Real friends: Kanye West’s best collaborations, from ‘Slow Jamz’ to ‘Highlights’

As we eagerly await the apparently feature-stuffed 'DONDA', we look back at Ye's greatest team-ups to date, a journey through his growth as an artist

Kanye West has of course worked with nearly all of the elite pop stars out there, via his come up with Rocafella Records and giving “thanks” to Jay-Z “for blowing him up”, or via his more recent work with the likes of Lil Pump with the, erm, memorable ‘I Love It’. He’s had over two decades of friends in high places and cool fresh faces, and long-awaited ‘DONDA’ seems like it’ll follow suit.

From the glimpses of Ye’s recording process we get as we eagerly wait for this overdue album, we’ve seen him teaming up with old pals such as Pusha-T and Jay-Z. As well as those legends, there newcomers include Baby Keem (Kendrick Lamar’s cousin and speedy to rap stardom) and Steve Lacy of The Internet . ‘DONDA’ is looking like it’s going to have a stacked roster. It’s time, then, to look at the best collabs Ye has to his name to date.

‘Never Let Me Down’ feat. Jay-Z and J. Ivy (2004)

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The first time we heard Watch The Throne – his duo with Jay-Z – in full throttle, ‘Never Let Me Down’ is an awesome track that makes you succumb to hidden emotions you didn’t even know were within you. Kanye outshines Jay with a heartfelt verse about his life-altering car crash, and spoken word artist J. Ivy blesses us in prayer (it’s only HOV whose verses are a bit clunky). However, with Kanye invoking the Holy Spirit early on in his career, this track from his 2004 debut ‘The College Dropout’ seems to perfectly foreshadow what was to come from in regards to his gospel approach, as showcased on 2019’s ‘Jesus Is King’.

Why it’s great: Ye had a knockout verse but his thoughtful line referencing the death of the late pop princess Aaliyah really touches your heart: “First Aaliyah now Romeo must die / I know I got angels watching me from the other side.

‘Slow Jamz’ with Twista feat. Jamie Foxx (2004)

‘Slow Jamz’ is a track that’s stood the test of time from Ye’s debut, and it’s a silky blend of soulful sensual sounds, provided by Jamie Foxx, then a comic actor turned musician, and Ye and Twista’s harmonious styles. Still remembered as a ‘00s hit, ‘Slow Jamz’ was the first of many iconic lineups curated by the former Rocafella signee.

Why it’s great: It’s a cop-out to say everything, so lets’s say that one of the many amazing things about this timeless track is the trilling guitar in the last chorus. It’s flirtatious and exhilarating, just like the song!

‘Good Life’ feat. T-Pain (2007)

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Sampling the feel-good Michael Jackson classic ‘PYT’, ‘Good Life’ harnesses the infectious radiance of its predecessor. But in addition, there’s something about the computer-generated fanfare and synths that elevates your moods. Proving Kanye as the sampling king once again, with the help of the beautiful autotuned harmonies of the most sought-after feature of the ‘00s, T-Pain (who did this song as a favour for Ye), ‘Good Life’ can stay on repeat until the end of eternity.

Why it’s great: The late ‘00s popularised autotune with their heavy use of the vocal corrector. And it’s perhaps never been more effective than when Ye uses it for his one-liner about girl who have more “ass than the models”.

‘Monster’ feat. Rick Ross, Pusha-T, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj (2010)

This song is on this list purely for its cultural significance. Kanye was great on the song but his collaborators – excluding the Queen Barb Nicki Minaj – let the song down. It’s quite comical for a lineup full of industry A-listers to demolished by (at the time) a rap rookie. Over the purely Ye-produced beat, we got to see Nicki Minaj play around with her vocal switches and characterisation, which is — of course — her signature trait. Regardless of the subpar verses of the other collaborators, Nicki and Ye made a classic, so it’s nice that he lent Nicki a verse back on her ‘Pink Friday’ debut called ‘Blazin’ that was great too. More Ye and Nicki please!

Why it’s great: As we’ve established, the best verse was clearly Nicki’s, so she switches from Roman (the monstrous persona at the start) to Barbie (her sweeter side) is always fun to rap back to.

‘Touch The Sky’ feat. Lupe Fiasco (2005)

‘Late Registration’ gave us some of Kanye’s earliest hits, including this one. However, it is often one of those songs that everyone loves and knows, but forgets to mention when they list their favourite Kanye songs. With an ‘80s throwback feel, Ye and the lyrical mastermind Lupe Fiasco create a track to daze about the sun to, with a freeing summer spirit. Unfortunately, the two aren’t best buds anymore, but this song will forever be a beautiful one due to their synergy.

Why it’s great: One word: trumpets.  

Estelle, ‘American Boy’ feat. Kanye West (2008)

In the golden era of ‘00s pop, Kanye laid down his best featured verse for none other than Hammersmith’s own Estelle. The laidback guitar, the jazzy bassline, the smooth beat interrupted by futuristic synths – this track is so of its time. But Kanye’s verse is legendary – with such wordplay, it could take 13 years to figure out every gag. Ye’s flat, inanimate approach really sold his signature braggadocio. This is probably one that will still be spun at parties when our great-grandkids have grandkids.

Why it’s great: People don’t talk enough about Ye being quite the cultural chameleon – “to hell with all that rub-bish” is just what a British lad would say.

‘Highlights’ feat. Young Thug, The-Dream, El DaBarge, Kelly Price (2016)

‘Highlights’ should have been given more coverage: the Ray J slander, his out-of-pocket comment on his-then brother-in-law’s relationship with rap entrepreneur Blac Chyna, and the random El DeBarge feature – this song is a wild concoction, even by Kanye’s standards. Kanye’s widely known mental health struggles at the time may have made people see this severely under-appreciated and misunderstood song as some sort of meltdown. However, this it was fun and lighthearted. It’d be sad to miss out.

Why it’s great: The beat drop might be one of the most joyous in Ye’s producing career.

Keri Hilson, ‘Knock You Down’ feat. Ne-Yo and Kanye West (2009)

This nostalgic feature proves how great Kanye is when he’s conceptual as well. ‘Knock You Down’ shows the trio singing about living life in a love triangle, with Hilson having to choose between Kanye and Ne-Yo. Taking the role of the overbearing love interest who’s willing to fight for his love, he delivers carefully crafted verses that some fans even dare to say they miss. Able to still dip into his signature quirks, Kanye shows how much of a storyteller he truly is.

Why it’s great: Conceptual music is so literal sometimes. The whole narrative is still refreshing in 2021.

Jay-Z, ‘Run This Town’ feat. Rihanna and Kanye West (2009)

Jay-Z is a classical rapper, in love with cadence and flows, but on the two songs featured in this list, Ye has surpassed him. This time, instead of him overloading a beautiful track, his contributions feel dumbed-down for commercial consumption – clever, but not great for the song’s longevity. Rihanna and Kanye keep this tune alive with the iconic chorus, and Ye’s ability to make what he says feel innovative. Sometimes he does this with his outlandish one-liners, or with his impeccable rhyming skills. Catchy either way, though.

Why it’s great: Ye’s one-liners, for sure! “What you think I rap for / To push a fucking Rav 4?” Come on!

Mr Hudson, ‘Supernova’ feat. Kanye West (2009)

Mr Hudson and Kanye had a little run, releasing quite a few collaborations in their ’00s heyday. Between ‘Supernova’ and the carefree, Eurodance-inspired ‘Paranoid’, the pop world got to hear what it’s like for the G.O.O.D Music founder to really belt one out. Technically speaking, it should be terrible, but there’s something about his tone and conviction that makes it Ye’s coolest feature Ye’s ever done. That Kanye confidence really did the job here.

Why it’s great: When Ye takes over the last chorus, he properly goes for it.

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