From the hook on Pusha T’s “Come Back Baby” to the quasi-unreleased Kurt Cobain demos on “Cudi Montage”, the five-chapter Wyoming series produced by Kanye West contains some of the most iconic samples of the year. We break them down one-by-one to gain a glimpse behind the creative process of one of the most talented producers of a generation: Kanye West. Welcome to Conor Herbert’s debut piece here on CentralSauce.
When Kanye West announced that he was producing 5 seven-track albums over the course of a single month, the eager anticipation felt by fans was matched only by waves of skepticism. Could the man who’d promised so much and delivered so little in the past come through in an overly ambitious blaze of glory? I admit, I had my doubts… and yet, here we are.
It’s been two months since the Wyoming sessions brought forth five short records. We received the long-awaited album from Pusha T, Daytona; West’s own TLOP follow-up, ye; an unlikely-yet-welcome collaboration from West and Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts; the 12th LP from hip hop veteran Nas, NASIR; and the sophomore effort from GOOD Music signee Teyana Taylor, K.T.S.E.
Pieced together in Wyoming, the latest of West’s secluded studio destinations, the five-album series offers a unique insight into West’s production techniques. They find the artist working alongside a variety of different artists, turning out hip hop, psychedelic rap and R&B projects, all of which find him calibrating and collaborating with different voices and creative visions. Though there are many obvious differences between these projects, we’re going to examine the easily-overlooked similarities via the samples within, cataloging and exploring the sounds that comprise West’s 2018 output.
Kanye’s Sampling – A New Direction for Yeezy’s Production
There are 42 samples across the five Wyoming projects. That’s an average of 8.4 samples per record, a figure untouched by any extreme outliers. The fewest samples appear on West’s own Ye, which contains just six, whilst Daytona and K.T.S.E – the first and last releases, respectively – contain 10 samples apiece.
The Wyoming projects are uniquely sample-lite: all show West approaching production with a more conservative approach than seen in the past. Even when taken on an average-sample-per-song basis, both Ye and Kids See Ghosts represent West’s lowest sample yield, excluding the decisively sample-light 808s and Heartbreak. Interestingly, Daytona, which features ten samples over seven tracks, is denser than both The College Dropout and Late Registration, boasting 1.43 s/ps to 1.29 and 1.38, respectively.
Though this already tells us a lot, there’s only so much we can glean from the stats. In order to fully understand where Mr. West is at, we’re going to individually break down the samples throughout all five of the Wyoming releases, starting with Pusha T’s Daytona and working chronologically to Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.
DAYTONA: Samples Breakdown
Numbers of Samples: 10
Samples by Genre: Rock (2), R&B/Soul (5), Hip Hop (3)
“If You Know You Know” Samples
The electric guitar that bursts forth at 0:36 is taken from Air’s “Twelve O’Clock Satanial.” One of just two tracks recorded by Air – the other being the b-side, “Jump Back” – “Twelve O’Clock Satanial” was quietly released in 1972, when the group’s three members were still in high school. The group disbanded shortly after graduation, and though their two-track catalogue never warranted a solo reissue, their work has been re-released in Numero Group board game packs. “If You Know You Know” marks their first sample.
The retro instrumental underpinning “The Games We Play” is built around a slowed sample of Booker T. Averheart’s “Heart ‘N Soul.” The 1968 single is just one of four released by the artist. “The Games We Play” marks just the second time that Booker T. Averheart has been sampled: the first was another sample of “Heart ‘N Soul” by artist Oh No, a Stones Throw signee and the brother of producer Madlib.
Pusha takes the opportunity to interpolate one of his heroes, legendary Brooklyn emcee JAY-Z. The pair previously collaborated on 2016’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” a standalone single. The lyric at 1:26 – “ain’t no stopping the champagne from poppin’ / the drawls from droppin’ / the lord from watchin'” – is lifted from “Politics As Usual,” the second track on JAY’s classic debut, 1995’s Reasonable Doubt.
The titular “hard piano” is taken from Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “High As Apple Pie Slice II.” It was originally included on their 1970 LP, Express Yourself. The group are most famous for their hit title track, “Express Yourself,” which was famously sampled on the N.W.A. track of the same name. How did they discover the sample? Eazy-E, known otherwise as Eric Wright, was Charles’ nephew.
The bold, bombastic opening is sampled from King Hannibal’s 1973 track, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” A single from his debut LP, the track peaked at #37 on the R&B Charts. Known as The Mighty Hannibal throughout the ’60s, James Shaw released his debut album, Truth, as King Hannibal. It grappled with topics such as the Vietnam War – which he’d previously covered on his most famous hit, “Hymn No. 5” – and drug addiction, with which Shaw himself had struggled.
The old school soul track sampled at the chorus is George Jackson’s “I Can’t Do Without You.” It was included on Don’t Count Me Out. The Fame Recordings Volume 1, a 2011 compilation of Jackson’s unreleased Fame Records recordings, dating from sometime in the late ’60s. Jackson’s best known track remains Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which he co-wrote alongside Thomas E. Jones III.
Isaac Hayes’ writing credit comes via Lil’ Kim’s 1996 track, “Drugs.” That song samples Hayes’ “Bumpy’s Lament,” a track most famously sampled by Dr. Dre on his 2001 hit “Xxxplosive.” Kim’s distinctive rendering of Hayes’ original composition is sampled on “Santeria.” Lil’ Kim was discovered by The Notorious B.I.G., who invited her to join Junior M.A.F.I.A.. Her debut album features four vocal appearances from Biggie.
The looping instrumental is taken from the opening to Yes’ “Heart Of The Sunrise,” the closing track on the group’s 1971 record, Fragile. Their fourth record in just two years, Fragile marked the beginning of Yes’ most commercially successful period. An eleven-and-a-half opus by a fittingly ambitious English prog rock outfit, the track has since become one of their most performed songs.
At 0:40, Pusha interpolates the hook from Makaveli’s “Hail Mary.” Makaveli was the final pseudonym of Tupac, and his fifth and final LP, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was the only record released under the name. It was recorded in early August 1996, a month before Pac was shot and killed. Suge Knight released the project just four months after Pac’s death.
The key sample is taken from 24-Carat Black’s “I Want to Make Up.” An Ohio-based soul outfit, 24-Carat Black released just one album, 1973’s Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth. “I Want To Make Up” is taken from a 2009 Numero Group compilation of their unreleased work, titled Gone: The Promises of Yesterday. Despite their short-lived career, 24 Carat Black’s work has been sampled by acts such as Dr. Dre, Eric B. & Rakim and Kendrick Lamar.
ye: Samples Breakdown
Number of Samples: 6
Samples by Genre: Rock (2), Gospel (2), Hip Hop (1), Non-musical (1)
Whilst it’s difficult to identify, there’s a single sample on “I Thought About Killing You.” We know this because Kanye was accused of illegally sampling the track in question, Kareem Lofty’s “Fr3sh.” Recent GOOD Music signee Francis and the Lights took the blame for the sample, saying he’d incorporated elements of the ambient track late into the recording process. The sample seems to enter at 3:09, when “I Thought About Killing You” switches up.
The sole sample on “Yikes” is lifted from Black Savage’s “Kothbiro,” though you’d be hard pressed to identify it. The harsh, recurring vocal beat that runs throughout the aggressive cut is lifted from a split-second fragment in the track’s refrain. “Kothbiro” is another example of Ye’s inspired sampling – the obscure mid-’70s Kenyan psych-rock single has never before been sampled. Coincidentally, it was included in a long-awaited compilation by Afro7, released just nine days after Ye was released.
“Wouldn’t Leave” contains one of the most obvious interpolations on the record, which comes in the form of a reference to Kanye’s infamous Sway In The Morning appearance. The November 2013 interview has become a much-memed part of Kanye folklore, with the interpolated phrase – “how, Sway?” – becoming one of Ye’s most memorable.
The “believe it or not” vocal refrain is courtesy of hip hop legend Slick Rick. “Hey Young World” was the third single from Rick’s debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, and was previously referenced by Kanye on Keri Hilson’s 2009 hit, “Knock You Down.” Rick was later sampled on Nas’ Kanye-produced Wyoming project, Nasir, where a vocal sample of “Children’s Story” acted as instrumentation throughout.
The upbeat piano hits that run throughout the track’s chorus are taken from “Children Get Together,” the title track from The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1971 LP. The samples appear at 0:12 and 1:47 on Hawkins’ original track. Hawkins, an influential gospel musician, died in January 2018 after a storied 34 LP career. The same sample previously appeared on JAY-Z’s 2002 track “All Around the World,” which was produced by Kanye’s early mentor, No I.D..
“Ghost Town” opens with the titular phrase from Shirley Ann Lee’s “Someday,” a track released on archival label Numero Group. A recently-released demo from the long-forgotten Ohio gospel singer, “Someday” was also sampled on Kids See Ghosts’ “4th Dimension.” That sample, which acts as a comment on the Wyoming records themselves, appears at 0:57.
The second sample on “Ghost Town” is also lifted from a Numero Group release. English Oldies, released in 2015, collates the work of Chicano doo-wop outfit Royal Jesters. It’s likely that this reissue brought the group to Ye’s attention – though “Take Me For a Little While” was first released in 1965, “Ghost Town” marks the first sample of the San Antonio outfit. There’s two samples at play here: a direct sample of the instrumental, and an interpolation of the melody in the chorus.
Kids See Ghosts: Samples Breakdown
Number of Samples: 7
Samples by Genre: Comedy (1), Jazz/Swing (1), Gospel (1), Rock (2), Hip Hop (1), Non-musical (1)
The drums on “Fire” are taken from Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” an unlikely 1966 novelty hit. The seldom-sampled track was released with a companion cut, “I’m Happy They Took You Away Ha-Haaa!,” credited to Josephine XV, and has been covered by revered hip hop comedian Biz Markie.
The most immediate sample on Kids See Ghosts comes in the form of an antique Christmas single. Louis Prima’s “What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’),” released in 1936, aimed to capitalise on the popularity of the then-burgeoning swing dance craze. The track came early in Prima’s career, and as such, there’s little information about the release. Prima is perhaps best known for voicing King Louie in Disney’s 1967 musical, The Jungle Book.
In his verse, Kanye interpolates the titular lyric from Master P’s “Make Em Say Uh.” The 1998 single was taken from his sixth album, Ghetto D, which remains his most commercially successful effort. Kanye combines references to Master P’s titular “uh” and Rick Ross’ distinctive grunt ad-lib to deliver one of the track’s best lyrics: “make ’em say uhh, huh / Like a mix of Master P and Rick Ross, uh uh.”
An Ohio-based gospel singer, Shirley Ann Lee released just six tracks between ’67 and ’69. In a catalogue-expanding retrospective, archival label Numero Group compiled 18 performances from Lee, pulling from demos and unreleased cuts. “Someday,” from which “4th Dimension” takes its spoken outro, is one of Lee’s unfinished pieces. Yeezy samples another of Numero Group’s archival tracks on K.T.S.E cut “Issues/Hold On.”
Mr Chop is a British artist whose work encompasses influence from electronica and krautrock. The Stones Throw-affiliated artist most notably wrote and produced four tracks for DOOM’s 2010 LP, Born Like This. “Stark,” the 2008 track sampled throughout “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2),” is steeped in the crunchy ’70s psych-rock of King Crimson and Can.
The spoken word sample that opens the track is courtesy of early 20th century Black nationalist Marcus Garvey. A successful businessman, Garvey advocated for pan-Africanism, though his burgeoning and authority-threatening movement collapsed when he was imprisoned for mail fraud. Garvey’s shipping company, the Black Star Line, also inspired the name of Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s 1998 collaboration, Black Star.
The guitar throughout “Cudi Montage” is sampled from Kurt Cobain’s “Burn The Rain,” an unfinished fragment of a track. “Burn The Rain” went unreleased until 2015, when it was included on Montage Of Heck: The Home Recordings, an album released alongside 2015’s Montage Of Heck, the first Cobain documentary made with cooperation from his family.
Nasir: Samples Breakdown
Number of Samples: 9
Samples by Genre: score (2), non-musical (3), hip hop (1), rock (2), soul/R&B (1)
A track from the 1990 The Hunt For Red October OST. The John McTiernan film, which starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, was adapted from a Tom Clancy novel about a Soviet submarine crew. Basil Poledouris, the composer, remains best known for his work on films such as Red Dawn, Free Willy, Starship Troopers and RoboCop.
The opening dialogue is lifted from Richard Pryor’s appearance in Wattstax, a 1972 documentary film about the Stax Records festival of the same name. The show marked the seventh anniversary of the Watts Riots, a spate of civil unrest prompted by simmering racial tensions and distrust of the police. The benefit show featured soul acts such as Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays and the Staple Singers.
The recurring vocal sample that acts as the central instrumental is taken from Slick Rick’s influential 1988 cut “Children’s Story.” The cut was included on his debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which helped pioneer his distinctive style of narrative storytelling. An essential entry in the hip hop canon, “Children’s Story” has been sampled on tracks by Black Star and Montell Jordan.
The sample underpinning the instrumental is courtesy of Persian pop artist Shahram Shabpareh. The track was included in a collection of pre-revolution Iranian funk music, released as a vinyl-only offering in 2011, a good 35 years after the final track was recorded. Shabpareh, who was in the US at the time of the revolution, was unable to return home, though he remains popular in Iran.
Despite the French title, “Bonjour” is built from a Bollywood sample. “Dance Music” was included on the soundtrack to 1977’s Mukti, the score for which was composed by R.D. Burman. A prolific, respected and influential Bollywood composer, Burman scored hundreds of films throughout his three decade career.
“I got a mill for every bump on your face,” the lyric Nas spits at 1:56, is an altered interpolation of a line from 2002’s Paid In Full, where Mekhi Phifer says “I got a G for every bump on your face.” Paid In Full takes its title from the Eric B. & Rakim album of the same name, a release which came at the start of hip hop’s so-called ‘golden age.’
The piano riff throughout the track is lifted from Kourosh Yaghmaei’s “Gol-e Yakh,” a classic Iranian rock song. Though English-language information on the track’s origins in scant, it seems to have been released in 1974. Yaghmaei was one of Iran’s foremost rock stars throughout the ’70s. He was heavily censored by the post-Revolution government, spending a good 27 years battling their artistic repression.
The drums throughout “Adam and Eve” are lifted from the extended opening to Michael Jackson’s cover of Bill Withers’ classic soul hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The cover was included on Got To Be There, Jackson’s first solo LP. Though he was just 13 at the time of release, it was a massive success. Kanye recycles this break on “Gonna Love Me,” a track from Teyana Taylor’s Wyoming-recorded LP, K.T.S.E..
At 2:39, Nas interpolates a classic line from The Godfather Part II: “you broke my heart.” It’s spoken by Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone. John Cazale, who played Fredo, appeared in just five feature films before his death from lung cancer at age 42. All five were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, with three winning.
K.T.S.E: Samples Breakdown
Number of Samples: 10
Samples by Genre: soul/R&B (6), funk (1), gospel (1), non-musical (1), house (1)
The drums on “Gonna Love Me” are lifted from Michael Jackson’s 1972 cover of Bill Withers’ classic soul track, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The track was included on Got To Be There, Jackson’s first solo album, released when he was just 13 years old. The title track was Jackson’s first solo hit, though the rest of the record was largely comprised of covers. Ye used the same drums on Nas’ “Adam and Eve.”
Drums aside, the opening instrumentation is a pitched-up sampled of a 1970 soul track by Philly-based soul group The Delfonics. “I Gave To You” was included as the closing track on the group’s third LP, their self-titled effort. Though the track proved popular, it wasn’t selected as one of the records five singles. The sampled vocals are sung by lead singer Randy Cain, who died in 2009.
“Issues/Hold On” contains one of Kanye’s most liberal samples: the track essentially mirrors “I Do Love You,” the track from which he samples. Numero Recordings cut the track from the Boddie Recording Company’s tape archive, and though it’s a cover of a 1965 Billy Stewart hit, they cannot identify the artists behind the version. This mysterious track was unearthed in 2010.
The sole sample on “Hurry” is courtesy of Sly & The Family Stone. Kanye previously sampled the soul legend on MBDTF cut “Devil In A New Dress.” The track was included on Small Talk, the last album by the group to include the original lineup, and the same song was sampled on a ’93 cut from A Tribe Called Quest.
At 0:58, Teyana interpolates the melody from a 1999 Sisqó track, “How Can I Love U 2Nite.” The track was included on his hugely successful solo debut, Unleash The Dragon, released after his tenure in R&B outfit Dru Hill. It included his most famous track, “Thong Song.” Sisqó is also remembered for his feature on DMX hit “What These Bitches Want,” which was later sampled on Drake’s Views cut, “U Wit Me?”
The sole sample is lifted from The Stylistics’ “Because I Love You Girl,” a track from their 1976 LP, Fabulous. The sampled vocal is actually courtesy of Russell Thompkins Jr. and his falsetto. Producers Kanye, Boogz and Evan Mast juxtapose the opening instrumental with the opening lyrics, creating the compelling bass-defined hook.
The strong hook that opens the track is an interpolation of Marvin Sapp’s similarly titled “Never Would Have Made It,” included on his 2007 record, Thirsty. Sapp is a very successful gospel artist – Thirsty peaked at #28 on the Billboard 200 despite the seemingly niche appeal of the genre.
The titular refrain is taken from an old-school house record, released almost three decades ago. Boom Boom’s “Work This Pussy” was released in 1989 for the gay house audience, presumably in Philadelphia, where presenting DJ Ellis D resided.
Boom Boom, real name Candice Jordan, also went by aliases such as Sweet Pussy Pauline and Hateful Head Helen. She appears to have been a prolific figure throughout the ’90s gay club scene.
The horn burst that blasts at 0:11 is lifted from the start of James Brown’s classic funk hit, “Get Up Offa That Thing.” Released as a standalone single in 1976, the track represented a return to commercial success for Brown. As with many of his works around the mid-’70s, Brown credited the track to his wife and two daughters, a ploy that circumvented his problems with the IRS.
The dialogue that closes the track – and by extension, the record – is lifted from the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning, a portrait of the New York City ball culture and the LGBTQ community surrounding it. Lyric website Genius has compiled the only readily available video containing the sampled dialogue, which is courtesy of Octavia St. Laurent Mizrahi, a trans woman and ball walker, and Venus Xtravaganza, another trans ball walker.
Themes and Patterns in Kanye’s Production: Beyond Soul Samples
There’s just one recurring sample throughout the Wyoming projects: the drums from Michael Jackson’s 1973 cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which appear on Teyana’s “Gonna Love Me” and Nas’ “Adam & Eve.” Shirley Ann Lee’s “Someday” appears on both Kids See Ghosts’ “4th Dimension” and Kanye’s own “Ghost Town,” though the sampled portions of the tracks are different. Besides MJ and Shirley Ann Lee, the only artist to appear more than once is Slick Rick, whose vocals adorn both Nas’ “Children’s Story” and Kanye’s “No Mistakes.”
Daytona and K.T.S.E. show glimpses of the “chop-up-the-soul” Kanye at work – these projects feature 5 and 6 soul/R&B samples, respectively. Though many fans endlessly clamour for a return to West’s chipmunk-soul roots, his own projects were less streamlined: Ye and KSG borrow more elements from gospel, rock and hip hop than classic soul.
The Wyoming sessions also highlight Kanye’s growing affinity for specialty labels. The most prominent of these is Numero Group, a Chicago-based archival record label who specialize in compiling and reissuing catalogues from commercially unsuccessful but historically important artists. This brief makes them an obvious fit for Kanye’s oft-esoteric sampling tastes. In recent years, West has made use of their catalogue: he sampled Father Children’s “Dirt and Grime” on 2015’s “FACTS,” and Wee’s “Aeroplane (Reprise)” on 2013’s “Bound 2.”
The Wyoming projects, however, show Kanye doubling down on this fondness. Numero Group releases appear on four of the five projects: 24-Karat Black’s “I Want to Make Up” appears on Daytona track “Infrared,” Shirley Ann Lee’s “Someday” appears on both Ye track “Ghost Town” and KSG track “4th Dimension,” and an unattributed cover of “I Do Love You” appears on K.T.S.E. track “Issues/Hold On.” NASIR, though it features the second most samples of the series, sources its oddities elsewhere.
Another label of note is Now-Again Records, founded as a subsidiary of essential underground label Stones Throw in 2002. Independent since 2012, the label handles both rare reissues and a select brief of new projects. Kanye sampled a number of Now-Again tracks during the Wyoming sessions: Mr. Chop’s “Stark” appears on KSG’s “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2),” Kourosh Yaghmaei’s “Gol E Yakh” appears on Nas’ “Adam & Eve” and Booker T. Averheart’s “Heart N’ Soul” appears on Pusha’s “The Games We Play.” It’s also worth noting that “Lift Yourself,” the soul-laden joke single that (sort of) marked Kanye’s return, sampled Amnesty’s “Liberty,” a track reissued by Now-Again in 2007. It seems that even when he’s joking around, Ye can’t resist the pull of a good sample.
What Kanye’s Samples Tell Us
Prior to the released of Daytona, West claimed to have spent a year and a half digging for samples. It seems that the work of archival record labels is becoming increasingly important in this creative process, providing him with access to remastered oddities and maligned sounds. Whilst labels such as Numero Group and Now-Again Records appear to be favourites, West also samples catalogues from fellow archival labels Fame Recordings and Afro7. Whilst these surely help West in his crate diggin’ exploits, it’s hardly a substitute for some good old fashioned searching – the “4th Dimension” sample of Louis Prima’s “What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’)” remains impressively inexplicable.
What does this tell us about where West is heading? Whilst we can’t be sure, the answer is probably very little. He remains one of hip hop’s true wildcards – anticipating the next move from the man who released 808s one year after Graduation and went from MBDTF to Yeezus is a fool’s errand.
What we can say is that West’s recent output has largely shunned microsampling in favour of more substantial elements: where he’s sampled, he’s taken to lifting melodies and full stretches of instrumentation. Outside of this, however, West is starting to move into more organic compositions: KSG and Ye, albums that credit him as lead artist, both contain three sample-free tracks.
Throughout all the controversy we’ve endured, one thing seems for sure: West, the artist who got his start on JAY-Z’s The Blueprint, can still cook up some mean beats.