Kanye West is undoubtedly one of the most influential rappers in recent history, but his influence didn’t begin with elaborate 60-foot circular LED screens, mountaintops, white Jesus, and a mic.
Kanye’s influence began behind the mixing boards. Building a name for himself producing tracks for Harlem rapper Ma$e, Jermaine Dupri, Foxy Brown, and Goodie Mob in the late ’90s, it wasn’t until Kanye caught the attention of Dame Dash that he became the rising Roc-A-Fella producer responsible for Beanie Sigel’s “The Truth” and Jay Z’s classic “Heart Of The City.”
Just yesterday, California hit-maker DJ Mustard shared a video explaining how a beat he sent to Kanye West turned into Rick Ross’ Mastermind standout “Sanctified.”
Unbeknownst to DJ Mustard, Kanye flipped one of his beats into a song that became unrecognizable. Mustard explains how Kanye transformed his beat into a sonically spectacular song:
In honor of Kanye’s production abilities, we rounded up 17 of our favorite Kanye-produced songs. From the densely layered “All Of The Lights” to his co-production on Cam’ron’s “Down & Out,” Kanye’s ear for sonic bliss is impeccable.
These 17 songs are in no particular order, because it’s Kanye and all of his production is too phenomenal to be marginalized by rankings.
1. Kanye West – “All Of The Lights”
This colorfully encrypted production was released in 2010, and featured on Kanye’s critically acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The densely layered production is composed by instruments ranging from brass horns, to robust drums, pianos, and features vocal contributions from A-list artists such as Elton John, Alicia Keys, Fergie, The-Dream, John Legend, Rihanna, Elly Jackson, and Kid Cudi. This climactic production is nothing short of a vivid sonic masterpiece.
Co-produced: Jeff Bhasker
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
2. Jay Z – “Heart Of The City”
This song became one of the standout records on what many people refer to as Jay Z’s best album – The Blueprint. Released on September 11, 2001, The Blueprint boasted revered records such as “Heart Of The City,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” and “Girls, Girls, Girls,” two of which were produced by Kanye. Sampling Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City,” this Blueprint standout has become one of Kanye’s most notable records he’s produced for Jay Z . “Heart Of The City” also solidified Jay Z’s spot in the game as “rap royalty.”
Album: The Blueprint
3. Kanye West – “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
In 2007, Kanye released “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” which instantly became a fan favorite. The dark and thematically sarcastic DJ Toomp-assisted track featured classic ad-libs from Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy and Australian EDM group Sneaky Sound System’s vocalist Connie Mitchell, who was also featured on Kanye’s “Flashing Lights.”
Co-produced: DJ Toomp
4. Scarface – “Guess Who’s Back” Featuring Jay Z, Kanye West, and Beanie Sigel
This song just makes you feel good. Sampling Motown’s “best kept secret,” The Originals’ 1977 track “Sunrise,” and mashing it up with Dr. Dre’s 1999 track “Xxplosive,” “Guess Who’s Back” became one of Scarface’s most glittery records.
Album: The Fix
5. Lil Wayne – “Let The Beat Build”
Despite teaming up with fellow producer Deezle, this song has Kanye written all over it. From ringing keys and snapping snares to the looping soul sample of Eddie Kendricks’ “Day By Day,” the production on this Carter III track is so phenomenal that Lil Wayne even raps about it, “I’d like to thank Kanye, and my n*gga Deezle, for giving me this diesel.”
Album: Tha Carter III
6. Jay Z – “This Can’t Be Life” Featuring Beanie Sigel and Scarface
Kanye loves Philly soul group Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes; it’s a fact. With “This Can’t Be Life” being such an honest record about Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, and Scarface’s personal experiences growing up fatherless, coping with untimely deaths, and destruction in the black community, it comes as no surprise that Kanye would sample Harold Melvin’s achy crooning voice on the 1972 song “I Miss You.”
Album: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
7. Talib Kweli – “Get By”
Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli was one of the first rappers who believed in Kanye’s talent as an emcee. So much so, the Gravitas artist invited the producer-turned-rapper to open on tour with him. Forever grateful for Talib’s acceptance, Kanye delivered an amazingly inspiring production for Talib’s 2002 album, Quality. “Get By” features samples from legendary singer Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and Love’s “Doggone.” To this day, this record will move your soul.
8. Common – “The People”
Paying homage to the late, great J Dilla’s production style, Kanye whipped up an unbelievably soulful track for Common’s 2007 release Finding Forever. The original production was featured on Kanye’s Can’t Tell Me Nothing mixtape, and features vocals by Dwele and rocker Leslie West’s vocals from “Long Red.” The song also features a sample from Gil Scott Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit.”
Album: Finding Forever
9. Jay Z – “Run This Town” featuring Kanye West & Rihanna
Who’s going to run this town? Well, obviously Jay Z, but Kanye runs the sound. Besides “Empire State Of Mind,” “Run This Town” was the second biggest record off Jay Z’s 2008 album, The Blueprint 3, earning the Brooklyn emcee not one, but two Grammys. Teaming up with his mentor No I.D., Kanye sampled The Four Levels Existence’s “Someday In Athens” in the beginning of the song, before transforming the track into a war-ready anthem.
Co-Produced: No I.D.
Album: The Blueprint 3
10. Jay Z – “Takeover”
Don’t know if Kanye knew it at the time, but “Takeover” was the beginning of a long-winded war with Jay Z’s rival Nas. Sampling American rock band The Doors, Kanye produced the perfect battle track for Jay Z to unleash his flaming fury on Nas. To add another gritty layer, Kanye included Jim Morrison’s spooky and almost inaudible vocals.
Album: The Blueprint
11. Kanye West – “Good Life”
Ayyyye. Kanye did an excellent job of making this record feel good, or “summertime Chi,” if you’re from Chicago. Sampling piano melodies from Michael Jackson’s “PYT,” Kanye and his fellow production friends DJ Toomp, Timbaland, and Mike Dean arranged the perfectly composed platinum-selling record. Add in prominent vocals by Timbaland, and background vocals by John Legend and Ne-Yo, and you have a hit.
Co-produced: DJ Toomp, Timbaland, Mike Dean
12. Jay Z – “Encore”
As this record was released in 2003, Jay Z claimed to be retiring from the rap game, and “Encore” instantly became his goodbye song. Sampling John Holt’s cover of the Beatles “I Will,” “Encore” was so “motherf*ckin soulful,” as Jay Z would put it. “Encore” also sampled soulful crescendos from John Legend and Don Crawley, and vocals from GLC and Kanye.
Album: The Black Album
13. Kanye West – “Jesus Walks”
Since Kanye produced “Jesus Walks,” all his other indiscretions should be forgiven, well, according to Kanye. “Jesus Walks” is a grandiose production where militancy and gospel clash. Sampling ARC Choir’s interpretation of “Walk With Me,” mashed with the military-inspired drum rolls of Lou Donaldson’s “Ode To Billie Joe” and the grace of violins, Kanye delivered one of his personal favorite tracks. He made “Jesus Walks,” he’s never going to hell.
Album: The College Dropout
14. Twista – “Slow Jamz”
Originally appearing on Twista’s 2003 album Kamikaze, “Slow Jamz” was also featured on Kanye’s debut album The College Dropout, which was released in 2004. This sexy banger features a sample of Luther Vandross’ version of “A House Is Not A Home.” Twista’s version of the song also features a hilarious skit with comedienne Aisha Tyler and Jamie Foxx.
Album: Kamikaze, The College Dropout
15. Twista – “Overnight Celebrity”
Some of Kanye’s best production work is with fellow Chicagoans. Teaming up with Twista on “Slow Jamz,” Kanye delivered Twista another phenomenal record featuring Lenny Williams’ soul classic “Cause I Love You.” Besides the looping “girl you know I, I, I, I” serving as the hook, Kanye’s decision to add in Israeli artist Miri Ben-Ari’s impeccable skills as a violinist took this record to the next level, as well as propelled Miri’s career forward as a “hip-hop violinist.”
16. Kanye West – “Christian Dior Denim Flow” Featuring Kid Cudi, Ryan Leslie, John Legend, Pusha T & Lloyd Banks
Part of Kanye’s Friday music series “G.O.O.D Fridays,” “Christian Dior Denim Flow” further solidifies that Kanye’s production ability is genius level. Layer upon layer of perfectly crafted production, including astounding guitar rifts, 808s, chopped and screwed elements, and a distorted looping “Kanye” ad-lib, “Christian Dior Denim Flow” became the precursor for the sonic “master plan” of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Co-produced: Ryan Leslie
Album: Kanye’s “G.O.O.D Fridays” series.
17. Honorable Mention: Cam’ron’s “Down & Out” featuring Kanye West & Syleena Johnson
At the beginning of this track, Harlem rapper Cam’ron yells out, “Kanye, this is that 1970s Heron flow, huh?” With this statement, people automatically credited Kanye for “Down And Out’s” production, but in actuality, Kanye credited Brian “All Day” Miller, an apprentice who was working under him at the time. Although Kanye didn’t produce this track specifically, enough of his input and expertise were added to the song, allowing him to receive co-production credits.
Album: Purple Haze