Kanye has worked with a lot of people over the years, but one of his most important (and underrated) collaborators is A-Trak. What makes him so special to the Kanye oeuvre, you ask? Well, let the producer explain himself. He's the latest to annotate a bunch of Kanye's songs on Genius, including "Gold Digger," "Stronger," and "RoboCop," all of which he had a hand in creating. Here A-Trak explains how those first two hits came to be, as well as the little gem that Kanye wouldn't even know who Daft Punk is if it weren't for him. Let's all collectively thank A-Trak.
On "Gold Digger":
We got back together to play the Sasquatch Festival, and were catching up in the trailer. He said, “Let me play you something. I put my vocals on all these songs.” For “Gold Digger,” [Kanye] had this rough version, but it felt too pop to him. He wanted to give it some hip-hop cred. I had an idea for a scratch, for the part where he raps “Get down girl, go ‘head, get down.” I knew which sample to use. He said, “I think it could be cool. We’re going to LA this week to finish things up.” But he was over budget, Def Jam wouldn’t pay for any more flights for that album. Next thing you know, it’s show time at Sasquatch. At the last minute, he gave me the track for “Gold Digger,” because he wanted to perform it. I ended up live-auditioning. I pulled up the sample for “get down” and I scratched during the choruses, and as soon as we got off stage he was like “Alright, you’re coming to LA, we gotta record this. I’ll pay for the flights, I don’t care.”I went to L.A. and recorded the scratches, and the rest is history.
I gave him that sample. I’m the culprit. And I didn’t want him to sample it, that’s what’s funny. It sort of happened because Swizz Beats sampled "Technologic" for that Busta Rhymes record, "Touch It." We were on tour in Europe in 2006, spending a lot of hours on the bus listening to the radio. Kanye heard "Touch It" and thought that beat was cool. I said, "He just swooped up Daft Punk." And Ye said, "Who?" I just couldn’t believe that Kanye had never heard Daft Punk.
What’s super interesting about Kanye’s approach is that, yeah, he does ask everyone. On the one hand, he’s super confident because he knows at the end of the day that he’s the only one with the vision of what the song should be. On the other hand, he’s honest enough about his own limitations that he doesn’t let his cockiness blind his sight. He knows that if he brings some of the greatest people into the room, the end work will be better. He’ll ask anyone — a bystander, someone’s girlfriend. “What do you think of this? Okay, cool. How would you do those drums?” And then he puts his confidence cloak back on and assembles it. It goes back to questioning what the term producer is. Because ultimately, he could choose to not even list any of the people around him, and just say he’s the producer, because he’s the one with the idea. I like the statement of the team effort, though.
And if you're still unconvinced of the power of A-Trak's tweaks, here's Kanye performing a very early and unfinished version of "Gold Digger" with John Legend in 2003.