At the start of his career, Kanye West's production style often used pitched-up vocal samples, usually from soul songs, with his own drums and instruments. His first major release featuring his trademark vocal sampling style was "This Can't Be Life", a track from Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. West said he sped up the drum beat of Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" to use as a replacement for his drums on "This Can't Be Life".
West has said that Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA influenced him in his style, and has said on numerous occasions that Wu-Tang rappers Ghostface Killah and Ol' Dirty Bastard were some of his all-time favorites, "Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the style I use, RZA has been doing that." RZA himself has spoken quite positively of the comparisons, stating in an interview for Rolling Stone, "All good. I got super respect for Kanye. He came up to me about a year or two ago. He gave me mad praising and blessings... For people to say Wu-Tang inspire Kanye, Kanye is one of the biggest artists in the world. That goes back to what we say: 'Wu-Tang is forever.' Kanye is going to inspire people to be like him." After hearing his work on The Blueprint, RZA claimed that a torch-passing had occurred between him and West, saying, "The shoes gotta be filled. If you ain't gonna do it, somebody else is gonna do it. That's how I feel about rap today."
While his use of sampling has lessened over time, West's production continues to feature distinctive and intricate string arrangements. This characteristic arose from him listening to the English trip hop group Portishead, whose 1998 live album Roseland NYC Live, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra inspired him to incorporate string sections into his hip hop production. Though he was unable to afford live instruments beyond violin riffs provided by Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari around the time of his debut album, its subsequent commercial success allowed him to hire his very own eleven-piece string orchestra. For a time, West stood as the sole current pop star to tour with a string section.
West has stated on several occasions that outside of work, he favors listening to rock music over hip-hop. He cites Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Killers as some of his favorite musical groups. Additionally, on Graduation, West drew inspiration from arena rock bands such as U2, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin for melody and chord progression. Both a fan and supporter of indie culture, West uses his official website to promote obscure indie rock bands, posting up music videos and mp3s on a daily basis. This musical affinity is mutual, as West has collaborated with indie artists such as Santigold, Peter Bjorn and John, and Lykke Li while his songs have gone on to be covered countless times by myriad rock bands.
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