Kanye West, a name synonymous with controversy and musical ingenuity, has etched his name in the world of hip-hop and rap music. Regardless of one’s opinions about him, there’s no denying his boundless creativity and his uncanny ability to transform obscure musical fragments into global phenomena. His journey into the art of sampling is seen most notably in his debut album ‘College Dropout,’ which remains an unparalleled album.
In ‘College Dropout,’ Kanye introduced the world to his unique method of merging minuscule sections of niche songs and turning them into art. ‘Jesus Walks’ is a prime example, where he sampled ‘Walk With Me’ by The ARC Choir and ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ by Lou Donaldson, creating an instant classic. Yet, it was also our first taste of Kanye’s famously inflated ego.
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The album also featured another stroke of genius with the single ‘Through The Wire.’ Kanye sampled Chaka Khan’s ‘Through the Fire’ and Outkast’s ‘Player’s Ball.’ What makes this sampling particularly clever is the backstory: just after signing his first record deal, Kanye survived a life-threatening car crash that left his jaw wired shut and his face in need of surgery. His response? Transform ‘Through the Fire’ into ‘Through the Wire,’ rapping through a wired-shut mouth. Truly incredible!
In ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone,’ Kanye sampled the iconic James Bond track ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ by Shirley Bassey. Apparently, when he produced this single, he wasn’t even aware that Sierra Leone was a country.
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One of his most famous mainstream songs, ‘Stronger,’ sampled Daft Punk’s ’Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.’ During the production of this track, Kanye grew frustrated with the original drum arrangement. A-Trak played the acapella version one day in the studio, leading Kanye to exclaim, “You mean to tell me there was a **** acapella this whole time?” Such is the quirky genius of Kanye.
Then there’s ‘Heartless,’ sampled from ‘Ammonia Avenue’ by The Alan Parsons Project. The beat was initially intended for Jay-Z, but Kanye, in his trademark style, decided to keep it for himself, stating, “I am now working on an album.”
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Of course, it’s important to remember that Kanye West’s art of sampling is not solely his own; he has had great assistance from talents like Mike Dean and No I.D. Nevertheless, the anecdotes and stories surrounding Kanye West’s sampling are numerous, and his influence on this style of music is undeniable. He’s a creative genius, and many happen to agree.
Kanye West’s songs have always been grand, elaborate creations that either build off existing songs or cherry-pick the best elements from various sources to create a cohesive and cooler whole. From his early work with Soul to his more recent choices of samples from artists like Elton John and Bon Iver, Kanye’s unique approach to sampling has become legendary.
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Kanye West’s samples are meticulously catalogued in his album liner notes, but online discussions reveal disagreements about what exactly he borrowed from each song, whether it’s lyrics or an entire melody. His samples resonate powerfully in his tracks, propelling each song forward and creating a unique sonic experience. Kanye West’s journey through the world of sampling stands in defence of his creative power, and he continues to redefine the boundaries of musical innovation.