Lucidity Flow – Producer Genius: The Art To Kanye West's Production
Kanye Omari West can be labelled many things; an artist, an egomaniac, a God, a Rapper and as of June 2013, a father. But before all of these other labels where placed upon him, he was a producer, under the wing of NO ID, thanks to his mother, the late Donda West. After some local success, Ye hit the proverbial jackpot by adding his own touch to Jay Z's classic "The Blueprint". From there, West would continue working towards his debut album, "The College Dropout", which would change the Gangsta Rap sound of the mainstream to a more gentle, conscious tone.
On Lucifer, one of the tracks from Hov’s The Black Album, West sampled and edited the pitch of Max Romeo’s I Chase The Devil.
Echoing part of a line from Isaiah 14:12 in the Bible initially gives the instrumental a Spiritual feeling to it, but to twist the vocals of the sample (much like he did with Through The Wire) gives it a much more soulful feeling. Add in two or three verses relating to death and vengeance and you have a prime example of West’s intricately contrasting art form; bringing together the righteous connotations of “Lucifer son of the morning, I’m gonna chase you out of earth” and the dark, vengeful tale from Hov’s past. Ye even got a shout out from Jigga for the beat!
Fast-forward to almost a decade later and you have arguably the best single of 2011; Cruel Summer’s Mercy.
Although not solely produced by Ye, this song is also a prime example of West’s iconic production. The Fuzzy Jones sample, which again relies on a Bible verse, is sped up and pitch-edited, making it hard to distinguish what is actually being said by the Dancehall Legend. Then bring in the hook — also supposedly a sample — of pointless braggadocio (Lamborghini Mercy/Yo chick she so thirsty) and the culture-blending contrast between the sample and the actual song speak for themselves.
Next we go backwards a couple of years to West’s epic fairytale-esque My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Power, the theme song of West’s self-centric tour de force, has three samples that make it as epic, as powerful as it is, the first of which is found in the chorus and the second of which, the sample that adds the soul of The College Dropout into the mixing pot of defiance and self-righteousness that is so explicitly Kanye West, comes from Continent Number 6’s “Afroamerica”.
Devil In a New Dress, arguably one of Rick Ross' best features, also has the same soulful touch to do it, this time a la the melody and vocal samples of a Smokey Robinson cover of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”.
The irony in the sample is that it’s almost the exact opposite of the song’s lyrical themes, which include decadence (“We love Jesus but you done learned a lot from Satan”) and the ending of his relationship with his ex-fiance, whilst also having a slice of braggadocio, courtesy of Rick Ross (“Lookin at my bitch I bet she’ll give your ass a bone/Lookin at my wrist I bet it’ll turn your ass to stone"). In fact, Devil In a New Dress is probably the perfect example of this exact contrast on Dark Fantasy, but hey, excess is just his character.
The next two songs share common ground, being that they both sample Civil Rights Activist and Soul Singer/Song-Writer Nina Simone. The first of which being the Feeling Good sample on New Day. On a track in which Ye and Hov discuss raising their sons to be better men than themselves the sample may seem misplaced, but the concept of it being a new day may relate to the issues and self-inflection Ye shows on this track, and learning from them, so that his son doesn’t end up like the father. All in all, the track is sentimental and shows a softer side to both rappers.
The next and last song to be looked at is “Blood on the Leaves”, which samples Simone’s rendition of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, initially referenced on New Slaves. The sample’s placement is again questionable and, again, has it’s pitch edited. However, despite any critic’s assessment of it, it is still a display of Ye’s signature style; taking the sacred political message of Strange Fruit and matching it with the horns from TNGHT’s R U Ready and the reflection on past relationships with some light braggadocio (“He instagram his watch like Mad Rich Alert”).
However, due to the nature of certain songs on Yeezus (New Slaves, Black Skinhead) and some of the racially charged content (“My momma was raised in an era when clean water was only served to the fairer skin” and this gem on I’m In It (which again mixes black power imagery with sexual lyrics) may mean that the sample itself was a statement within this song, and also continued the theme of mixing this race-based material with Kanye’s own personal subject matter and lifestyle. At the end of the day only Kanye himself and possibly the producers with him would know the real purpose of this sample but, one thing we do know is that it is definitely his signature style, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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