The Making of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: An Oral History
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The Making of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: An Oral History

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"This whole thing started about February. I was in L.A., and Rick Ross called me, and he was like, 'Listen, man, I’m in Hawaii right now. I don’t know where you are, I don’t know what you're doing, but you need to be out here, and be a part of this history.' Meanwhile Kanye is laughing hysterically in the background. I flew to Hawaii, and I was supposed to be there for three days. I ended up staying a month. It was just the chemistry, and the camaraderie, and the whole creative flow that was going on. It made sense."
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Big Sean

"He doesn’t really call me. He’s more of an e-mail guy. So you get the confirmation from the team — 'Yo, man, are you gonna be available to come out [to Hawaii] on these days?' Flights, he covers all of that. I don’t know if he does, or Def Jam, but it gets covered."
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"I was in the middle of cutting my album, when I got the call — my management was like, ''Ye needs you in Hawaii tomorrow.' I got there, kicked the track around the first day. With 'Power,' 'Ye came to me knowing what he wanted, as far as the hook, as far as everything goes. I added a couple harmonies that weren't already in there, but for the most part it was my instrument that he wanted on the song. The next morning we got up and played basketball. I didn't know he'd been doing that for the past month. I hadn't played basketball for forever. I was running, and that fatigue [kicked in] — he started whooping my ass on the court. It was fun."
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John Legend

"I sang on a whole bunch of stuff and put a bunch of different ideas down. It’s funny because I don’t even know what’s on the final cut of the album. He’s got some of the most talented, most famous, backing vocals in the world. I was listening to 'All of the Lights' today on the radio and I didn’t know how many artist were on it, because when I did it, it was just me and The-Dream. I still hear my voice, but I hear Rihanna's and I think Elton John’s."
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Justin Vernon

"One of my favorite memories is watching John Legend sing on this track that’s not on the album, singing along with parts that I had laid down, and watching John Legend knock it out of the park on every take."
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"You’d wake up, and you’d walk over to his house, which was right around the corner from the studio. We’d have chefs cook breakfast every morning, and during that breakfast, everyone would talk. We’d talk about music, relationships, whatever. Then we’d go play basketball. After basketball it’d be a mad dash to the house or hotel, shower, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, whatever. Straight to the studio."
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Big Sean

"At his crib out there, people usually eat breakfast together — 'Ye, Rick Ross, Hov used to be out there, Beyoncé, whoever. People just eating breakfast, talking. There's great stuff for breakfast, whatever you wanted: smoothies, omelettes, chicken sausages, pork sausages, bacon, grapefruit, fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, toast, muffins. There'd be two or three chefs, and they'd go all out for breakfast."
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Justin Vernon

"The first track, the first thing is you hear my voice, this weird choral robotic thing. And then it's Nicki, which totally freaks me out. I ended up on five or six songs. Some songs, it's a 'featuring' credit, some I’m just in there like a role player. Whatever. That's just really cool."
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"A lot of songs were made strictly from conversations. With 'Runaway,' the beat was down, some of the lyrics were down. And we’re having a conversation about us, as men, being assholes sometimes: admitting it, doing what you can do to get out of it, being well-aware that you do wrong and doing wrong anyways. And he's like, 'I like your perspective on this whole thing. I need a verse.' I had to write it four times. He kept begging for 'more douchebag.' That was his chant: 'I need more douchebag!'
He didn’t understand that I was going through a relationship turmoil at the time, out of my own douchebagness. In the verse, I'm really having a conversation with someone: I was in the wrong about something, so I’m saying it, but then I’m trying to ease it, too. And he’s like, 'No, I need more douchebag. No, please — more douchebag.' He’s killing me, he doesn’t even know it. Eventually I’m like fuck it, I'll just go all the way."
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Charlie Wilson

"I’ve been around a lot of people, I’m not going to say any names, but I’m not somebody you call for a session and then make wait for two hours. I’m not ever doing that anymore, I don’t care who it is. But definitely for him, it was pleasant. He beat me there. I’m always the early guy. If the session is at eight, I’m there at seven-forty-five to warm up. But he was already there. Waiting. He could have had me sitting around, waiting, playing that superstar role. But he doesn’t waste time."
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"Once we hit the studio, it was just all focus on the music. All focus was one hundred percent on the music. There were rules: no Twittering, no e-mailing, no blog-watching — no stupid questions. All of this stuff is posted all over the walls. A wall of questions, for inspirations. 'What would Mobb Deep do?' All types of stuff."
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Justin Vernon

"We were having breakfast one morning after a really long night in the studio. He brought some mixes on his iPod. We were overlooking the ocean on the porch of his house, after a number of hours of listening to ['Lost in the World'] over and over again. And he got on a rant and started freestyling at the table, trying to explore the emotional content of the song, trying to extend it. I sat around and listened to him, and gave feedback. And his whole verse got built."
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George Condo

"Kanye was in Hawaii, so we made a phone appointment. He said he was getting a lot of musical ideas from my paintings and he wanted me to do the album cover. So I asked him what he was doing, and he started rapping some of the lyrics over the phone. [Later] he came to the studio [in New York]. We blasted out the music, and immediately I just started having all kinds of ideas about mythological creatures and volcanic landscapes. Parts and pieces from Macbeth. Parts and pieces from some sort of political, social, sci-fi landscape."
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"It's crazy to watch him work in the studio. He'll let the song play on repeat, and he'll be doing something on the Internet; it could be a movie, or checking out fashion on the Internet, a random a little bit of everything. And then he'll stop what he's doing, and he'll rattle a whole other verse on the top of his brain."
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Charlie Wilson

"Being in the studio, to me, was like being in the Cotton Club. Everybody was suited and booted. It was something I had never seen before from the hip-hop era. Everybody was dressed every single day; from the runners to the engineers, everybody had a suit and tie on."
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Big Sean

"Usually there's a lot going on in the studio — you know, drinks, or you'll fuck around and see Kobe Bryant. Whole bunch of people like that. And 'Ye basically [plays the beat and then] tells you, 'Man, go record your verse.' He's got all the studios in different rooms, and people are in there knocking it out. That 'G.O.O.D. Friday' verse, I did on the spot. I don't write, I do it in my head. That one probably took about 50 takes."
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George Condo

"We were hanging around one night, and we were listening to that tune 'Runaway,' and Ana, my wife, she put up this thing of Sylvie Guillem. She’s a famous French ballerina, and it’s a shot of her from the fifties in slow motion, and somehow Kanye grabbed onto that idea of the ballerina. He just said, 'Hey, man, I’d like to have a great ballerina painting.' Personally, I have a history, I’d worked with ballet companies in Monte Carlo. So I thought of a ballerina toasting. You know, 'Let’s toast to the scumbags.' Later when he made his film he liked this concept of [ballerinas in] choreography not necessarily to the beat; it was different than your usual rap choreography."
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Justin Vernon

"Kanye was the only one who didn’t sleep at his own house. He was at the studio all day, every day long. He'd fall asleep in the middle of a sentence at four in the morning."
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John Legend

"He’s had so many people doubting him. Hating him. It’s been a tough time. I think he had a certain hunger, you know, a certain kind of drive to come out and make a brilliant album. To basically say, no matter what you think of me I’m going to make the best fucking music you’ve ever heard."
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"I don't know when he sleeps. I've never seen him sleep."
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Gaylord Holomalia, Studio Manager

"Kanye first started using the studio April 9, 2006. [Originally] I got a call from Def Jam while Kanye was doing a concert here in Hawaii that he needed come in after his show to lay down a rap and have the track sent to New York ASAP. There's no distractions with people popping in all the time. It's easier for artists to walk around here. People in Hawaii usually will give them space and let them enjoy everything we have to offer here ... Along with other guys I have working here, we basically try to make sure we keep them working comfortably. The sessions are very positive and energetic. Kanye and his guys are great to work for. We have a room for him to take a break and rest up, since he works long hours. The best thing to have at a studio is workaholics ... I'm a big fan of his way of creating music. He creates from within himself."
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J. Cole

"I got the beat [for 'Looking for Trouble'] Friday. I get a call like nine-thirty in the morning — that was Saturday morning in Kalamazoo, Michigan — from Kanye. He [says] he's trying to put it out that day. I didn’t want to hold up his process, so I told him at first that I couldn’t do it — I had a radio promo event to do in Detroit that day. But at some point in the conversation I figured, you know, I’ll find a way to get it done. So, on the two-hour drive to Detroit, I wrote the majority of the verse, then did the radio promo event, then immediately left the event and went to the studio in Detroit and finished writing the verse. Laid the verse, then sent it out to Kanye maybe four or five o’clock or something. He put it out that same night and the reaction was so incredible."
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Ryan Leslie

"Me and 'Ye, we come up with the concept of talking about the model life in New York City. We sat there and made a list of probably forty of the hottest girls that we could find, whether it was off Sports Illustrated or the Forbes top earners. And then he went into the booth with that list and freestyles, putting the puzzle together, crossing off names. I wanted to have my verse be the same — he'd do his favorites, and I'd have my favorites – but by the time he came out of the booth he'd already crossed off all the names.
It was me, Cudi, John [Legend], [co-producer] Mike Dean, who's like the silent genius master. He's a multi-instrumentalist. Multi-multi. He plays the bassoon. So we got all this talent in the room, and Cudi picks up the guitar, I jumped on the Juno synthesizer, and I come up with up that chord progression. By the time we put it down it was eight o'clock in the morning. I wanted another take, and 'Ye's just like, 'Take one more touch, but I gotta go. I got Saturday Night Live tonight.' Later [that weekend] we put out an extended version. Sunday, we had taken a break from editing and gone to tear up the New Museum for a second. On our way back, we turn on the radio on in the car and boom, the record was spinning crazy. The whole seven minutes."
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Pete Rock

"'The Joy' was a beat I had made in ’97. It just sat around for years. I sent it to him like 2009. He liked it and he actually asked me to rhyme with him on it. But I felt like, since he’s one of my favorite rappers, I’m not ready to rhyme with [him] yet. I have to climb a few more steps … I think he’s a genius. When I was in the studio with him in Hawaii, he reminded me of myself. Going from room to room, doing this over here, doing something different over there, doing something over here. His work ethic is A+. And big shout-out to Jay-Z, for finally rhyming over a Pete Rock beat. I’ve been wanting to do that for years and years and years, and I've been hearing the same thing from his side. Sometimes God makes a choice when he’s ready to make it happen."
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John Legend

"Between all of those tracks, there’s not going to be one single that sells five albums. It’s going to be an overwhelming barrage of information from him that says, pay attention and get excited about this album; it's a multifaceted buzz-building exercise, an aggregate of buzz. I don’t know how much he strategizes. He clearly decided 'I want to do G.O.O.D. Friday,' but that's not something you sit in a boardroom and discuss. He probably was like, 'Fuck it I want people to hear all of it, not just one or two singles.'"
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George Condo

"Kanye is so fully into the project that once he’s on each part of it, he’s very into it. During the summer he was back and forth between Hawaii and New York. He would come over, he’d play some new tracks. I went to the studio, Electric Ladyland, while he was mixing the 'Power' remix. When I lost touch of Kanye, it meant he was in Prague shooting with the ballerinas. Then he’d come back to town and say, 'I got some new tracks I’d like to play for you.' And you can’t get the music any other way than if he comes over and plays it for you. They don’t want to have it hacked into or God knows what. Occasionally he’d come over and he wouldn’t even have the music written for a song, he’d just have the rap done and rap it out for me. Which was really exciting."
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John Legend

Photo: Jeremy Kost/Getty Images
"He’s clearly been influenced by Michael Jackson’s legacy. He’s always thought of himself as bigger than rap. He imagines himself in the vein of the global pop megastar. Obviously Michael Jackson is someone who did everything big, everything completely tricked out, every time he came out with something. I definitely think Kanye aspires to that."


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