In college I was obsessed with Kanye West. The College Dropout was the soundtrack to my years spent fumbling through academia. His commentary on American racism inspired me to take a look at my own prejudices. I interpreted his contradictions as an artistic statement on how we, as human beings, are walking contradictions. And I defended him to my roommates, postulating that every Bush blast and award show tantrum was a stunt planned to infiltrate the white hype machine.
And then one day I realized that he was crazy.
I felt betrayed. I felt hurt. I felt…I mean I guess I felt fine about it actually. I was not a fan of his latest album. His misogyny was wearing on me. And it seemed like he had stopped trying to write intellectual or clever lyrics. We parted ways like two ships in the sea. He had Kim now. He didn’t need me anymore.
Yet here I am writing an article defending him after all these years.
When Kanye is in the headlines, as he is now and will be again in a few months, we talk about his ego, his childishness, and his relationships. We may occasionally have a conversation about race in the media or self fulfilling prophecies fueled by prejudice. But the thing that always seems to get lost is his prolific body of work.
When you combine his albums and his productions for other artists, you find a career that has shaped a generation of rap music. Most importantly, it is a career which has always attempted to push rap beyond it’s imposed boundaries. If he didn’t insist that his music was so great, you might think it was pretty sweet. And if he didn’t insist he was such an artist, maybe we’d all be able to actually digest his art.
So, with all of the important issues gong on in the world today, I’m going to take a second to remind you why Kanye West is tight. And I’m not even going to use his songs to do it. Here’s 10 songs Kanye has produced, was featured on, or both. Check them out. Enjoy the jams. And cut Kanye some slack.
10. Do or Die – “Paid the Price feat. Kanye West”
This song was produced for some random rap act that never really broke into the mainstream (any Do or Die fans out there?) but the beat is a simplistic gem and indicative of Kanye’s signature sampling style. The rapping is pretty terrible, but sometimes they’re bad enough to be entertaining. If this track had a major artist on it, it could have been a classic.
9. Jay-Z – “Heart of the City”
Kanye’s relationship with Jay-Z is much discussed. Especially by Kanye himself. Maybe it’s Kanye’s obsession with the most overrated rapper ever that inspired the production work he did on Jay-Z’s classic albums. Heart of the City, Takeover, Izzo (H.O.V.A.), and Encore are still great songs and the reason Kanye even has a career.
8. Fonzworth Bentley – “Everybody feat Andre 3000 and Kanye West”
Did you know that after years of showing up in Puff Daddy and Outkast music videos and having a VH-1 reality series, Fonzworth Bentley actually made an album that was released on Kanye’s label? I can’t find much info on this song. But, even if all Kanye contributed to this track is singing background on the hook and rocking sweet dance moves in the video, it’s enough to make it Number 8 on the list.
7. Kid Sister – “Pro Nails feat Kanye West”
If you’ve never heard this song, be prepared. It’s a jam. It’s about your fingernails being on point. There’s finger choreography in the music video, complete with sneakers on the finger tips. And Kanye delivers the classic line, “To hide the goods I would need pants as big as Hammer’s.”
6. Talib Kweli – “Get By”
Blackstar and the Native Tongues movement seemed to have had a great influence on Kanye’s early career. It’s sad that these roots often seem to be missing from his newer work. But, it’s nice to reminisce sometimes.
5. Rhymefest – “Brand New feat. Kanye West”
This might be my favorite Kanye verse ever.
4. Estelle – “American Boy feat. Kanye West” / Keri Hilson – “Knock You Down feat. Neyo and Kanye West”
These two songs totally deserve their own spot. I combine them only because they are so similar. Neither song is produced by Kanye and each would be great if Kanye never touched them. Still, the intro and outro verses he provides on both show Kanye at his best: witty, emotional, and self-aware.
3. Common – “They Say feat Kanye West”
Some of Kanye’s strongest production work was on Common’s albums Be and Finding Forever. In my opinion, these are much better collaborations than all of the work he did with Jay-Z. But, I’m also a sucker for the soulful, pink polo and backpack wearing Kanye. Check out the semi-live performance of Common and Kanye in their prime.
2. 88 Keys – “Stay Up (Viagra) feat. Kanye West”
This song is one of my favorites out of Kanye’s entire library. I’m probably in the minority on this, but I love the laid back beat and silly lyrics. Kanye and 88 Keys co-produce this jam and the video is one of Kanye’s few successful attempts to be funny.
1. Teriyaki Boyz – “I Still Love H.E.R. feat. Kanye West”
Kanye produced a song for four Japanese rappers who barely speak English and dress like flashy, old-school b-boys. How could any other song compare? But for real though, this is probably one of Kanye’s best beats and best verses. The wackiness is just the icing on the cake.