Before Kanye West became the aggravating loudmouth but brilliant artist we sometimes love (and mostly tolerate) today, he was one of the most prolific – and successful – producers in rap and R&B. While he has settled into the role of infrequent co-producer these days, in his heyday he reinvented the musical landscape with his soul samples and boundless creativity.
By the mid 2000s, he was unquestionably the greatest beatmaker on the planet.
While he has produced many of his own hits, Ye’s pretty generous – passing along some of his best material to his peers. Let’s look at 25 of the best Kanye West beats he crafted for other artists. Of course, Ye shows up on nearly all these tracks, but I’m sure that’s no surprise.
I miss the old Kanye.
*Note: Because of Tidal’s death grip on YouTube and other online services, some album versions of Jay Z’s songs couldn’t be featured below. Ugh THANKS HOV.
Honorable mentions: Jay Z, “Never Change,” Janet Jackson, “I Want You,” Jay Z, “Encore,” Common “Testify”
25. TI and Jay Z featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne, “Swagga Like Us” (2008)
In an era when posse cuts were fading fast, Ye chopped up MIA’s hit “Paper Planes” to serve as the backdrop for four of the game’s hottest artists.
24. Common, “The People” (2007)
Kanye borrowed from Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” to provide one of Common’s most uplifting cuts.
23. Lil Wayne, “Let the Beat Build” (2008)
This track’s brilliance was in its structuring, with the sample of Eddie Kendrick’s “Day by Day” slowly ramping up as the seconds tick by.
22. DMX, “Dogs Out” (2003)
Arguably the best track on X’s last great album, the Darkman blacks out over threatening instrumentals.
21. Trina featuring Ludacris, “B R Rite” (2003)
Easily the greatest Trina track no one remembers, Ye whips up a seductive soundscape for Trina and Luda’s flirtatious bars.
20. Nas, “Poppa Was a Playa” (2002)
This soulful backdrop is the perfect setting for Nas, as he waxes nostalgic about his childhood. We really need more Ye and Nas collaborations.
19. The Game featuring Kanye West, “Wouldn’t Get Far” (2006)
Game and Kanye have always exhibited surprising chemistry. Ye snags Creative Source’s “I’d Find You Anywhere” and lets Game unload on a bevy of video vixens. So to speak.
18. Jay Z, “Girls Girls Girls (Part 2)” (2001)
I’ll say it: Kanye’s remix is leagues better than the admittedly great original track. All credit goes to that insane sample of The Persuaders “Trying Girls Out.”
17. Common, “Go” (2005)
Common’s Be should be in the conversation of modern albums that nearly achieve classic status. The subtle intensity of “Go” drives that point home.
16. Shyne featuring Foxy Brown “More or Less” (2004)
Confession: It was only recently when I realized that Kanye produced this banger – that’s how prolific he was back in the mid ’00s. Shyne Po takes great pleasure in roughing up this angelic score. Foxy sounds like she has a head cold but it’s all good.
15. Twista featuring Kanye West “Overnight Celebrity” (2004)
Kanye took one line from Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” (“girl, you know I…”), sped it up, loaded on heaps of strings and keys, and yet another hit was born.
14. Dilated Peoples featuring Kanye West, “This Way” (2004)
This one is all about that infectious whistle – the one that you hear going through your head RIGHT NOW the second you saw the title of this track.
13. Jay Z featuring Kanye West and Rihanna, “Run This Town” (2009)
Arguably Ye’s last great beat (so far), frantic guitar licks and tribal drums ramp up the pace and gave Kanye’s big brother another hit.
12. Cam’ron featuring Kanye West and Syleena Johnson, “Down & Out” (2004)
There’s long been debate about this one – Ye has said in the past that the track was produced by Brian “All Day” Miller, but since Kanye is still typically listed as co-producer we’ll count it here. Regardless of who whipped it up, that sample of William Bell’s “Strung Out” is a keeper.
11. The Game, “Dreams” (2005)
Yet another vastly underrated track, the subtle rumblings of Jerry Butler’s “No Money Down” make for perfect mood music here.
10. Common, “The Corner” (2005)
The beauty of Kanye’s early beats is that they perfectly balanced soulfulness and grittiness. “The Corner” is one of the greatest creations of that marriage.
9. Jay Z featuring Twista, Big Boi and Killer Mike, “Poppin’ Tags” (2002)
Kanye grabbed The Marvelettes’ “After All” for Jay’s classic shopping spree, crafting one of the most memorable tracks of the early millennium.
8. Keyshia Cole featuring Kanye West, “I Changed My Mind” (2005)
More than a decade later, Keyshia’s debut single is still her greatest effort. Keyshia better thank Ye (and that Solomon Burke sample) for putting her on.
7. Slum Village featuring Kanye West and John Legend, “Selfish” (2005)
A beautiful piano loop set the stage Slum Village’s first mainstream hit. The lighthearted atmosphere was the perfect setting for SV and Ye’s attempts to win over their ladies.
6. Twista featuring Kanye West, “Slow Jamz” (2003)
While this was far from Kanye’s first beat, THIS is the track that proved he was a bonafide star. That iconic “A House Is Not a Home” sample became Kanye’s calling card. It’s personally one of my favorite beats ever.
5. Jay Z “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (2001)
The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” became the catalyst for Kanye’s first major mainstream hit. Edgy enough to be a hip-hop hit but playful enough to penetrate pop charts, this track made Ye one of the most in-demand producers in the game.
4. Alicia Keys, “You Don’t Know My Name” (2003)
Kanye’s mainly known for his contributions to hip-hop, but clearly he’s a fan of soul. This sample of “Let Me Prove My Love to You” by The Main Ingredient paved the way for one of Alicia’s signature songs, and Kanye’s greatest R&B beat.
3. Scarface featuring Jay Z, Beanie Sigel and Kanye West, “Guess Who’s Back” (2002)
This one thrives in its simplicity. Kanye tapped “Sunshine” by The Originals, laid a few strings and ear-catching whistles and slyly produced one of the greatest tracks of the ’00s. Simple, breezy and unforgettable.
2. Talib Kweli, “Get By” (2002)
Talib better thank Ye for the biggest hit of his career. Borrowing Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and an infectious piano loop, Kanye whipped up an inspirational classic – and an all-star remix that was even better.
1. Jay Z, “Takeover” (2001)
Sampling both “Five to One” by The Doors and “Sound of da Police” by KRS-One, Kanye crafted the most menacing beat of his young career – and one that set off a firestorm, igniting the rivalry between Jay Z and Nas. That rivalry would have never reached its peaks if not for this song and its pavement-shattering instrumentals. Kanye outdid himself and he still hasn’t topped it.
What are your favorite Kanye beats for other artists? What did we overlook let us know in the comments.