Why Record Labels Need To Embrace A Capellas

Jay Z recording

No one loves the old Kanye and the new Kanye like producers. Beat makers love the old Kanye for carrying the torch of RZA and Pete Rock’s soul-sampling selections into the aughts, even collaborating with them along the way. But producers also love the new Kanye because he gave many of them the courage to step from behind the scenes and become artists in their own right. Listen to Hit-Boy’s rap projects for proof.

So it was no surprise that when a somewhat finished version of Kanye’s latest album TLOP was finally untethered from Kanye’s hard drive, the 44-second a capella/interlude “I Love Kanye” became a producers delight. It was like Christmas in February or a late Kwanzaa gift getting dropped off in the middle of Black History Month. In an era when a capellas are as scarce as Kanye’s shoes, unobstructed Kanye West vocals —even off-beat ones—are too good to pass up. As a part of the producer fraternity it was almost an unspoken wink, “have at it,” like Questlove leaving open drums on Erykah Badu’s “Booty.” It wasn’t a matter of if, it was how and when.


Sure enough pro and amateur producers ran to their computers and beat machines to drape Kanye’s mannequin in their own sonic wares. Key Wane, !llmind and others accepted the unspoken challenge (or invitation) to “finish” the self-referential confessional and began releasing them one by one.



But just as they were going up the DMCA notices were getting them purged from the web. Whether it was Kanye himself of his label initiating this witch hunt it’s pretty disappointing.


Unofficial remixes are a win-win because it gives the producer a chance to show their skills and opens the artist to being heard in a new way by fans. In some cases it can extend the conversation around a project well past its normal shelf life. And in the case of songs like Nas’s “Hope” and “I Love Kanye” that had no beats at all, you open the door to a myriad of interpretations.

Back in 2003 Jay Z’s the Black Album was released with official a capellas from the label inspiring a rainbow of remixes.  Some were just ok but a lot of them were really good and made songs that you may not have liked (in my case “Justify My Thug”) more listenable.

“I think you should put out the a capellas and the stems. That’s just me,” legendary DJ/Engineer and A&R Young Guru told me in an interview in 2013. He was part of the team responsible for making the Black Album a capellas available via Def Jam. “Once you sell the record put out the a capella and the stems. It just leads itself toward remixing in other genres.You can utilize that to sort of capture your audience. You can collect the emails, have a contest or something and give away stems to certain winners. Once they hit the net it hits the net, but it’s good because it brings in a whole bunch of hot remixes and makes those songs live world wide. It’s just gonna gain you a bigger audience in whatever realm that’s in. Then you’ll get calls like come do this festival because your hip-hop song blew up in another song. Too many styles are meshing together to not do that.”

Even before the “I Love Pablo” remixes were popping up we made a collection of Kanye West “mashups” from various producers and DJs. But between the time we started making the list and final publication the list of songs dropped off from 20 to 15 to 10 because of DMCA takedowns. It was like trying to build a snowman on a hot day.

Yes, there are some artists who don’t like anyone messing with their vocals. Back in the day I was guilty of subjecting my favorites artists to Instant Messages and emails of remixes I’d done in Fruity Loops and was told politely by one to leave their sh*t alone. But way more good than bad comes out of it. Imagine a world without “God’s Stepson” or “The Gray Album”? Pretty boring if you ask me. So if you’re reading this Kanye, or any other artist, come up off those a capellas and let those remixes cook. 


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