To record his latest album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Kanye West flew his many collaborators (among them: Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, Bon Iver, Q-Tip and RZA) to a Hawaiian island where his production occupied every session room at Avex Honolulu Studios, with Kanye dashing from room to room creating all the songs practically at the same time.
While not a huge Kanye fan, I love learning about the artistic process, especially when the artist is as eccentric as Kanye West. So when I heard at a dinner party recently that he had given an extraordinary testimony in a civil suit against him and Ludacris in 2006, I hustled down to the District Court in Manhattan to learn more.
Some far less famous rappers had claimed Kanye and Ludacris stole parts of their song, “Straight Like That,” for the Ludacris hit “Stand Up.” The point of contention: the words “just like that” are repeated in “Stand Up.” One quick listen to both songs reveals the accusations were bogus, and the defense marched two experts onto the stand to say as much. But of course it’s Kanye who steals the show, going off on the witness stand, as only Kanye can, to defend his integrity.
“There’s no biting because we hadn’t heard the song."
“There’s no biting because we hadn’t heard the song. I, I know I never heard the song. I don’t recall that record. And on my part, I just did the beat,” he says. “And it’s, I was so frustrated that they said, that they objected to that question about being his friend and the reason I’m here because the reason I’m here is people try to sue me over stuff all the time. And I really respect Ludacris for spending all his money for making the point that you can’t just get punitive damages and can’t just get claims and settle out of court where he’s actually lost more money trying to battle this to make a point that, no, if you come up with a claim or come up with a demo or something and want to settle out of court, that it’s less expensive, that we don’t do that. We stand up, even if we lose money, we stand up and fight it all the way to the end because we are both respected as two of the most creative people.”
Kanye’s confidence on the stand comes through in the transcript, which is a captivating read – he is remarkably careful with the words he uses and often more attentive than the plaintiff’s attorney – but the greater part (and the most interesting bits) of his testimony was about how the collaboration between “two of the most creative people” came about.
He remembers, “I was attempting to sell beats to [Ludacris], and he was going to use one of my tracks on the ‘Word of Mouf’ album, but it didn’t make the album. But then later on, when I was trying to finish up ‘The College Dropout,’ my first album, he did a hook on my album in return for me to do three beats for him, and we got two beats from that agreement.”
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After a bit of courtroom procedural action, he goes on. “Well, I owed him some beats from the chorus,” he explains. “He traded me, he recited a hook on my album. In return, I was supposed to give him three beats, because, you know, he charged way more for his hooks than I did for my beats at the time. So, we finally connected and we got in the studio and he wanted an up tempo club beat. And I was playing him different things, and it wasn’t really working. So I pulled up some ideas on the keyboard of some like older beats I did, that some of the drums didn’t sound quite right, but they possibly could be rejuvenated.
“And then he heard the sounds that we used in ‘Stand Up’ and he said, ‘I like that,’ because I originally did that beat back in 2000. I have a version where, that I, you know, that local artist, rapped on back in 2000. But this version, all we did is we updated the drums, and me and him vibed it together. And he said I like that drum sound right there, so we kind of co-did it.”
Asked to elaborate more on the creative process, Kanye says, “Well, we have a vibe that we’re going for, so we’ll make, we’ll have sounds that fit that vibe and tempos that fit that vibe. The darkness to that beat felt like it would be in a club. It kind of matched the atmosphere of a club and in tempo matched the, you know, the pace that people move in a club.”
“Hip-hop is based on party, hip-hop started out in the park, it’s a famous line in a song.”
And because this was a government courtroom and not “Yo! MTV Raps,” Kanye had to explain further the party nature of hip-hop. “Hip-hop is based on party, hip-hop started out in the park, it’s a famous line in a song,” he says, referring to MC Shan’s “They Used To Do It Out In The Park.”
As for the song’s title, “Stand Up,” he said that, too, came off the vibe. “Yeah, well, we made the beat and I remembered this manager trying to come in saying, ‘Man, this beat makes you want to stand up.’”
Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @r_s_c
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