With his tenth studio album “Donda” on the horizon, take a moment to revisit a few Kanye West gems that you might not know.
As such, it feels appropriate to once again shift focus back to Yeezy’s bread and butter. Rather than providing an analysis of the Donda music we’ve heard thus far — which is entirely subject to change at Kanye’s spontaneous whims — a stroll down memory lane is the safer course of action. Plus, who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia every once in a while?
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There’s something about Kanye West’s earlier work that really resonates to this day; perhaps it’s the fact that sample-based production has fallen out of favor with newer artists. And to think, it was once a sound that found great mainstream success, largely due to Yeezy’s work with Roc-a-Fella artists and beyond. In any case, the foundation he built during his formative years is a picturesque snapshot of a beloved era.
With his tenth studio album approaching the doorstep, revisit some of the deeper cuts that may have otherwise flown under your radar.
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Grafh – Damage Is Done
Still releasing new music to this day, there was once a time where New York’s Grafh was among the most promising new rappers obliterating the mixtape circuit. Anyone who remembers catching one of his early tapes will likely attest to being blown away by his relentless flow and unconventional rhyme schemes, emphasized by a blunt and unforgiving delivery. As it happens, Grafh’s producer 88Keys was best friends with Kanye West, which ultimately led to a few studio sessions.
Aside from accidentally teaching Grafh to count bars, Kanye also blessed him with the beat for “Damage Is Done.” Listeners will instantly recognize a few of Ye’s hallmark staples, building an emotional core around a pitched-up vocal sample. What makes it shine even more is the way Grafh approaches it, leaving us wondering what might have been had they explored their creative chemistry even further.
LISTEN: Grafh – Damage Is Done
Royce Da 5’9″ – Heartbeat
Not unlike the Grafh situation, Royce Da 5’9” also happened to be an early recipient of a Kanye West beat. Fans of Nickel are likely familiar with “Heartbeats,” a beloved cut from what would later be known as Build & Destroy. Under different circumstances, the track might have been regarded with the same fondness as “Boom,” a single largely considered to be Royce’s breakout. Yet “Heartbeat” never received a proper release, plagued by a premature leak and a broken-down business deal.
As Royce tells it, he originally had the song complete only for it to leak unexpectedly — in an interview with Complex, he alludes to it being someone at Game Records. As his label was no longer covering his album budget, he was unable to pay for Kanye’s at-the-time fee of $15,000. Unfortunately, given the song’s leaked status, another interested party backed out of buying it. And like that, “Heartbeat” was left on the cutting room floor, straining Royce and Kanye’s relationship and robbing fans of an official release. Too bad, as “Heartbeat” is a true gem, a collaboration between two rare talents in their rawest forms.
LISTEN: Royce Da 5’9″ – Heartbeat
Talib Kweli, Black Thought, & Pharoahe Monch – Guerilla Monsoon Rap
Back in 2002, Kanye West lined up a few absolute monsters for Talib Kweli. Though everybody probably knows “Get By,” Talib’s Quality album also featured another Kanye instrumental in “Guerilla Monsoon Rap.” Given the stacked trifecta of emcees involved — Kweli, Black Thought, and Pharoahe Monch, each of whom have been known to steal a track — Kanye had no choice but to lace a beat that inspired nothing short of lyrical murder.
It’s no surprise that Ye rose to the occasion, conjuring up a minimalist orchestral backdrop for the three elite emcees. Being that they’re essentially operating on an even playing field, it’s likely the standout verse will come down to personal preference. Regardless, Kanye West’s reliable and cinematic production was about as unpretentious as it gets. Though the simplicity of his arrangements is long gone for the most part, it’s hard not to appreciate an era where Yeezy was the go-to guy that inspired emcees like Kweli, Pharoahe, and Thought.
LISTEN: Talib Kweli ft Black Thought & Pharoahe Monch – Guerilla Monsoon Rap
Da Brat – Chi Town
In 2000, four years before Kanye unleashed The College Dropout onto the world — Kanye West linked up with So-So-Def’s Da Brat for the climactic track on her Unrestricted album. Given that both of them hail from Chicago, it’s only fitting that their collaboration marks an ode to their home city. In truth, it’s not exactly easy to peg this one as a Yeezy production off the bat, Kanye’s masterful ear for sampling strikes again as he reimagines Tyrone Davis’ “Really Gonna Miss You” into a contemplative slow ride.
It’s one of the many strong selections hailing from Kanye’s pre-College Dropout run, when he was simply looking to get his name out and link with as many artists as he could. Though his circle of collaborators has tightened in recent years, something special arose once Kanye began networking, steadily assembling a list of credits that his newer fans are still discovering to this day.
LISTEN: Da Brat – Chi Town
The Madd Rapper ft. Eminem – Stir Crazy
Though Kanye West appeared to have collaborated with Eminem on an unreleased remix of Jesus Is King track “Use This Gospel,” it’s not the first time that he’s blessed the Detroit legend with a beat. Back in 1999, Kanye West worked on several songs for The Madd Rapper’s Tell Em Why You Madd album, including one by the name of “Stir Crazy.” The track also featured a young, pre-fame Eminem, who may very well have had little to no idea who Kanye West even was at the time.
One thing is certain — Kanye was on a different wavelength with this one, blessing the pair of lunatic emcees with an off-kilter, sinister, and delightfully cartoonish banger. And a bit of trivia that some might not know. The Madd Rapper is actually the brainchild of Bad Boy producer Deric Michael “D-Dot” Angeletti, who unleashed his depraved alter-ego onto the world during a skit on The Notorious B.I.G’s Life After Death. He actually served as a mentor to a young Kanye West, which explains some of Yeezy’s production credits on The Madd Rapper’s debut. Astute listeners can catch D-Dot’s name mentioned in the closing speech on The College Dropout’s “Last Call.”
LISTEN: The Madd Rapper ft. Eminem – Stir Crazy