Ranking Kanye & Co.'s production work on the five new G.O.O.D. Music albums.
We've finally reached the end of a monthlong spree of new albums from G.O.O.D. Music, during which Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Nas, and Teyana Taylor all released projects. It was an ambitious project to begin with, but despite a few hiccups, the crew managed to pull it off, with each album arriving (mostly) on time and (mostly) adhering to the seven-song format Ye proposed a few months ago.
Critical reception for all five albums has been mixed, with Pusha T's fantastic Daytona perhaps setting the bar a little high when it arrived a month ago. Especially for an artist with a track record as spotless as Kanye, the five albums contain some career low-points, as is to be expected from such a hurried flurry of new music. What we can mostly agree on though, is that the production remains fantastic throughout. From the soul chops of Daytona to the psychedelic rock-inspired Kids See Ghosts to the more traditional R&B side of K.T.S.E., Kanye and his cabal of musical collaborators remain at the top of their game.
Stay tuned for a ranking of all five albums, but for now, we turn our focus to the beats. These are Kanye and Co.'s ten best from G.O.O.D. Music's five May-June 2018 albums.
10. Nas - Not For Radio (Prod. by Kanye West, Mike Dean, Benny Blanco & Cashmere Cat)
Ye, his right-hand beat-man Mike Dean, and two electronic/pop-leaning producers kick off Nas' album with the biggest-sounding beat you'll find between all five albums. Fairly workmanlike drums keep the song grounded, but it's the thunderous vocal sample that's deployed throughout that truly defines the bombastic opener. Were the sample chopped up a little more or culled from something a little more obscure, I'd put it further up the list, but it's fairly simple flip of fairly familiar source material. The choir you hear on "Not For Radio" is the Red Army-styled one that was assembled for the Hunt for the Red October soundtrack, and the loop comes from the opening theme. It's surprising that no one's prominently sampled this hefty theme before, but then again, very few others have that G.O.O.D. Music budget.
9. Kanye West - No Mistakes (Prod. by Kanye West, Che Pope, Caroline Shaw, Mike Dean & Eric Danchick)
There may be more experimental beats on Ye, but if you're looking for one that could've succeeded at any point throughout Kanye's career, "No Mistakes" is the obvious choice. You've got that effortlessly looped '70s piano chop that sounds like it could fit on West's early 2000s Roc A Fella work (in fact, Jay-Z's appeared over the sample once before), that 808s style bassline, that heavily gated Graduation style snare drum, and of course, that Slick Rick sample expertly sprinkled on top. Especially when combined with Charlie Wilson's heavenly vocals, this one's special.
8. Teyana Taylor - Hurry (Prod. by Kanye West, Mike Dean, BoogzDaBeast & Nathaniel Alford)
It's usually nearly impossible to tell who did what in terms of Kanye's songwriting and production, but here, I think we have to single Mike Dean out. The team sampled an agelessly cool Sly Stone classic, and somehow, Ye's resident guitar genius managed to flesh it out and flip it without making the minimal sample sound cluttered. The chirping, choogling guitar perfectly suits Taylor's playful delivery on the song, and it gradually builds to include some fittingly understated piano chords and vocal echoes. Here and elsewhere on K.T.S.E., Kanye's strength seems to be curtailing his usually-distracting ego and vision in service of something a little bit retro and a lotta bit classy.
7. Nas - Bonjour (Prod. by Kanye West, Che Pope, Mike Dean & Eric Danchick)
Nasir presents an interesting mix of beats, some (like "Not For Radio") posing Nas as a war-hardened veteran, and others (like this one) picturing him more relaxed, lounging off the coast in a yacht. In that regard, it's almost like a Rick Ross album. So here, I'm petitioning: please let Rick Ross remix "Bonjour." This is one of the most luxurious-sounding beats of the year— and not luxurious as in, "I just bought a brand-new $2 million yacht," but more like, "I just refurbished the interior of a $2 million yacht with priceless antiques." String punches, Indian percussion, tinkling piano, and distant backing vocals all stumble in relaxed stride with the beat, never sounding off-kilter so much as organic. If Dilla is in Heaven living like the lavish millionaire he deserved to be in his lifetime, he channelled his spirit through Kanye and Co. on this one.
6. Kids See Ghosts - Cudi Montage (Prod. by Kid Cudi, Dot da Genius & Mike Dean)
The only track on this list (and only one of two from the Wyoming Sessions) on which Kanye doesn't have a proper production credit, "Cudi Montage" was clearly best left in the hands of Cudi. After biting off way more than he could chew when attempting to play guitar and hybridize grunge and psychedelic rock on Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven, this is the redemption he deserves. This time, he leaves the guitar playing to Kurt Cobain's ghost, flipping a recently-unearthed solo demo by the late Nirvana frontman, which is primitive in nature but still far superior to Cudi's own string-plucking. SB2H was always awkward in its attempts to merge rock guitar and more hip hop-styled passages, but here, guitar-led verses effortlessly give way to a synthy hook that recalls Cudi's earlier work. With the way his career was going, it seemed increasingly unlikely that Cudi would ever actually arrive at the lofty heights of his vision, but "Cudi Montage" gives us a Platonic ideal of his career.
5. Pusha T - Santeria (Prod. by Kanye West & Mike Dean)
Anyone can sample, but it takes a true master to flip something obvious into something wholly unrecognizable. In recent years, Kanye had moved away from the straightforward soul chops of his early days, but on Daytona, he returned with a vengeance that reminded people just how sharp his sampling chops still are. On the swirling "Santeria," he flips a track from the well-known Shaft soundtrack, an instrumental cut called "Bumpy's Lament." Left un-flipped, you'll definitely recognize that guitar lick from Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive," Lil Kim's "Drugs," Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady," and dozens of other songs. On this one though, Ye rearranged the note to form something completely different. On paper, it's already great enough, but you also have to note the subtext: as Ye revealed on "Last Call," he basically owes his first big beat, Jay's "This Can't Be Life," to the drums from "Xxplosive." Now he's gone back and turned that song's source material on its head.
4. Teyana Taylor - Gonna Love Me (Prod. by Kanye West, Noah Goldstein, Mike Dean & BoogzDaBeast)
Kanye used to make this type of beat all of the time. Lil Wayne's "Comfortable," Scarface's "Heaven," Monica's "Knock Knock"— that smooth, guitar-led soul has been noticeably absent from his repertoire in the past ten or so years, until "Gonna Love Me." Flipping a Delfonics classic, he shows how far a little touch of love goes in the production arena, gifting Teyana something worthy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in the process. There's not much else to say— this is a thing of simple beauty.
3. Kids See Ghosts - 4th Dimension (Prod. by Kanye West, Mike Dean & Noah Goldstein)
A Louis fucking Prima sample? You've got to be kidding me. Somehow, Mr. West flipped a decades-old Christmas song into a militant-sounding chant, and then paired it with combat-ready drums and an absolutely maniacal laugh track. Nothing's ever sounded so fit for Child Rebel Soldier, West's now-imploded supergroup with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell, but years later, West and Cudi make this weird, sparse beat their own. "4th Dimension" is one of Ye's most alchemical tricks yet.
2. Kanye West - Yikes (Prod. by Kanye West, Mike Dean, Pi'erre Bourne & Apex Martin)
"No Mistakes" may gather together various eras of Ye's career into a sonically pleasing gumbo, but "Yikes" does that while also pushing his collage of sounds into the future. Tapping Pi'erre Bourne and his (or I least think they're his) woozy synths was a smart move, as they add a layer of depth and modernity to West's soul chops and sub-bass. "Yikes" sounds like the hollowed-out corpse of an old Ye beat that's then reanimated and walks around like a zombie. "I done died and lived again on DMT" indeed. If there's one overarching musical problem with Ye, it's that it doesn't feel as groundbreaking and futuristic as any of Ye's previous albums. "Yikes" feels like the one moment on the album where his usually-peerless vision for the future actually clicks.
1. Pusha T - If You Know You Know (Prod. by Kanye West)
Look, I've spent a good deal of time and space describing the intricate details that make Kanye beats great, but the best beats require no such explanation. They simply wallop you over the head with some magical blend of momentum, negative space, and sound design, and it's impossible to deny them. This titanic Daytona opener goes from spine-tingling to skull-crushing at the drop of a hat, and somehow ropes in a vocal sample of Jamaican toasting, gurgling organ, and a weird-as-fuck loop of an obscure proto-metal recording. Kanye and Push have had success with avant-garde minimalism in the past, but it's never been as earth-shattering as this.