Tracking Kanye West’s Evolution as a Producer (Every Song)

the kanye effect

Kanye West is undoubtedly one of the most influential producers in modern hip hop. His solo discography is filled with wild success around every turn, but the same is true for his career producing for other artists – and perhaps even more so.

Learn more about the career of Kanye West the Producer and listen to his entire production discography on our playlist, “Produced by Kanye West”.

Rapper. Visionary. Jackass. Artist. Mogul. Designer. Celebrity. Producer. Icon. Genius.

Over the course of a musical career spanning over two decades, Kanye West has been tagged with more labels than you can count. Many of the most common labels applied to Yeezy have changed drastically over time. Kanye West’s remarkable evolution through his time in the public eye (and ear) makes him a difficult man to summarize or describe – but not impossible. One of the best places to look to illustrate his growth as a creative is through his career as a producer: after all, production is where it all began for Yeezy.

Kanye West’s production skills have created career-defining success for other artists that he has collaborated with, from Common to Jay-Z, Pusha T to John Legend. Since his work on The Blueprint, Kanye has produced over 200 songs for other artists, including eleven Top 10 singles and multiple #1 albums.

When Kanye rapped “Niggas hustle every day for a beat from Ye” on 2011’s “Made In America”, he was just being honest. Judging by the numbers, anyone would be stupid not to:

produced by kanye west

“Produced by Kanye West”: The Playlist

This playlist contains every song that Kanye West has produced for another artist since his breakthrough on The Blueprint in 2001. We limited the playlist to tracks that Kanye does not perform on as a vocalist, in order to provide an undiluted impression of Kanye’s production at its purest. The playlist is ordered chronologically to give you the option of listening straight through for a totally unique experience of Kanye’s evolution in the studio – but feel free to shuffle around and mix it up if that’s your vibe! Unfortunately, a small percentage of Kanye’s production discography during this period is not available on Spotify, so those songs are obviously not in the playlist.

Kanye West is one of the most influential producers in hip hop history. This playlist is a testament to that (still-growing) legacy, providing a lens through which anyone can learn about and appreciate his skills as a producer without the music being overshadowed by his massive personality and vocals.

While you listen, be sure to check the Playlist Guide out below for an album-by-album analysis of Kanye’s evolution as a producer!

“Produced by Kanye West”

produced by kanye west

Playlist Guide: Kanye the Producer

Kanye West began producing music as a child while programming video games, an early passion project of his. As he aged, Kanye began pursuing music as a career and primary creative outlet but success didn’t come quickly or easily. Kanye’s unique, sample-based approach to production wasn’t respected for for years, with young Yeezy even being dubbed a “cut price Just Blaze” throughout the industry. My, how things have changed.

In 2001, Kanye West the Producer had his breakthrough on Jay Z’s The Blueprint. Ye’s work with Jay-Z was wildly successful; Kanye-produced songs became Jay’s highest charting single twice in the space of 14 months: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” in August 2001 (8), and “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” in October 2002 (4), a huge feat for a collaboration with an artist who was already at the very pinnacle of hip-hop music. Soon, there was a line of artists clamoring to work with Kanye – a line that would only lengthen with time.

Kanye’s Production during The College Dropout Era

Kanye’s first album was the most production-heavy album cycle of his career. Ye crafted tracks for 19 different artists (including himself), produced 7 singles, 19 album tracks, and 12 mixtape tracks.

kanye production college dropout

These figures are less because of Kanye’s desire to produce and more because he was not yet respected as a rapper throughout the industry. Stories of Kanye being laughed out of high-profile studios for rapping and label executives doubting his abilities abounded during this era – Kanye even vented his frustration over the situation on the album’s final track, “Last Call”:

“Last year shoppin my demo, I was tryin’ to shine
Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme
Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem
Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams
I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed
But without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh
So I don’t listen to the suits behind the desk no more
You niggas wear suits cause you can’t dress no more
You can’t say shit to Kanye West no more”

Kanye’s Production on Late Registration

Kanye’s sophomore album was his most prolific period as a producer. Demand was high for Kanye’s beats: in addition to his work on The Blueprint he’d already lifted Twista to number 1 on the Hot 100 in 2003 (via “Slow Jamz”), and followed that up with his own number 1 album (The College Dropout).

kanye production late registration

Kanye produced the majority of John Legend’s debut album Get Lifted in 2004, which was far and away Legend’s most successful record in North America (4th on the Billboard 200 and 2x platinum, also the first album ever released on Kanye’s GOOD Music label). He then linked with fellow Chicago rapper Common, for Common’s 6th album Be. Prior to Be, Common’s 12 year career had hit a commercial peak of 16th on the Billboard 200, but Legend’s new Kanye-produced album quickly earned Gold status and number 2 on the album charts in North America.

Kanye’s Production on Graduation

Kanye produced his most commercially successful singles during the Graduation era (“Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). “Stronger” is certified 8x platinum, and still remains Yeezy’s most commercially successful lead single of all time.

kanye west graduation production

The fact that Kanye lifted “Stronger” to number 1 on the Hot 100 (when the original sampled Daft Punk track didn’t even chart) speaks volumes to Kanye’s developing rockstar status. It was his third number 1 single. The album also charted in the Top 10 in 14 different countries, taking Kanye’s production worldwide.

Kanye’s Production on 808s & Heartbreak

Kanye West abandoned his sample-based approach to production on 808’s & Heartbreak for the first time in his career. Kanye used only 3 samples on the album, which was 88% fewer samples than he had ever used on an album at the time. This album is Kanye’s least sample-reliant project even today, and it isn’t all that close.

808s and heartbreak production

Up until 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West’s production was pretty much entirely based on sampling. His solo success came from this product; “Slow Jamz” and “Gold Digger”, both number 1 records, utilized samples. On 808s there are just 3 unique samples: Tears for Fears’ “Memories Fade” on “Coldest Winter”, Nina Simone’s “See-Line Woman” on “Bad News”, and Patrick Doyle’s “Kissing In The Rain” on “RoboCop”.

Kanye’s Production on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West used a prolific promotional cycle to launch himself back into the mainstream with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This era saw Kanye lend his vocals to tracks produced for other artists more often than any other time in his career: a record 21 beats Kanye produced for other artists prior to MBDTF featured Kanye the Rapper.

mbdtf kanye production

Rap protocol in the 90s and 2000s generally demanded an artist release a radio single and a street single prior to an album dropping, to capture both audiences. Kanye produced both “Monster” (street) and “Runaway” (radio), which were released within a month of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Kanye’s Production on Yeezus

The Yeezus Era was Kanye’s most insular era as a producer. During the 6 months prior to the album’s release Kanye produced just 4 beats for other artists, preferring to keep his experimental new sound as isolated and pure as possible.

yeezus production

Just as with 808s, when he locked himself away learning how best to use the 808 drum, Kanye led a hermetic existence as a producer during the Yeezus Era. Just 4 other artists were fortunate enough to receive a beat from Ye: Travis Scott (“Upper Echelon”), Pusha T (“Millions”), The Game (“Rollin”), and 2 Chainz (“Birthday Song”).

Kanye’s Production on The Life of Pablo

Kanye West’s highly awaited follow-up to Yeezus came three years later. On The Life of Pablo, Kanye utilized the highest amount of samples (44) ever in his career.

the life of pablo production kanye

Kanye’s samples on The Life of Pablo are diverse and leveraged in a vast variety of different ways. Two tracks on the album feature at least 4 unique samples EACH: “No More Parties in LA” and “Famous”. Say what you will about TLOP, but never before had Kanye wielded samples to such magnitude.

kanye production tlop

About Carter Scott

Hey, I'm Carter. I live in Atlanta, GA and love key lime pie. Some of my favorite artists are Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak, Future, Vulfpeck, Kanye West, and Gorillaz. When I get into an artist I love learning absolutely everything I can about them and sharing it with others in engaging ways. Currently accepting donations for my ticket to Rolling Loud 2019.

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