Kanye West hasn’t just shined on his own albums. Collaborating with everyone from Katy Perry to Thirty Seconds to Mars, ‘Ye has appeared on plenty of memorable tracks that demonstrate the breadth of his musical tastes. Here are 10 of his strongest guest spots, with an emphasis on his work on the 2012 project Cruel Summer, which brought together plenty of heavy hitters from West’s G.O.O.D. Music record label.
10) “Cold,” G.O.O.D. Music, Good Summer
Technically, this is a collaboration track, West working with G.O.O.D. Music producer Hit-Boy and rapper DJ Khaled. But in reality, it’s an unofficial ‘Ye song, the man bidding farewell to ex-girlfriend Amber Rose and confirming the speculation that he’s now dating Kim Kardashian, a woman who would be his muse on several Good Summer tracks. Think of “Cold” as his “Idiot Wind,” a jittery, paranoid rant that makes for one hell of a kiss-off.
9) “Supernova,” Mr. Hudson, Straight No Chaser
English recording artist Mr. Hudson was an integral part of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak, providing vocals on “Paranoid” and co-producing “Street Lights.” Yeezy returned the favor on this 2009 single, which was a European hit but failed to make much of a dent Stateside. Downbeat but danceable, “Supernova” tweaks 808s’ elegant bummer, getting its groove on while trying to convince a love interest not to walk out the door.
8) “Run This Town,” Jay Z, The Blueprint 3
Like the Avengers of hip-hop, Jay Z, Rihanna and Kanye collaborated on this martial Blueprint 3 smash. “Run This Town” summons up images of riots and revolution while the assembled hip-hop luminaries explain, precisely, why they run this town. Strangled guitars, disembodied screeches, West talking shit about the Toyota RAV4: Yes, this track is a bit bloated with self-importance, but how can you argue with a mob rally?
7) “This Way,” Dilated Peoples, Neighborhood Watch
Before The College Dropout, Kanye was working as a beatmaker on other people’s albums. “This Way” is an underrated tune from that era, West teaming up with the socially conscious hip-hop group Dilated Peoples for a jazzy, breezy, vaguely retro track about changing your ways.
6) “Go!” Common, Be
Yeezy took the reins of fellow Chicagoan Common’s 2005 disc, Be, serving as one of the album’s principal producers. “Go!” encapsulates his smoothed-out style, but Common’s lyrical thrust diverges from West’s spiritual/secular obsession. Instead, this is a romantic, sensual tune about a woman who powers your sexual fantasies. Kanye only shows up in the chorus, but the song’s hypnotic soul sound is where he really leaves his fingerprints.
5) “American Boy,” Estelle, Shine
Estelle’s biggest hit is ruled by the effervescent British singer and her coquettish salutes to the guys across the pond. But Kanye proves to be a perfect foil, delivering a laidback-cool guest verse that acknowledges that, yes, he acts the fool a lot. This breezy 2008 pop smash probably didn’t need West to storm the charts, but he injects a little attitude into the disco-lite melody.
4) “Walkin’ on the Moon,” The-Dream, Love Vs. Money
Kanye doesn’t have enough carefree lover-man tracks in his repertoire. So thank god he teamed up with The-Dream for this 2009 cut, which practically skips along in romantic, playful ecstasy. Love is often a dark, scary emotion on West’s albums, but with “Walkin’ on the Moon,” he sounds like he’s been blissfully shot by Cupid’s arrow. And, c’mon, this is a great pickup line: “There’s a lot of stars in here, ain’t it?/But you shine so much they don’t seem famous.”
3) “Clique,” G.O.O.D. Music, Good Summer
A superb continuation of the luxury-rap profligacy of Watch the Throne, “Clique” is all ghostly percussion and million-dollar keyboard blasts. The verses build in ascending order of greatness, from Big Sean’s perfectly acceptable raps to Jay Z’s slowed-down-then-sped-up rhymes to Yeezy’s ace boast about new girlfriend Kim Kardashian: “Break records at Louis/Ate breakfast at Gucci/My girl a superstar all from a home movie.”
2) “Swagga Like Us,” T.I., Paper Trail
M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” was all over the airwaves in 2008 when “Swagga Like Us” bit her “No one on the corner have swagger like us” line and constructed a whole track around it. Produced by Kanye, this Paper Trail banger brings together T.I., Jay Z, Lil Wayne and West on the mic, each of them succeeding in living up to the cold-steel cockiness of the M.I.A. sample.
1) “Mercy,” G.O.O.D. Music, Good Summer
Too many hooks: From Big Sean’s “swerve” to the inspired sampling of Fuzzy Jones’s wail and patter on Super Beagle’s “Dust a Sound Boy” to those steely beats to that icy keyboard line, “Mercy” never lets up. Where a lot of posse cuts are a bit of a mishmash of styles, this Good Summer masterpiece is a dazzlingly unified whole, each verse and musical component adding to the dizzying, intimidating swirl. Alongside Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz, West enumerates all the ways that he’s the shit. Def Jam, give that man his 50 million.
Tim Grierson is a film and music critic who writes for Screen International, Deadspin, Paste, Rolling Stone and The Dissolve. He tweets at @timgrierson.