Kanye West and The Art Of The Human Voice
Updated: Jun 24, 2019
Kanye West goes by many things: legendary music producer, an all-time lyricist, egomaniac. But opinions on Kanye are not the focus of this article. Instead, we're here to talk about Kanye’s ability to use the human voice as an instrument.
Kanye West has done a great job at layering the human voice throughout his musical career. An example of this lies in “Jesus Walks”, the seventh song on West’s acclaimed album The College Dropout. Have you ever heard the “Bum Bum Bum, Bum Bum, Bum” in the introduction? The vocal cues are reminiscent of those that military officers would use in the military to keep the soldiers on the beat while running. But instead of using an actual drum and adding it in, Kanye layered a choir sample in the song to make it sound like that. Yeezy has been known to do this on other songs as well, using vocals like an instrument in such tracks as “Hey Mama” with the “La La La’s” featured, along “Gold Digger” sampling Jamie Foxx. West not only uses his voice (or voices) for rapping and singing but using them for the beat as well and the instrumentals. Humming on the track “Good Morning”, a piece from Graduation, with the “good mornings” and the “do do do’s” on the track. Although the songs mentioned previously are from Ye’s early career, you can still hear the vocal manipulation in songs today, such as “4th Dimension” from his latest album Kids See Ghost, a collaboration with esteemed artist Kid Cudi. In this song, you can actually hear the sample in the beginning, but after that, you hear the reputation of the rising “Oh Oh Oh” throughout the song. Cudi’s vocal layering throughout Kids See Ghost provides evidence of West’s influence.
Another thing Kanye West is a pioneer of (and most people probably don’t know this) is how he uses the human voice as a literal instrument, along with using instruments to make them sound like human voices or human sounding voices. A great example of this is on the song “Runaway” off the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Family, where you hear a sound that sounds like a guitar during the song but really it's Kanye singing distorted vocals through a vocoder. Another place you can see this is on “I Thought about Killing You” from his most recent album, Ye. At the very beginning of this track, you can hear something that sounds like a synth type of instrument, but really it’s Kanye and musical group Francis and The Lights going “I know, I know I know”. This also occurs on the song “Feel the Love”, another track off of Kids see Ghosts, even though it’s more blatant Kanye is trying to emulate a drum with his inaudible screeching. Kanye also uses instruments as “vocals”, or instruments that sound like vocals. Great examples of this can be seen throughout the synths on 808’s and Heartbreak, especially on tracks such as “She Will”, but this can also be seen on earlier albums on tracks such as “Good Life” on Graduation, where you can hear the high-pitched synths try to sound like high pitched human voices.
Kanye has been called a lot of things in his career, all based on opinions and perceptions of the people listening to his music. I’m going to throw out my opinion right here right now: Kanye is one of the best producers of all time, and his use of vocal manipulation is one of the reasons why.