Kanye West: Innovator or Appropriator?

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Kanye West Two New Songs Soundcloud
via diy mag

Before the Disciples of Yeezus spam the comments of this article, or open a barrage of complaints into my Twitter mentions, let’s take the rest of this article with a grain of salt. Personally, I am an enormous fan of Dr. Kanye Omari West, with Graduation and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being on my list of all time favorite bodies of work. Yeezy Seasons 1 & 2 promoted me to ditch all of the non-neutral clothing that I happened to own. And Beyonce still has the greatest music video of all time.

However, despite how impactful he is, it is obvious that Kanye West has a certain approach to his music.

Ye has a knack for surrounding himself with like-minded individuals, taking an artist or two under his wing. If you look at his catalogue, which has spanned over a decade, there are some consistencies with the release of his music, and his association with certain artists.

Starting with his debut album, The College Dropout, which was released in 2004, received great critical acclaim. It served as a divergence from the then-dominant gangster persona in hip hop. Winning the Grammy for Best Rap Album, the project was self-produced for Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, and showcased West’s trademark production, consisting of samples from gospel choirs and late 20th century soul tracks.

Featuring tracks like “Through The Wire,” “Slow Jamz,” “Jesus Walks” and “All Falls Down,” Kanye does have moments when he mimics the delivery and stylings of contemporary rappers like Rakim, Common and Talib Kweli (the latter of whom had; however, that association could be due to the notion that all three rappers had similar viewpoints on the world — especially when it came to the trajectory of hip hop. Each of the three tended to stray from the bravado and aggressive nature of “gangsta rap,” instead tending to focus on the subjects of religion, self-consciousness, family relations, and personal struggles apart from the those of the trap life.

Late Registration Era

As rap mogul progressed into his second album, Late Registration, Dr. West matured in his production techniques and musical direction. The album continued Ye’s trend of a heavy utilization of samples, especially on the standouts tracks from the album, “Gold Digger” and “Touch The Sky,” the latter of which featured an up-and-coming Lupe Fiasco.

Although he had yet to release his debut album, Fiasco had remixed the first single from the album, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, gaining notice from West, who subsequently invited him to contribute his featured verse to the album. Lupe’s brand of music shied away from the misogyny and vulgarity that was present in other rapper’s musical content. Both hailing from Chicago, Illinois, it is highly likely that the convergence in sound stemmed from having a similar background, but Lupe had been honing his sound long while Kanye was being tapped to produce records for Jay-Z. Late Registration shows a more laid back, reserve, conscientious Kanye, as if his interaction with Lupe produced more than a fire collaboration.

Graduation, one of Yeezus’ more iconic albums, is actually his most original. Consisting of hits like “Flashing Lights,” “Good Life” and “Stronger,” the project is a perfect demonstration of the artist that is Kanye Omari West. The 13-track body of works feature samples from Daft Punk, Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Public Enemy; while also spotlighting contributions from T-Pain, Dwele, and Lil Wayne. This album actually opened doors and paved a way for rappers like Drake and J. Cole, who would infuse a melodic and thoughtfully soulful sound into their future work.

Released in the wake of his split from longtime girlfriend and fiancee Alexis Phifer, and the untimely death of his mother, Dr. Donda West, 808s & Heartbreak was a new sound for the exploding rap star. Combining elements of electronica, deep house, and R&B, 808s is among West’s better albums, as we get to see a rawer and more emotional side of the normally closed-off rapper.

Despite the fact that the album is cathartically emotional release, the project, in many aspects, reflected the work of another GOOD Music artist, Cleveland’s own Kid Cudi. Contributing to two tracks on the album, the entire project sounds like something that Cudder would have produced at any point in his career. Of course, the breadth of 808s stretches far beyond, as many artists are still looking towards it as inspiration, but it can’t go without mentioning that Cudi’s laid-back delivery and inwardly searching lyrics must have had some effect during the time period leading up to 808s.

Probably his more theatrical album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came on the heels of his drunken rant at the MTV Video Music Awards that helped rocket Taylor Swift to stardom and sent him into a downward spiral. A notable era in his career, Kanye had to restart from scratch to garner the approval of public.

Pushed by several avant-garde performances and an accompanying short film, the widely ranging album also took come sonic cues from Kid Cudi, but also from up-and-coming GOOD Music artist, Big Sean. Sean Don, known for his intricate wordplay and quick-witted delivery seemed to leave an impression on the future Mr. Kim Kardashian, as MBDTF is West’s more lyrical album, in regards to content.

#YeezySeason

Yeezus, the widely polarizing and sonically experimental recent album, was Ye’s attempt to being as anti-commercial as possible, a primary nod to his anti-societal motivations that are so clear today. Full of primal instrumentation and minimalistic production the album diverted from the Chicago rapper’s usual directive, however, artistically, this album is his most daring work (other than 808s). Kanye’s new attitude in many ways could be attributed to Very G.O.O.D Beats producer and Houston native, Travi$ Scott, who co-produced three of the tracks on the album. The album sounds like a prequel to Scott’s debut album, Rodeo, and an epilogue to his 2013 mixtape Owl Pharaoh. Owl Pharaoh incorporated dancehall elements, heavy production, and distinctive collaboration just like Yeezus.

This correlation is the strongest out of all of his albums, due to the fact that Kanye recorded his album up until its June release, and Scott’s mixtape was finished much earlier that year. Of course, as with all of the aforementioned bodies of works, it could have just been coincidental or just a mutual sharing of sounds and ideas that led to a blending and meshing of artistry.

SWISH!

Looking towards Kanye’s (reportedly) upcoming album, SWISH (formerly referred to as So Help Me God), the opportunities are endless. The single “All Day” sounds immensely akin to Vic Mensa’s house drill sound, while “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds” are much softer and personal. West has been in the studio with Paul McCartney and The Weeknd, so the options are unlimited in regards to what this album will sound like. It must be reiterated that this entire article is only based off of consistencies and similarities, and is not to imply that Kanye West steals musical ideas from anyone. Just food for thought.

Yeezus 2020.

Twitter: @Shea_Jordan