Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Best Kanye West Beats

It's difficult to appreciate one's God-given abilities when they voluntarily combine it with equal parts arrogance. Sort of like how the Phoenix Suns' Tim Thomas does the Tony Yayo "you can't see me" dance every time he makes a big shot.

G-G-G-G Gee, you suck!

When it comes to Kanye West, no matter how much he tries to sell off his self-importance, no matter how many awards he feels he's a shoe-in to win, no matter how many tantrums he throws when he doesn't win, and no matter how many Hollywood stars he's become buddy-buddy with, there's no denying that he makes damn good music. I could go on for hours... well, a few good minutes at least, telling you why Late Registration wasn't as good as Kanye hyped it up to be, but I couldn't do that without 1st admitting that it was one the best albums of last year. Do I feel bad praising a man who has already praised himself about 100 times over? Not really, considering that no one of value knows who I am. [Sorry, people reading this!]

But regardless of all that, what follows is my top 15 Kanye West productions. Now, Kanye has said in the past that he saves his best beats for himself -- I personally disagree with that, as I've only included 3 songs off of Kanye's 2 albums on my list. And even if it were true, I'm also aiming with this list to highlight Kanye's work with other MCs, considering most of us should know that Kanye produced his 2 major-label albums all by himself (with the exception of "Touch The Sky", which was produced by equally-talented-but-nowhere-near-as-attention-seeking Just Blaze).

15. Beanie Sigel - "Gangsta Gangsta" f/ Kurupt -- One of Kanye's early productions, off of Sigel's '01 release The Reason. Perhaps Kanye was still trying to find his niche here, because this is much grimier than most of what he's offered since.

14. Scarface - "In Cold Blood" -- This is one of 3 beats Kanye did for Scarface's '02 5-mic recipient The Fix, an album which I'd say Kanye has had his 3rd biggest impact on (after The Blueprint and Be). There are so many elements to this beat that you might find yourself not even paying attention to 'Face's lyrics.

13. Common - "Testify" -- Outside of how the looped vocal sample fits so well with Common's courtroom story about a double-crossing woman framing her husband, Kanye's creativity is shown most with the 2 big drum claps that begin each verse, as if to symbolize a judge's gavel. Well done.

12. Kanye West - "Late" -- Ah, the magic of taking a vocal sample and making it say whatever you want it to say. With the singing in the chorus, you might believe that the song Kanye samples is saying "I'll be late for that", when in fact it's saying "I'll erase away" (as in "I'll Erase Away Your Pain", by '70s soul group The Whatnauts). The harmonious production stands out even more considering that Kanye's occasional lyrical ineptness is in full swing here -- he actually uses the line "I ain't thought of no line that could rhyme with that". You know what you do in that situation, Kanye? Scrap the whole rhyme and come up with something else! Sheesh!

11. Kanye West - "Get 'Em High" f/ Talib Kweli & Common -- Simple but effective. It grabs you when it first kicks in at the beginning; clearly, Kanye caught on to this, as he repeats this effect throughout the song by frequently dropping the beat out and bringing it right back.

10. Jay-Z - "Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love)" -- Greatness, even if only for the "take 'em to church"-type breakdown in the middle of the song, with the finger-snapping and hand claps.

9. Scarface - "Guess Who's Back" f/ Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel -- Another great production from The Fix. Real smooth melody, especially with the high-pitched notes echoing.

8. T.I. - "Let Me Tell You Something" -- Sleeper pick, from 2 of rap's biggest names back when they were just getting their feet wet. Off of '03's Trap Muzik (which also features "Doin' My Job", another excellent Kanye production), Kanye crafts a perfectly laid-back beat for T.I. to sweet talk the ladies to, complete with a vocoder'd "do-do-do" which is a nice addition, especially considering that the vocoder doesn't get much use outside of the (Kanye?) West coast.

7. Jay-Z - "Poppin' Tags" f/ Twista, Killer Mike & Big Boi -- On a song with talented MCs rapping in double-time, it's rare that the production could steal the show... such is Kanye.

6. Cam'ron - "Dipset Forever" -- As far as closing out an album, I can't think of a song in recent years that pulled off the task as well as this track did for '04's Purple Haze. Especially nice is the way the beat builds up tension leading into the hook.

5. Kanye West - "We Major" f/ Nas -- A lot of press was made about film composer Jon Brion co-producing Late Registration, but this track was really the only one in which he made a noticeable impact. Jay-Z said that this was his favorite track off of that album -- dude has good taste, outside of Amil.

4. Twista - "Slow Jamz" f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx -- Why Twista didn't employ Kanye to produce a single track on his last album is beyond me... kind of like how good record sales are beyond Twista. Zing!

3. Common - "Faithful" f/ John Legend & Bilal -- From my Best of 2005 list: " time you drink too much, end up throwing up, and have trouble passing out, listen to 'Faithful'. It's like medicine."

2. Jay-Z - "Takeover" -- Jay needed something fresh as his backdrop to deliver the opening blow to Nas in their war of words that followed. Kanye's sampling of The Doors' "Five To One" was just that, but what made the beat that much better was how he looped a snippet of Jim Morrison's vocals ONLY under Jay's lyrics -- usually looping a sample of someone's vocals is made the main part of a hip hop producer's beat, but Kanye uses it in the background, making the vocals practically impossible to decipher and thus adding another element to the beat. If it has been universally accepted that Nas' "Ether" was the superior diss record but "Takeover" is in fact the superior overall song, then it is in large part due to Kanye's contributions.

1. Twista - "Overnight Celebrity" -- Besides speeding up the violin introduction from Lenny Williams' "Cause I Love You", Kanye totally takes apart and re-pieces together this original song to create the beat for Twista's biggest hit to date. The structure of this beat -- starting with the violins, building up into the main melody, with the "I-I-I-I" coming in for the chorus, then the bridge after the 2nd verse, and bringing back the violins at the end -- actually resembles that of Classical concertos. [I'm taking Music 15 this quarter; otherwise, I'd have no idea what I just said.] For those that criticize producers like Kanye for using so many samples to make beats, this song is a prime example of how it's not just as simple as speeding up an old soul record and being able to rhyme over it.

Honorable Mentions -- Royce The 5'9" - "Heartbeat", Common - "Be", and Jay-Z - "Encore"