Kanye West is one of music’s biggest stars and his roots as an in-demand beatsmith are well-known: He produced huge hits for Ludacris (“Stand Up”) and Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”), and played a major role in the sound of Jay-Z’s classic The Blueprint. Still, West produced dozens of tracks, often for major label releases, that went under the radar. Sometimes the track languished on a low selling album, did little damage to the singles charts or simply wasn’t associated with him because of the absence of a shout-out or his signature chipmunk soul samples. Here are 20 Kanye West productions that you may not know.
Ma$e's 1997 debut album Harlem World was such a success that it spun off a group of the same name, featuring the rapper's twin sister Baby Stase and future solo star Loon. The sole album the group released via So So Def in 1999, The Movement, was heavy on major stars and rising producers. Just Blaze notched one of his first single releases with "I Like It," and Kanye West landed a couple of deep cuts, including "You Made Me," where Loon is hopelessly outmatched trading rhymes with Nas, then at the peak of his fame.
Kanye West once again produced a track featuring Nas, this time for Jermaine Dupri's solo debut Life in 1472. In fact, the future Roc-a-Fella producer had at least three collaborations with Nas under his belt before he became Jay Z's go-to producer and helmed the vicious Nas diss track "The Takeover." Like most of West's Nineties productions, the beat for "Turn It Out" resembles the slick Bad Boy sound that was dominant at the time, but the track opens with 30 seconds sampled from Willie Hutch's Foxy Brown score that foreshadow the soulful sound that would soon dominate his work.
Vocal samples were just beginning to become a staple of Kanye West's productions in the late Nineties, and his contribution to Foxy Brown's Chyna Doll album featured an inventive loop of Foxy's voice embedded as a percussive texture. Unfortunately, the album was a sophomore slump that barely sold half as much as Foxy Brown's 1996 debut, Ill Na Na, and the track sank into obscurity.
Lil Kim's second album fared a little better than her rival Foxy Brown's, with 2000's The Notorious K.I.M. going platinum. And Kanye was also there, co-producing the Pat Benatar-sampling "Don't Mess With Me" with his mentor at the time, Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, a member of Bad Boy's famous Hitmen production team.
D-Dot Angelettie briefly spun his successful production career into a stint as a rapper – although his transition went very differently from his protégé Kanye West's. After appearing in skits on several Bad Boy releases as "the Madd Rapper," D-Dot made an entire album in his comical persona. The oft-delayed Tell Em Why U Madd wasn't much of a commercial success, but is best remembered for several co-productions by West and guest appearances by other rising superstars like Eminem and 50 Cent.
Long before Kanye West repped Chicago for an out-of-town label, Da Brat was racking up plaques for Atlanta's So So Def. The two came together for an ode to their city on "Chi Town," the horn-driven closing track to her platinum 2000 album Unrestricted.
Kanye West produced "Guess Who's Back," Scarface's hit posse cut with Jay Z and Beanie Sigel from his 2002 album The Fix. But the classic LP, which received 5 mics in The Source, also featured some less star-studded West productions, including a tense Gladys Knight & the Pips sample chopped up for the grim "In Cold Blood."
The second single from Trina's 2002 album Diamond Princess was a sizeable hit. But it's also one of the few produced by Kanye West that might not be readily identified as his work by anyone who hasn't read the liner notes (or spotted his split-second cameo at the beginning of the video). The violin loop and dirty south bounce of the drums are both a little out of character for West's sound at the time, but it remains one of his hardest-hitting beats ever.
Kanye West was a key producer on Talib Kweli's hit solo debut Quality in the fall of 2002, and worked with his Black Star partner Mos Def on the soundtrack to the Taye Diggs rom-com Brown Sugar. Mos, still at the peak of his suave crossover star mode, was drafted to craft three versions of the title track to the film: "Brown Sugar (Extra Sweet)" featured Faith Evans; "Brown Sugar (Raw)" had a Kweli assist, and West laced "Brown Sugar (Fine)" with a catchy loop of Ada Dyer's vocal turn in "Invitation" by Seventies jazz/R&B bandleader Norman Connors.
After Jay Z set trends with the Kanye West and Just Blaze production of The Blueprint, both were brought back a year later for The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse. Though the much maligned sequel failed to match its predecessor, it was a sprawling and diverse double album that allowed Roc-a-Fella's in-house producers to expand on the label's aesthetic. "Poppin' Tags" was one of West's most exhilarating experiments, marrying one of his chipmunk vocal samples to an uptempo groove and a murderer's row of rappers who can rock a mean doubletime flow.
Monica's "So Gone" was a massive hit with a lush mid-tempo groove, a bittersweet Missy-Elliott-penned lyric, and a video depicting Monica falling out with a boyfriend, depicted by actor Derek Luke. "Knock Knock" brought back all of those elements for Monica's follow-up single, but added a new ingredient: co-producer Kanye West, who brought the same forlorn Masqueraders sample that he used on an early solo demo, "Apologize."
Jensen Karp has had a strange career that's included art dealing, podcasting and writing for the WWE. But one of his most unusual scrapes with fame was a short-lived stint as battle rapper Hot Karl, who signed with Interscope and recorded a song with Kanye West in 2003. There's probably some backstory to "Armand Assante" to be learned this June when Karp releases his memoir, Kanye West Owes Me $300: And Other Stories From a Jewish Rapper Who Almost Made It Big.
Detroit rapper Royce Da 5'9" signed with three different labels before finally releasing his debut, Rock City, in 2002. Through the years of working on that album, a lot of unreleased material piled up, some of which was released on the 2003 compilation Build & Destroy: The Lost Sessions, Pt. 1. Rumor has it that West never got paid for producing "Heartbeat," and after the song's release prevented him from selling the beat to another artist, he vowed to never work with Royce again.
Before the rise of DJ Khaled, Kay Slay was one of the biggest radio jocks who successfully used the format of hip-hop mixtapes for a major label album. The Drama King's second album for Columbia, The Streetsweeper Vol. 2, featured a beat from Kanye West, hot on the heels of the success of The College Dropout.
On the title track to D12's second album, the Detroit supergroup's most famous member, Eminem, took a break to let the rest of the group shine, sneering shock raps over a funky Kanye West beat.
Tucked away in the second half of Petey Pablo's 2004 album Still Writing in My Diary: 2nd Entry, between raucous Lil Jon and Timbaland bangers, "I Swear" was a surprisingly clubby Kanye West production, cut from the same cloth as the Ludacris chart-topper "Stand Up."
In 2002, Kanye West almost placed a track on Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet, but it's for the best that it didn't happen – the beat wound up as Talib Kweli's classic single "Get By." Instead, West ended up with a track on Carey's blockbuster comeback LP, 2005's The Emancipation of Mimi.
About a decade ago, Kanye West and longtime collaborator No I.D. were so enamored of a particular sample from the 1978 Eddie Kendricks hit "Intimate Friends," that it wound up anchoring three different songs. West used it on the west coast supergroup 213's "Another Summer" and No I.D. flipped the sample similarly on Rhymefest's "Sister." But the sample most famously inspired the Alicia Keys song "Unbreakable," a studio outtake produced by West that Keys performed on MTV Unplugged.
A few weeks ago, Kanye West tweeted, "Puff Daddy is the most important cultural figure in my life. His influence means everything to me." Given that influence and how many mutual friends they share, it's surprising how little the two producer/rapper/moguls have actually collaborated. Their most notable work together is "Everything I Love," a West-produced track from Diddy's 2006 album Press Play, a moody and R&B-heavy album that preceded 808s & Heartbreak by a couple years.
Kanye West nearly signed with Cash Money Records before he solidified his relationship with Roc-a-Fella. But it wasn't until years later that West began working heavily with one of their artists, while Lil Wayne was recording his blockbuster 2008 album Tha Carter III. West wound up with two productions on the final album, but "Did It Before" was among Wayne's many studio outtakes that mixtape DJs leaked in 2007.