Despite arriving two days late, Kanye West's latest G.O.O.D. Friday Sunday track did not disappoint. The Kendrick Lamar-assisted, Madlib-produced "No More Parties In L.A." resonated especially well with fans who prefer Ye's earlier albums, with HNHH user Jar Jar Binks pointing out that it's "reminiscent of College Dropout and Late Registration, but new at the same time." Lots of that is due to Kanye's bars, which are wordier and more linear than most we've heard post-Yeezus, but another key callback to his younger years is the chipmunk soul beat.
Back in Roc-A-Fella's early 2000s heyday, Kanye and Just Blaze were credited with creating that sound, speeding up classic R&B and soul music tracks to fit faster tempos and create a nice distinction between the rapper and vocal sample respective pitches. It led to several Jay Z classics, most notably "This Can't Be Life" and "Heart Of The City," but by the time West put out College Dropout in 2004, his own compositions began surpassing the soulfulness of the '60s and '70s loops he employed. Outfitting tracks with live choirs, percussion, strings, West and a few key players (John Legend and hip hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari among them) made this music burst with life, passion, and struggle. It's beyond neo-soul or "retro" hip hop, it truly is the soul music of the early 21st Century.
To take a look back (and perhaps, depending on what SWISH actually ends up sounding like, forward), we're listing the ten most soulful cuts in Kanye's solo discography. The majority of tracks on his first two albums fit that descriptor, so narrowing things down was difficult even from their 42 collective tracks, but we did it, thanks to a loose rubric:
Sample (Does the track sample soul music?)
Additional instrumentation (Besides the sample, does the rest of the track sound like soul music?)
Character (Does the track cover traditional soul topics such as real-life struggle, oppression, and/or love?)
With the trajectory Ye's career's taken, it got easier as we went along. For instance, I'll bet you can guess the one Yeezus cut on here. Still, we ended up with the odd number of eleven, so...
Sampling both Curtis Mayfield's "The Makings Of Love" and Syl Johnson's impassioned grunts on "Different Strokes," this Pete Rock-produced member of the inaugural G.O.O.D. Fridays class is at once gritty and smooth. It struts and stutters with a classic funk feel, and Mike Dean's always-ace guitar playing is fluid in a way that can only be taught by hours of studying the technique on old records. Add backing vocals from bonafide soul man himself Charlie Wilson and a trippy coda from Kid Cudi (unfortunately cut from the version that'd end up on Watch The Throne), and you've got a pretty well fleshed-out soul outing. If there was more going on than verse-chorus-verse in the songwriting, this would be top ten.