Kanye West Offers a Behind-the-Scenes Look at His Music Writing Process

An insider’s look at the marathon recording sessions behind ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’

Music
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In 2009, Kanye West found himself in a difficult position following the now infamous MTV Video Music Awards incident with Taylor Swift, leading to him taking a hiatus in Hawaii. While he all but retreated from the public eye, Complex Editor-in-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever had the privilege of accompanying West to his island sanctuary where he would set up a “Rap Camp,” inviting the likes of Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Nicki Minaj and RZA to join his writing process for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. What followed were weeks of secretive yet frenzied brainstorming and recording sessions, with West block-booking the recording studio’s three session rooms indefinitely and stationing collaborating artists in each room to work on a different track simultaneously. Recorded for posterity as the cover story for the December/January 2011 issue of Complex magazine, Complex has now released the feature online in a slickly designed custom layout, of which an excerpt can be found below.

Kanye’s process is communal—he literally goes around the room asking everyone there what “power” means to them, throws out lines to see how they’re received, and works out his exact wording with whomever is around to help. But his output is most definitely entirely his own—one listen to that consistently unique cadence, word choice, and sense of humor reveals that. Rappers, producers, and entourage are all welcome to offer ideas or phrases, but the funny thing is, nearly every suggestion is met with, “That’s really not at all a word I would ever say, but don’t stop offering ideas, thanks!” In fact, that day, a rah-rah couplet is offered by a rapper in the room (who will remain nameless) to close a line on “Power,” and Kanye jokingly says it would be “great—if my name was LL and I was making ‘Mama Said Knock You Out Pt. II.’” You get the feeling it’s addition by subtraction with him—the demonstration of what he doesn’t like illuminates what he does like.

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