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Taking production to an entirely new level, and essentially sparking the ‘chipmunk soul’ genre, the self proclaimed “God” that is Kanye West has also got one of the most notorious egos in music history.
However, as exasperating as it can be, he does have the sonic skill to back it up.
Having been nominated for a total of 369 awards over his 15 year career, the Chicago born rapper has picked himself up a total of 92 of them, 21 of which are Grammy’s.
In light of his recent album ‘The Life of Pablo’, we have a look through the years of Mr. West, and how his sound has developed to make him one of the most unique figures in the industry.
THE COLLEGE DROPOUT (2004)
Having exploded onto the scene with his production on Jay Z’s 2001 album ‘The Blueprint’, Kanye West became one of the most sought after producers in the industry. Three years later, he released his debut album to critical acclaim.
Instigating the ‘chipmunk soul’ form of production, Kanye West’s funk and soul samples were pitched up in order to create a squeaky vocal sound. This unique style of production would lay the foundations for the majority of ‘The College Dropout’, and would also be prominent throughout the first half of his career.
LATE REGISTRATION (2005)
Receiving critical acclaim upon its release, ‘Late Registration’ was responsible for a series of hits that would begin to cement Kanye West as one of the most successful hip hop acts of all time.
Continuing on from ‘The College Dropout’, Kanye’s production technique on the album didn’t differ too much. Using an array of soul and funk samples to make up the majority of the record, Kanye’s masterpiece on the album was turning a famous Ray Charles sample into one of the most instantly recognisable hip hop anthems ever made.
Mostly remembered for causing Kanye West’s beef with New York rapper 50 Cent, for being released on the same day as his album ‘Curtis’, Kanye West’s third album ‘Graduation’ would also go on to break an incredible amount of records.
Earning Kanye West a total of eight Grammy nominations, his production on the album was notably different from his frequently used soul and funk sample production style.
Taking to a more electronic sound, Kanye teamed up with the likes of Daft Punk to deliver an album filled with club and chart friendly tracks.
808’S & HEARTBREAK (2008)
Kanye’s 2008 album ‘808’s & Heartbreak’ is undoubtedly his most career changing album in the discography. Completely ditching rap for practically the entire album, Kanye took to the then popularised auto-tune to bring an electro-pop record that spawned off a series of hits and slow jams.
With the production style in the album name, Kanye solely used a Roland TR-808 drum machine for the albums sound, as well primarily focusing on the use of plug-in software synthesizers.
Looking back at the album, it is easily criticised for the overuse of the now tired auto tune. However, the album would essentially lay the foundations for the production style and musical sound of modern acts such as Drake and Future.
MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (2010)
Arguably Kanye’s best album to date, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ broke the barriers of hip hop production, and truly put him in a league of his own.
Taking a completely new artistic approach with the albums production, Kanye was able to make a 13-track record with every song being a masterpiece in its own right. Kanye’s production throughout the record covered every aspect of his previous styles and techniques, and went even further.
With classical music symphony’s, to dancefloor fillers, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ was rightfully placed at the top of several Best Album of the Decade lists.
WATCH THE THRONE (2011)
At something of peak in his career, and secured in the hip hop hall of fame, the ever growing eccentric Kanye West decided to team up with mentor and close friend Jay Z for their collaborative album ‘Watch The Throne’.
Taking to a more funky sound then his previous albums, Kanye was still able to deliver the club anthems he was becoming more and more famous for, with ‘HAM’ and ‘Niggas In Paris’ instantly springing to mind.
Also combining elements of his ‘College Dropout’ days, ‘Watch The Throne’ would also go on to be listed as one of the best albums of the 2010’s.
Again pushing the boundaries with his production style and technique, he returned with yet another artistic expression that only Kanye West would be capable of getting away with.
By this stage of his career, Kanye was fully transformed from the smiley and soulful ‘College Dropout’, to the egotistical music and fashion mogul that he is now. The album title is testament to this statement in itself.
However, returning to his ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ production process, Kanye delivered an album that was so musically unique to anything ever produced in hip hop, that the track title ‘I Am A God’ was only argued by the staunchly anti-Kanye critics.
THE LIFE OF PABLO (2016)
Potentially the most hyped album of the decade, ‘The Life of Pablo’ has been referred to by Kanye himself as “the best album of all time”, although this statement was later retracted along with various prototype album titles.
With fans eagerly awaiting its release, ‘The Life of Pablo’ was finally made available for stream via Tidal in mid-February 2016. Instantly being regarded as one of Kanye’s most artistic efforts, the album took elements of ‘The College Dropout’ and ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ to create yet another obscurerap album.
Production wise, the album is worthy of the amount of hype that surrounded it prior to its release. It is by far his most modern sounding album to date. With rolling hats and snares, and heavy bass lines, one would almost be tricked into thinking that Kanye was attempting to create an album similar to ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’. However, Kanye’s ability to pick out a sample, chop it up, and make it his own has always been flawless, and this characteristic is extremely prominent in ‘The Life of Pablo’.
From sampling Desiigner’s upbeat hook from ‘Panda’ to be used on ‘Pt. 2′, to the perfectly fitted Sister Nancy sample on ‘Famous’, Kanye has always, and will always be, one of the best producers in the hip hop game.
However, his uninspired lyrics are the album’s downfall. Never known for being the strongest rapper, ‘The Life of Pablo’ really identifies Kanye’s, at times, inability to write a decent rap song. With lyrics about “bleaching his asshole” and even going so far as to bring Ray J and Kim’s sex tape back into the spotlight, listeners can’t help but wonder; does Kanye truly believe that ‘The Life of Pablo’ is his Mona Lisa, or if shock factors and being the centre of attention is more important than truly making great music?
Either way, Kanye has certainly come a very long way since ‘The College Dropout’, both as a person and as a producer. But regardless of his real intentions with his music and his actions, you cannot take away the fact that he has shaped and adapted to the trends in music better then anyone else in hip hop.