Over the past few years, Kanye West’s outsize persona has eclipsed his music-making ability in the public consciousness. When someone is married to a Kardashian, can’t stop dissing Taylor Swift, and tweets whatever idiosyncratic musings come to his head, it’s not surprising when that person’s extracurricular activities consume all the attention. But to me, Kanye’s legacy will always rest on his brilliant production work.
One of my favorite aspects of Kanye’s music is a bit random — his outros, i.e. the way he ends his songs. He has a gift for knowing what sample will hit the spot, or what groove will bring the whole track home. He’ll either ride whatever beat he already has going for just the right amount of time, or he’ll switch it up in an invigorating or even beautiful way.
On Kanye’s latest album, the messy and overwrought but sporadically dazzling The Life of Pablo, one of his outros gave me chills: Frank Ocean’s pained voice singing out into the night on “Frank’s Track,” coming right after “Wolves.”
“Wolves” is constructed in a way that gives Ocean’s outro maximum impact. The portentous aura of the song builds until everything is stripped away except for just an electric piano and Ocean’s raw, passionate voice. You can hear his voice catch when he sings “BLACKENED” and “LIFE IS… precious.”
Let’s take a look at the other masterful outros in Kanye West’s catalogue. I’ve broken the songs/outros into three categories: (1) Riding the Groove; (2) Switching it Up, Subtly; (3) Switching it Up, Dramatically. As I mentioned, Kanye’s best outros can either be built on the already-existing beat (Category 1) or on a subtle (Category 2) or dramatic switch-up of the beat or production (Category 3).
Before jumping in, I should give honorable mention to “Runaway”, which has an iconic outro (and, not to mention, is one of the best songs of the decade), but the outro goes on a little too long. Another small note: the tracks that I’ve listed here from Yeezus and The Life of Pablo can have fairly explicit language, but the rest are SFW.