Kanye West is a figure whose name sparks debate and controversy. Some remember him for his groundbreaking style of music that changed hip-hop forever with the “Graduation” trilogy. Others remember him for his meltdowns, whether it be him crashing Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech, firing off a tangent of confusing tweets or being an avid supporter of President Trump.
Regardless of what one may think of Kanye, one thing is indisputable — he’s the most influential artist of our generation.
Kanye’s use of sampling is what really set him apart when he emerged onto the music scene. For those not familiar, sampling is using a portion of a previously recorded song in another recording. In the early stages of his “Graduation” trilogy, most notably “The College Dropout,” he introduced and popularized the use of chipmunk soul samples in his production. This created high-energy beats and provided the perfect backdrop for Kanye.
While Kanye didn’t invent sampling, his use of it was something that nobody had quite seen before. He would take songs and flip them into beats in his own creative way. Some examples include his hits “Stronger,” “Blood on the Leaves” and “Power.” Kanye’s use of sampling was at its strongest when “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was released- an album that’s one of the best of this decade (despite being released in 2010). He created his own music using past inspirations, and this has widely influenced the direction hip-hop has taken today. Sampling is used just as regularly as beats made from scratch, and this can be attributed to Kanye.
Next, it’s important to acknowledge “808’s and Heartbreaks.” While in the middle of the pack when it comes to Kanye’s discography, its influence is undeniable. Recorded shortly after his mother’s death, it represented a dark time in his life. Gone were the happy and bright melodies present in the production of his first three albums and in came the melancholic and at times depressing lyrics over a dark, electronic backdrop with a heavy dose of autotune.
It was a turning point in Kanye’s career and displayed the versatility he’s capable of. More importantly, it allowed for new stars in music to emerge.
Kid Cudi is one figure to benefit from the risks Kanye took in “808’s”. In the early stages of his career, Cudi’s popularity exploded using Kanye’s formula: depressing and introspective lyrics over dark, yet stellar production. Cudi and Kanye have collaborated on a number of tracks over the years, proving to play well off each other. They even dropped a self-titled album, “Kids See Ghosts,” this past summer, which was widely considered one of the best albums to come out last year. It included the same tactics from “808’s” and many of Cudi’s albums, featuring many lyrics about depression and mental health.
The Weeknd, one of pop’s biggest stars, is another person who’s music draws heavy inspiration from Kanye. The albums that allowed him to become the star he is today, including “The Trilogy” and “Beauty Behind the Madness,” employ heavy use of autotune and introspective lyrics about heartbreak and relationships. West’s style has allowed for an entire subset of music to be developed thanks to his willingness to innovate and take risks.
Kanye is also well-known for his endeavors in the fashion industry, for better or for worse. His Yeezys are hundreds of dollars, and while some love their design, others believe they’re a rip-off. Kanye’s venture into fashion ignited an entire new trend among artists in hip-hop is not only included in the fashion conversation, but put at the forefront.
Artists like Young Thug, 21 Savage and Lil Uzi Vert are well known for their likening to fashion and dressing themselves in peculiar ways. A$AP Rocky has done collaborations with the likes of Calvin Klein and Dior and regularly raps about fashion and his clothing. Kanye is one of the first artists to venture outside of music into fashion, and has allowed other artists to explore their creative genius as a result.
While I may be a bit biased, considering Kanye is one of my favorite artists of all time, his influence among today’s music is undeniable. Love him or hate him, it’s time people start giving him the recognition he deserves.
Mike Cheripka is a junior communications major. Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.