Arts & Entertainment

How Kanye West redefined modern rap

by Ben Chan, staff writer

His famous crashing of Taylor Swift’s VMA, his odd tweets consisting of him urinating on his Grammys, bashing other artists, and monthly mental breakdowns. These actions may come controversial to some, but they cannot overshadow his sheer influence on the music world. With the release of The College Dropout in 2004, Late Registration in 2005, Graduation in 2007, and 808s & Heartbreak in 2008, Kanye West illustrated his diverse beats, production and lyrics. 

As Kanye West rose in the music industry, he focused primarily on making beats and becoming a producer. It was not until “The Blueprint,” by Jay-Z in 2001 when Kanye West showed what made him different from the other producers. Everybody sampled at that point, but Kanye took it to a new level. Instead of using a different song’s drum beat, or looping a beat, Kanye would take entire classic songs, and either slow them down, speed them up, change its pitch, etc. This was called “soul sampling,” and it is mostly prominent in the song “Bound 2,” by Kanye West, in which he samples “Bound” by Ponderosa Twins Plus One. With the combination of Jay-Z’s lyrical lyrics and addicting flows, “The Blueprint” charted #1 for three weeks. The success of “The Blueprint” was a massive contribution towards not only popularizing Kanye West, but also reintroducing sampling into the rap/hip-hop scene.

Everybody sampled at that point, but Kanye took it to a new level.

Kanye West would later explain how Jay-Z was a huge influence to him, and the two would eventually find themselves creating a collaborative album, “Watch the Throne,” in 2011. This album skyrocketed to #1 on the Billboard charts, with popular songs “Ni**as in Paris” and “No Church In The Wild.”

As time passed, Kanye West slowly found himself leaning towards creating his own music. However, he didn’t have much motivation to make songs until one dreadful night: Oct. 23, 2002. He was involved in a head-on collision with another car, sending him to the hospital. This was a complete turning point in his life, and he even stated in an interview with Interview Magazine that the accident “gave [him] the opportunity to do what [he] really wanted to do.”

As Kanye found his path, he decided to release his first studio album as a rapper, The College Dropout, on Feb. 10, 2004. This album was revolutionary for its time. Kanye West produced this album completely by himself, and for 12 out of 14 of these songs sampling was used to create the beat. Also, instead of rapping about cars, money or women like many other artists during this time, Kanye decided to speak straight from the soul, a language which consisted of emotions and his opinions on civil rights, education and religion.

Considering that this album sold over 4 million copies worldwide, went triple platinum, and charted #2 on the Billboard 100 chart, it’s evident that the future generation of artists could not help but be influenced by his work. Popular artists like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Chance the Rapper would talk upon the influence of The College Dropout on them and their music in various interviews.

Popular artists like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Chance the Rapper would talk upon the influence of The College Dropout on them and their music in various interviews.

Kanye released two more albums in the following years: Late Registration in 2005 and Graduation in 2007. After these two albums, he decided to suddenly drop his old style, old beats, and old lyrics and move onto a new genre called “emo rap.” 

Kanye released 808’s and Heartbreak on Nov. 24, 2008. Kanye’s primary influence for making this album was the passing of his mother, Donda West, on Nov. 10, 2007. Kanye explored autotune and much slower melodies, something Kanye West had never experimented with, and which had also been to that point unseen in the hip hop community.

808’s and Heartbreak also explored the use of an “808”, a reference to the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Similar to Kanye’s previous works, he repopularized the use of an “808.” Artists like Lil Wayne and Daft Punk found themselves using 808’s as well, taking strong influence from Kanye West.

Ten years later, the impact of 808’s and Heartbreak can still be heard. It was classified as too emotional when it was first released, but in reality it was completely ahead of its time. Little to nobody was speaking about heartbreak and relationships in the world of rap before 808’s and Heartbreak, illustrating how Kanye West popularized this “emo rap” trend. 

Kanye West completely redefined the emo rap scene, which would influence future artists like Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, Kid Cudi, Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, and many more. These artists would capture the sound of 808’s and Heartbreak and create Billboard charting songs like “Lucid Dreams” from late Chicago rapper Juice WRLD or “The Way Life Goes” by Lil Uzi Vert. These songs are extremely easy to connect to 808’s and Heartbreak, illustrating the sheer influence it had on today’s hip hop/rap game.

The butterfly effect is evident when viewing Kanye’s influence.

Rap would be nowhere near where it is today without Kanye West. The butterfly effect is evident when viewing Kanye’s influence. “If Kanye didn’t exist, then the artists that people like Travis Scott and Kid Cudi’s influence also wouldn’t exist,” says Charlie Pickle, a junior at Maria Carrillo High School. “It’s almost breathtaking to think how artists like Trippie Redd, Iann Dior, and Juice WRLD practically wouldn’t exist or be acknowledged without Kanye West and 808’s and Heartbreak.”

All in all, no matter how controversial Kanye West gets, it’s undeniable that he has had the most influence on this decade. He’s given many prominent artists a head start in their career and has opened this generation’s eyes to a new music genre. Kanye West has shown how he deserves to be ranked as one of the GOATs.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance of a Grammy, not an MTV Video Music Award, as was the case in 2009.

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