The 5 Elements of Kanye’s Lyricism [#1 Producer Turned MC]

The transition from hip-hop maestro to rap artist is a tough one, and not everyone can master it. But when it comes to getting down on the mic, some beatsmiths just have the gift of gab. With Kanye West making the successful leap from soulful in-house producer to one of the game’s most respected (and controversial) voices on the mic, XXL felt it only right to count down the best 10 producers turned rappers of all time in the October 2010 issue, which is on stands now.

Coming in at No. 1 is Kanye West, who as a lyricist is the total package bringing vulnerability, humor, wordplay, an MC’s arrogance and social commentary to his rhymes. Be sure to pick up the October issue to get the full write up on ‘Ye and how he earned his spot. But for now, here’s the 5 key elements of Kanye’s lyricism.

Vulnerability
“My friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs.” —Kanye West’s “Welcome to Heartbreak”

Humor
“She got a light-skinned friend looks like Michael Jackson/Got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson.” —Kanye West’s “Slow Jamz”

Wordplay
“They say ‘As-salaam alaikum,’ say ‘Walaikum assalaam’/That’s no Oscar Mayer bacon, you should run and tell your mom.” —Kanye West’s “Power (Remix)”

Arrogance
“Top five MCs, you ain’t gotta remind me, top five MCs, you gotta rewind me/I’m high up on the line, you could get behind me, but my head’s so big you can’t sit behind me.” —Kanye West’s “Barry Bonds”

Social Commentary
“Over here it’s a drug trade, we die from drugs/Over there they die from what we buy from drugs.” —Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)”

  • http://myspace.com/kidpistol Kid Pistol

    Yes, agreed fully. Kanye is too dope.

  • Peso

    my #2 favorite rapper behind Hov

  • Sha

    I agree with this 200%. Kanye is definitely the best Producer-turned-Rapper out. No one has ever did it. And believe me, we have had some disastrous attempts.

  • zayzkidd

    I would agree if not for Dr. Dre. Dre has put together quadruple the amount of classic albums than Kanye: Snoop, Shady, 50, NWA, Dre, Pac, and so many more.

    • chuckydakid

      my man you got think about it Kanye wrote all his shit Dre had ghostwriters for alot of his songs but i still say Dre best producer of all time

  • Sosa Slick

    Mannnn old man
    these lines here are w.e
    honestly im 18 , aspiring rapper and i respect kanye’s raps because i grew up on his 2 FIRST Lps in 04′ , 05′. But after graduation he really fell.
    Also the line he had one breathe in breathe out with Luda were beastly, and last call
    “killin yall niggas on that lyrical shit, mayonnaise coloured benz i push miracle whips” was crazyyyy.
    He deserves it but i wish he was the college kanye not that love lockdown bullshit. I respect him for speaking his mind but his egostitical attitude is too much. But im wondering to myself did he really write alll those lines, like Jesus Walks was written by Rhymefest i believe.

  • ROCstar

    Where the hell is Dilla? or DOOM? Kanye should be number one yes, but Diddy over those two? Pharell? Get outta here…

    • http://www.flyrean.biz RenyPlenty

      Exactly. Diddy, for real? Maybe I better read before posting this but what about Diamond D, Pete Rock, Dilla xxl? And don’t say relevant because those dudes laid it out for Ye and others.

  • monjj

    q-tip rapped first otherwise he’s up there if not number one then thereabouts

  • The187Worm

    Kanye can suck a dick..

    • Dick B.

      Yes he can.

      Obviously you guys screwed up on the list. I mean RZA behind Dr. Dre, Diddy, & Kanye.

      I don’t even think you guys put Pete Rock up there (who better than anyone else you put on your list except RZA).

      • render

        rza beasts the boards but can’t rap for shit.

        Always sounds off beat, fits either too many or too few syllables in his bars and has the same shermhead delivery and tone on every track he raps on

        I give him points for trying to experiment with his lyricism but most times, I can tolerate a RZA verse but would usually prefer the track without him on it

        If anything this list proves that, with few exceptions, producers should stay the fuck away from the mic

        • El Tico Loco

          If you think within the box RZA is not your guy, but to say he can’t rhyme for shit? C’mon son. That’s an unorthodox style with subject matter that usually goes over the heads of 85 percent of ya’ll.

        • render

          lol think within the box? over the heads of 85%? condescension ain’t an argument.

          Like I said, I’ll give him credit for trying to be creative but don’t act like a bunch of references to eastern philosophy and 5 percent shit excuse the fact that his flow and technical skill is caca

          If I wanted to listen to spoken word poetry, I’d listen to spoken word but I expect my rappers to know how to rap

          Subject matter and unorthodox style never stopped killah priest from being able to hold a flow

        • DETROIT

          listen to “impossible” and tell me rza cant flow! or how bout “la rumba” or “4th chamber”…do your homework people!

        • El Tico Loco

          As far as flows is concerned he already could rhyme regular flows, and he still does every now and then, but the marble mouth offbeat flow is his trademark, and not too many people can pull it off, so you can’t say he’s not skilled in fact that would make him the most versatile on the list.

  • dead president

    agreed wit this 1 yo kanye’s a clever, busy ass mafukka got skills i never really had time 4 dude his arrogance n self importance threw me right off but i gave him the slightest chance an damn did the work impress me. cats got talent yo, top of the game at the moment, lyricism wordplay flow beats complete production samples metaphors – dizaam -

  • Kingroy

    ironic, people like his arrogance the most. Wtf world?

  • Real Talks

    Yeezy’s back with his olddd flow, just like his first 3 albums, college drop out, Late registration, graduation… except that trash he put out his 4th album don’t even know what it is called, but this album is gunna be fire i always was a fan of kanye i was just waiting for him to get back to the way he was rappin befo, once he started when he was mad hungry cuz no matter what you do these days when you finally make it to your goal people usually say fuck it i got the loot what else i need it for money ain’t everything my nigga… KANYEEEEEEEEEEZY’S

  • Anonymous

    No DJ Quik

  • LBV

    no quik

  • Q461

    As figured Kanye as #1. I do gotta say hes gotten better and better as a rapper and is always willing to push the envelope musically. Love him or hate him, he’s the only one really doin it big right now as both an MC and producer.

  • Anonymous

    another way for XXL to be on Kanye’s dick haha but yea kind of expected Kanye to be no.1 I mean it’s basically promotion and shit but they seriously need to take out swizz beats the nigga done ruined every song that he has rapped on like that Lord, Lord, Lord song it was straight fire until he fucked it up no disrespect to the dude he makes hell of good beats and is fucking alicia keys so I gots to give him props for that

  • kedordu

    JESH IM 31 . SO IM NOT SOLD ON KANYE BEING THE BEST . SORRY . LORD FINESE ( WHO STARTED THE PUNCHLINE SUBCULTURE) IS THE GOAT RAPPER/ PRODUCER . IF IT AINT HIM THEN ITS DJ QUIK ( WHO IS STILL THE BEST FUKSTER ON THE PLANET ( YES EVEN BETTER THAN PRINCE RIGHT NOW ), AND IF IT AINT HIM THEN ITS DILLA . WHAT HAS KANYE BROUGHT TO THE GAME ? WHT ARE U TALKING ABOUT ?? COLLEGE DROP OUT YEA CAUSE HE WAS WACK AS FUCK AND ROOTED FOR THE UNDERDOG AND HE DROPPED A CLASSIC . NOW IM HEARING OHH DRAKE SOUNDS LIKE KANYE ?? REALLY WOW SO HES SO INFLUENTIAL TO BE SWAGGER JACKED LOL WTF .

  • Nunya

    This is fucking retarded….Kanye??? Suck a fatty XXL…You only did this because you have to promote his album coming up. Fuck that….he has nowhere near the production catalog of some others…especially Dr. fuckin’ Dre….go fuck yourself.

  • DETROIT

    i haven’t seen the entire list, and kanye is dope. BUT DJ QUIK HAS TO BE #1! his production catalog is longer/better, and his flows are AT LEAST equal to ye’s. was he even in the top 10? if not, these writers don’t really have a clear understanding of the history of hip hop.

    • Chaka

      That what me too was saying in an earlier post elsewhere.As a producer,DJ Quik is a geniue/original beat maker.The king of instrumentals as far as hip-hop is concerned.As a rapper,he is not only dope but on point.Or like he would say “way 2 fonky”.After seeing the list,i had to go back and play “Quik groove III”,”Quik groove II”,”Quik groove 1″,and also had to listen to some of quik’s best works again(e.g”safe+sound”,”quik is the name”.I was like damn!!!XXL staff ya all slept on dude,he should be in the top three.

  • dbys12

    if u say so.

  • BeerGangsta

    Dre number 1 Producer every!! Kayne Rap better than Dre!! Skills to make Meals!! New Kayne CD will be a Classic!!

  • youngjedifresh

    RZA can rhyme… yall not listening close enough if you dont agree… gotta give Kanye credit for spitting though… check most the tracks that featured him and Jay on it and Ye’ by a close margin outshined him

    cant lie the boy has been one of the best rappers in the past decade.. the combination of his wittiness, cockiness and truthfulness in his raps are something that must be respected..

    oh yeah if u feel Dre gotta better raps yall buggin…99.9% of his raps were written for him

    PEACE

  • NAPTOWNNUISANCE

    As a rapper given the fact that Dre does get ghost writers his shit still bangs hard as hell for years, but you still cant deny the songs he does arent bangers, Dre does classic shit.
    I have to give it up to Kanye though he has been everywhere the last couple of years and he is a great producer, number 1? I dont know, he aint been around long enough, though his track record is solid for the most part. Even though I dont get into his music though.
    In my heart of hearts because I grew up on Dre even back in the NWA days, ( remember NWA NEVER FRONTED ON THEIR IMAGE, THEY ALWAYS SAID THEY WERE PUTTIN ON A SHOW AND ENTERTAININ PEOPLE )
    I wanna say he should have the top spot, but I understand the point of the article. RAPPIN PRODUCERS, and Kanye is a pretty good rapper as well. I see why XXL gave him the edge, but Im bias
    Dre has a legacy behind him, he should be number 1, regardless if he had ghost writers or not, he is and always said he is a producer first and foremost, his ghost written songs just happen to fit well with his great production.

  • RiZzurr

    Love you Kanye, but you’ve made some tracks lately that are just plain crap.
    What ever happened to the soulful humbleness that I felt in The College drop out?
    I cant deny your skills as a producer but theres been times where your shit sounds rushed.
    However the minute I heard “Power” that shit was so hard I felt it in my soul… Just dont push things by making crappy remixes the song has enough merits to stand on its own. 10/10.

  • http://www.playbookboards.com Tron

    Kanye is a great artist with some interesting lyrics. Sometimes he can sound really basic but there are those few tracks where he really shows what he can put out musically. One song I can’t stop listening to is the outro to the College Dropout album. The story just sounds great and the way he narrated over the beat was just great.

  • Anonymous

    no offence to this article but isn’t social commentary, wordplay, vulnerability, humour and arrogance the 5 things that make any rapper??

  • CraziePicaso

    through the wire now his the man of the Hour !! kanye ! with his hands he can make a diamond ! with his voice and brains …True Master of Ceremony !

  • MoosePiss

    Whaaaat these lines are so weak..I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! Remember Black Sheep? De La? Cormega? Digable Planets? Rakim and KRS! Wu Tang! There’s so many truly dope rappers and Kanye is WEAK as an emcee.

    He’s fishsticks man.