let’s the story unfold here like a great story teller, and Kanye gives him the perfect score to do it over. It’s mysterious, it’s intense and dramatic, and the Honey Cone sample is perfectly placed to add the emotion in correct spots.
8. John Legend “Heaven”
> At the same time being the perfect soul single for Legend, “Heaven” is breezy and beautiful and good enough for many a R&B legend to tackle. Again Kanye still manages to make the sound fresh and contemporary without losing that old school feel.
7. Talib Kweli “Good to You”
> A classic Kanye track, it was one of those singles that was popular for real Hip Hop heads at the time. It’s a rapid fire Hip Hop cut that hardly ever slows down until it gets the wonderfully placed title/hook portion.
6. Scarface “Guess Who’s Back” (Feat. Jay Z & Beanie Sigel)
> An oft-mentioned early Kanye production that nearly 10 years later still stands out as one of his best. It has a genuine underground Hip Hop feel, mixed with the smooth soul samples West became known for at the time.
5. T.I. “Swagga Like Us” (Feat. Jay Z, Kanye West & Lil Wayne)
> Similar to “Brooklyn Go Hard” in it’s sampling of Alternative chicks (this time pulling from M.I.A.’s hit “Paper Planes”), there’s nothing simple or basic about this track. It was designed to be as Epic as the All-Star roster of Rap Kings featured, and the track definitley fulfilled that design. With it’s heavy electro-swells and stuttering beats it was perfectly forward thinking and iconic for the group to attack.
4. Janet Jackson “I Want You”
> When approached with the task of working with one of Pop’s biggest Queens, Kanye does a great job of taking her out of her element but at the same time keeping the vibe in her lane. This R&B meets Pop meets Hip Hop track stands out because of all the crazy drum beats Kanye uses in the background, but stays really sweet and simple to match Jackson’s vocals.
3. Common “Southside” (Feat. Kanye West)
> Kanye has proven he’s versatile and can go from Hip Hop to R&B to POP and back again. Here Common and Kanye flow over very aggressive Hip Hop beats in the verses, but than the hook softens the track up so much. It’s like a bi-polar track, but it all manages to flow so perfectly.
2. Talib Kweli “In The Mood” (Feat. Kanye West & Roy Ayers)
> Amazing, Kanye further proves his genius here by basically giving Talib a contemporary and urban take on Acid Jazz, without changing it too much to lose the smooth vibe. This is serious lounge music, but there’s that underlying beat for the Hip Hop heads.
1. Jay Z “Takeover”
> Hip Hop meets The Doors, I mean do you really need to say anything else. The audacity to imagine this weird mash-up is enough, but West actually showed he has the skills to make it work. After watching so many producers of the past experiment with the rap/rock merger and fail, this flawless and seamless cut proved to many that Kanye had the goods to last a while.
So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. He has so many amazing productions, and it was a little difficult ranking these (and excluding others). I think this list does show an overall picture of his artistry. Here’s to more years of his genius.