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A Brief History of Kanye Bringing Artists Into the Mainstream

Kanye’s Midas touch might not be what it once was, but his resume is quite impressive.
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Brilliant, confident, radical, defiant―just a few words that come to mind when reflecting on the musical career of Kanye West. Watching him throughout the years has been like witnessing a walking tornado of genius and insanity. He has an uncanny ability to sweep the world into his swirling madness, holding our gaze with his every passionate effort. Even at his most ridiculous, it’s hard to look away. Kanye has always stood tall, but he has never stood absolutely alone. Kanye has had a hand in changing rap forever, but his impact on the genre is also due to the new students and old masters that surrounded him. He has introduced and reintroduced artists to a new generation of rap listeners.

Ari Lennox, one of Dreamville’s promising new artists, recently spoke with The FADER about the music that she heard growing up. She mentioned how Kanye was instrumental in introducing her to artists like Keyshia Cole and Twista. Keyshia isn’t an artist normally associated with Kanye, but I completely forgot that he produced her second single, “I Changed My Mind.” The song wasn’t a commercial success, but it was a huge look for a new songstress to have a song produced by Kanye and written by John Legend. Keyshia’s connection to Kanye is similar to Estelle’s, only “American Boy” was a much bigger record than “I Changed My Mind.” Kanye and John Legend both played a hand in making her classic single a big enough monster to break the UK singer in the United States and several other countries. Keyshia went on to achieve huge success in R&B, Estelle is a celebrated songstress, and both of their break out booms have traces of Kanye and John.

Twista, on the other hand, was an already-established Chicago spitter by the time Kanye was starting to make strides in the industry. His first album, Runnin’ Off A Da Mouth, was released in ‘92, and he put out three more consistent projects before receiving major commercial success with Kamikaze in 2004. A big part of Twista’s explosion came from “Slow Jamz,” the song that featured both Kanye and Jamie Foxx. It was the first time all three artists had such an acclaimed single chart at No.1. Twista was the seasoned veteran out of the trio, yet he found himself in a position to become a star. Like most hip-hop fans outside of Chicago who are my age, my introduction to Kanye was also my introduction to Twista. Kanye also jump-started Jamie Foxx’s career as a singer. The combination of “Slow Jamz” and “Gold Digger” spotlighted the singer as more than just an actor and comedian. It’s incredible what one successful single did for three different careers.

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Just like Twista, Common was a prominent emcee in Chicago during the early '90s. Both artists released their debuts in ‘92, and both continued to release music consistently. Common was more popular and had been more successful, but he wasn’t an artist that I knew much about growing up. I look at Be as the album that brought Common into the consciousness of new rap fans and reignited the love he received from the elders who have been following his career. I was barely out the womb when Can I Borrow A Dollar? was first released, but Be is the kind of album that makes you go back, which is how I discovered Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense and Like Water For Chocolate. Common and Kanye dropped more than just a critically acclaimed classic together, they released an album that was also a bridge into the past catalog of one of Chicago’s most valiant emcees.

Twista and Common are two Chicago OG’s that Kanye’s legacy is intertwined with, but Lupe Fiasco was the first new Chicago artist that really got Kanye’s stamp. I can’t discredit GLC, but it was Lupe’s verse on “Touch The Sky” that truly kicked and pushed his career into motion. It’s rare to see a brand new emcee featured as a guest on a major single, and I think that’s why Lupe got such a huge amount of attention from it. What’s interesting is Lupe didn’t want to do the record. Kanye may have been from Chicago, but the two didn’t run in the same circles, and that initially affected his disdain to be featured on the song. Lupe was buzzing through the mixtape circuit, “Kick, Push” was a month away from being released, but he didn’t have a name in the mainstream. There's no telling how his career would have gone if it wasn’t for “Touch The Sky,” but that single song ties him and Kanye together forever.

The G.O.O.D. Music roster—both past and present—is full of artists that Kanye has introduced to the world—John Legend, Travis Scott, Teyana Taylor, CyHi the Prynce, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Kacy Hill, Mr. Hudson and Desiigner. He found talent and molded artists into superstars (most of them, at least). It’s a relationship where they seem to be collaborators—a team—and being able to reap the benefits of being in Kanye’s circle. I always wished G.O.O.D. could’ve done more for Q-Tip and Yasiin Bey. Looking at how well Pusha T is prospering in this new era, the two veteran rappers could’ve truly gone the distance. 2 Chainz and Chief Keef are two artists who were buzzing prior to Kanye’s cosign, but appearing on “Mercy” and the remix to “Don’t Like,” respectively, propelled them much higher than before.

Kanye has had the power to put artists in a position where they could have a career, and by doing so he has helped to bring so many new faces into the rap world. Kanye’s Midas touch might not be what it once was; having songs with Allan Kingdom, Young Thug, and Post Malone didn't impact their careers like a co-sign would've in 2006-2007, but he is the one man that has the power to make you an overnight celebrity. 

By Yoh, aka G.O.O.D Yoh, aka @Yoh31.



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