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Kanye, deconstructed: The human voice as the ultimate instrument

Kanye, deconstructed: The human voice as the ultimate instrument


in 2002 Kanye West known at the time
mostly for his contributions to hip-hop as a producer recorded through the wire
rapped it just a few weeks after his infamous car accident while his jaw was
completely wired shut it’s not crisp and clear. Not
many artists would record their debut single in that condition but Kanye did
and that decision illustrates something very very unique about his work. Kanye West almost considers the best ideal most greatest instrument ever to be the human
voice. Now a traditional hip-hop track consists of an instrumental beat and a
vocal. What makes Kanye’s such an innovative producer is how he’s never
really limited of vocal performance to just singing or rapping. He’s filled
every single nook and cranny of his music with the human voice and it’s
always pushed hip hop forward Kanye’s debut album the college dropout
was released in 2004 it’s an hour and 16 minutes 21 tracks it’s literally
jam-packed with music and one of the standout tracks on that album is Jesus
Walks it won him a grammy and got him a BET nomination for Best gospel artist. His
use of the gospel song “Walk with Me” by the ARC Choir fills the entire song to
the brim with vocal samples they become the baseline the percussion and the
melody and it’s even layered over more vocal samples like this military drill
sargeant and that exotic flute sound it’s actually John Legend’s voice Kanye layers vocals like choirs a lot he does
it throughout late registration on songs like “Hey Mama” “Celebration” and “Crack
Music” on these tracks he’s not really manipulating the vocals at all on the
final track your hearing a recognizable human voice but on his next album, Graduation, a very
synth and electronic driven record, Kanye starts doing something different so he chose synthesizers that sound like
vocals but it’s important because the orientation the orbit here is still
around the human voice. You can hear that very clearly on “Good Life” featuring T-Pain
especially in the first couple of seconds and even more so on 808s and
heartbreak. Kanye doesn’t have a great voice even he’ll admit that but he sings
in nearly every song on 808s and sometimes he sings the entire song of
course with the help of autotune he does this especially well on the opening
track “Say You Will” where that booming 808 drum alternates in your left and right
ear while synthy vocals fill the space like a choir now seven years after he released that
track he chose to re-release it but instead of that synthy instrumentation
he enlisted Caroline Shaw to record acapella Shaw is the youngest person to
win a Pulitzer Prize in music and she’s known especially for how she composes
vocals West was the single producer on all 21 tracks of the college dropout but
by 808s he’s starting to curate really top talent to help him push hip
hop forward according to Pitchfork it really marked the birth and flowering of
West creative CEO method of album making. Now My Beautiful Dark Twisted
Fantasy is eight songs shorter than the College Dropout but it runs nearly as
long and it really stands out because it’s the first time where Kanye turns the
conventional structure of a rap song completely on its head a great example of this is the song
Runaway at Nine Minutes it’s far longer than any normal hip-hop
track and five minutes and 45 seconds in Kanye really pushes into new territory
with a really interesting counter melody now the first thing you hear is that
solo piano melody introduced at the very beginning of the song it’s super super
memorable and then you hear Kanye’s voice but it’s processed through a
vocoder to sound like a distorted guitar now he could have easily disguised that
vocal completely but instead he chose to reveal that it was his voice by
seemingly testing it out before diving into the counter melody according to
Rolling Stone “there’s no way it should work but it keeps rolling for three more
minutes without breaking a spell.” that outro is longer than most rap songs if
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was Kanye’s maximilist perfect album then Yeezus
is bare bones minimalism it’s Kanye deconstructed everything that Kanye was
known for up to that point pitched up vocals autotune choir samples layered
voices they’re all here but they’re spliced into songs without much
decoration or orchestration for instance take a listen to this pivot on New
Slaves or the transition from a sample to a
vocal on Bound 2 yeah uh-huh honey or these blown-out layered vocals
from justin vernon on Hold My Liquor now Ultralight Beam from 2016 The Life of
Pablo is a culmination of everything Kanye has produced since the College
Dropout it’s a gospel song like Jesus Walks but instead of sampling an
existing choir he created his own like Runaway it doesn’t have a traditional
structure and its minimal like Yeezus the choir led by gospel artist Kirk
Franklin sounds like it’s recorded in a church even though it’s probably in a
pretty small studio they sound close they sound far they sound loud they
sound quiet at 420 they’re right in your ear by 425 they sound distant
but right where you expect him to rap he doesn’t he passes the mic to
Chance the Rapper whose voice matches the emotion of the song so perfectly
it’s instantly clear why This is my part nobody else speak this is my
part nobody else speak this little light glory be to God I’mma make sure that they go where they can’t go If they don’t wanna ride I’mma still give them raincoats know what God said when he made the first rainbow jJust throw this at the end if I’m too late for the intro Kanye started his career as a producer known basically for one thing
those pitch up vocals. almost nobody would put him at the top of the list of best
rapper alive but ever since his decision to rap with his jaw wired shut he’s used the human voice as his weapon
to bring him up into a completely new space and he’s still looking for the
edge of where he can push the human voice

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