Kanye West has been congratulated, occasionally by himself, for making musicians’ careers. Pop producer mastermind Jon Bellion (who recently made one of the most compelling K-Pop songs of all time, Rosé’s ‘On the Ground’) owes his career to Kanye’s music. Kanye himself claims to have made Taylor’s reputation and inspired her music, which all of her most recent albums (reputation, folklore, and the upcoming Midnights) have so far confirmed. Meanwhile, Drake is a self-confessed Kanye acolyte, who has made a career riffing off Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak. Meanwhile Finneas and Billie Eilish confirmed in interviews and social media that Kanye West’s production is their central inspiration (with Travis Scott & co. being just more footnotes to the Yeezy school of good music), Michael Jackson admired Kanye’s singing (his least-developed musical skill) on 808s and Heartbreak, and Dua Lipa collaborated with Kanye West on unreleased tracks from Jesus Is King before catapulting herself to stardom on the hip hop-infused Future Nostalgia. Kanye West’s influence on pop music is indubitable. He is the tacit and unacknowledged ruler of the pop industry, sidelined purely for political reasons — he flits from party to party, policy to policy, and position to position without need of elaborate explanation beyond his own philosophy and theological and moral convictions; and, what is more, he is a black man who does not feel the need to accustom himself to the repressive norms of an enduringly racist society (see especially Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks). He is free, and we are not; we envy his freedom.
In the 1990s, Kanye made his reputation as a producer. In the early 2000s he reignited Jay-Z’s career in his role as producer for the pivotal rapper, with Jay speaking of Kanye’s ‘genius’ on songs like ‘Lucifer’, which Kanye bequeathed one of the most enticing beats of all time. But that is not why I am writing this article.
Jay recently spoke of his role in penning the lyrical flow behind Still D.R.E., perhaps the most iconic song in hip hop. It occurred to me that the elephant in the room in this year’s Superbowl Halftime Show was Kanye, with Dre replacing Jay and Kanye as the arbiter of hip hop. Dre, remember, ‘discovered’ Eminem, who in turn ‘discovered’ 50 Cent, while Eminem and Kanye played roles in advancing Kendrick Lamar’s career, too. If Dre’s reputation rides on Still D.R.E., then the whole of twenty-first century hip hop rides on it. And if Jay made half of the song, who laid the foundations. Who made the music?
I don’t know. Dre’s career began before Kanye left high school, so the influence of Kanye on Jay and Dre in the early ‘90s is impossible. But Kanye undoubtedly popularised Jay in the early 2000s, and Jay, it seems, help to popularise Dre with the song Still D.R.E. But who made the music of the song?
It probably wasn’t Kanye. Still D.R.E. was released in 1999. Kanye worked with Jay mostly in the early 2000s, after producing for albums like Harlem’s The Movement, which featured a guest appearance from Eminem. It was only in 2000 that Kanye became a Roc-A-Fella producer and produced for Jay’s The Blueprint released in 2001. But if Kanye did have a role in Dre’s career as well, if Dre bought a beat that had Kanye’s stamp on it, and if Kanye has been the ghostwriter of ghostwriters since the end of the 1990s, I would not be surprised. At least, I’m sure Drake wouldn’t. But that’s another story …