They expected that College Dropout to drop and then flop
Then maybe he stop savin’ all the good beats for himself”
Admittedly, this was way harder than I had anticipated. I came up with an initial list of over twenty-five favorites and tried to narrow it down from there. I would be remiss if I did not give honorable mentions to “Bound 2,” “Fade,” “Good Life,” “No Church in the Wild,” and the countless number of amazing beats produced by Kanye West. Without further ado, here’s the countdown.
Produced by Kanye West, Devo Springsteen, & Jon Brion
Album: Late Registration (2005)
The lead single from Ye’s second album includes a sped-up and looped sample of “Diamonds Are Forever” by Shirley Bassey. The heavy groove features a lush arrangement constructed around the Bassey sample, including keyboards, strings, and harpsichords. Kanye said the track reminds him of “working out when it gets really hype,” envisioning the record as “the soundtrack to your life”.
Produced by Kanye West, Mike Dean, & Timbaland
Album: Graduation (2007)
The second single from Ye’s monumental third album samples Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which in turn samples Edwin Birdsong’s 1979 track “Cola Bottle Baby”. Timbaland assisted on the drums for the track that would eventually become one of Kanye West’s biggest hits. Ye set out to achieve “stadium status” after opening for U2 on The Vertigo Tour, and this anthemic record certainly accomplished exactly that.
808s revolutionized hip-hop production styles. With a minimalist sonic palette, prominent use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, and vocals rife with auto-tune, “Heartless” has all the elements of an upbeat pop ballad. The structure of the song is constructed mainly around percussion while also using synthesizers and piano stabs. The single went on to become certified 6x platinum, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
7. Black Skinhead
Produced by Kanye West & Daft Punk
Album: Yeezus (2013)
Kanye West’s sixth studio album sent shockwaves through the hip-hop community for its abrasive sonics and industrial, acid house, punk, and Chicago drill influences. He premiered this dark, rebellious track on SNL as the first single for the album. With tribal drums, intense breaths, and heinous screeches, “Black Skinhead” sets a grimy, grungy tone for the character of Yeezus, a “leader frustrated by the inaction of his people.”
Produced by Kanye West & Jeff Bhasker
Album: 808s & Heartbreaks (2008)
This track, like several off of 808s & Heartbreaks, is a hip-hop song with heavy pop influences. It’s a stripped-down hype song composed of tender piano carrying the harmonies over smooth bass and drums. A low-pitched, auto-tuned Kanye seeks to capture some of his former bravado after the death of his mother and nulled engagement. Additionally, the chorus features chants at every downbeat, as well as a slight beat switch at Young Jeezy’s verse.
As a pop song endorsing Christianity, Ye’s fourth single from his debut album was a bombshell within the music community. Kanye speeds up a sample of The ARC Choir’s 1997 song “Walk With Me” for an almost militaristic introduction. The record became Ye’s third consecutive Top 20 single and went on to win the Grammy award for Best Rap Song.
Every single element of this track is hauntingly beautiful. The distortion of the singing, the echoing voice in the background, the delicate isolation of the piano, the concluding reprise of the chorus and opening melody. The song received universal acclaim from fans and critics alike and was listed among the best songs of the year by several publications. As a whole, this is one of the closest things to absolute perfection Ye has ever created.
Produced by Kanye West, Andrew Dawson, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean, & S1
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
In an interview with Power 105.1, Kanye said he spent “literally 5,000 man-hours to do this one record.” The track pulls from “21st Century Schizoid Man” by British prog-rock group King Crimson, as well as the drums from the Cold Grits’ rendition of “It’s Your Thing” and “Afroamerica” by Continent Number 6. This carefully-crafted song is the most-streamed track off of the project that many consider Ye’s magnum opus.
Kanye West recorded the original version of “Through the Wire” while his mouth was wired shut following reconstructive surgery for injuries sustained in a car accident. The circumstances, along with a perfect sample of Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” gave Ye the perfect canvas to recount his recovery and career ascension. Ye later said the track allowed him to understand his fame, fortune, and influence can be taken away from him at any moment.
1. I Wonder
Produced by Kanye West
Album: Graduation (2007)
Partly inspired by U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” “I Wonder” is an emotional anthem with soulful piano and vocal samples from Labi Siffre’s 1972 track “My Song”. Kanye layers electronic synths and loud drum patterns in contrast to the majority of previous Kanye West production styles. This maintains the stadium feel Ye was going for on his third album while balancing the emotional themes of following your dreams. Commercially, “I Wonder” is only the 6th-most-streamed track off Graduation, though it’s risen to cult status among Kanye fans. Whether a late night or early morning, you can never go wrong with “I Wonder” by Kanye West – number one on the list of best beats Kanye West saved for himself.