Kanye West has transitioned from being one of music’s best producers to an aspiring politician and successful businessman. Yet there was a time when Yeezy was connected to the backpack rap culture and chopping soul samples in ways that were never heard before. During an interview with Stereogum, the Roots co-founder Black Thought recalled encountering a young and hungry ‘Ye.
“I saw him evolve from someone who just made beats—and I don’t say ‘just made beats’ to take anything away from his production—but I saw him evolve from someone who was a producer of tracks to someone who was also an MC,” Black Thought said. He then went on to put Kanye in coveted company.
“I saw him follow in the footsteps of who I feel, to this day, was the greatest rapper/producer, J Dilla,” he continued. “J Dilla, he could sing and rap and play instruments just as well as he could program beats. I watched Kanye in real time evolve, following almost that same blueprint.”
This Dilla-esque evolution didn’t happen because of luck. Black Thought explained that Kanye had an intense work ethic that rivaled Thought’s passion for crafting rhymes. This along with his talent helped West ascend to unfathomable heights.
“Kanye was very much the kid who would hang out in the studio. I would always tell people I would arrive at the studio for a session—and I’m never late, so I would always be on time or early—and I would get there and Kanye would already be there in my session. I’d be like, ‘What are you doing here?'” Black Thought said. “He was just hungry. He was about the business of showing people his potential as an artist and what he had already in the clip. There were songs on Kanye’s first album that I heard years before they came out, and I said, ‘This is a timeless classic.’ This is a song where, no matter when you put it out, it’s going to hit.”
Like Kanye, Black Thought has shaken the shell of being just a member of the Roots to becoming a household name outside of the group. The rapper dropped his latest solo album, Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane & Able, on Friday. Read the full-length Stereogum interview here.