Kanye West claims credit for the resurgance of the soul sound. He became famous by producing rap beats with sped up samples of 70s soul singers (chipmunk voice) and other beats which sampled heavily from artists like Curtis Mayfield. Many of the songs on The College Dropout and Late Registration are regarded as classics and respected by rap producers around the world, although some have criticized him for sampling TOO heavily in certain songs.
Kanye explaining how he uses soul samples to produce rap beats: “I sample them at regular speed, then speed them up inside the ASR-10, I just put the pitch up on the sampler, and it will go faster. The ASR-10 is like my left hand. I can chop samples into 61 pieces without wasting any memory. A lot of old songs are too slow to rap on. So I got to speed them up to a rappable tempo".
In the later part of his career he has struck out into different territory, utilizing electronic drums on 808s and Heartbreak and live musicians on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He has also started to use a lot of autotune in his music.
Kanye West does not use a lot of gear in the studio . He mainly used his Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard, Akai MPC 2000 Music Production Center and Roland VS-1880 24-bit Digital Studio Workstation. Unfortunately none of those items are in production anymore so aspiring rap producers will have to either buy on the used market or look for products which can accomplish the same thing, e.g. the MPC 1000.
Kanye samples from a Gemini PT-1000 II turntable but the kind of turntable you use really doesn’t matter. For sampling you can use any cheap belt driven or direct drive turntable.
Crag Bauer described Kanye West's technique in the studio: “Well, Kanye takes the word meticulous to a whole a new level. The way he works he just isn’t content until he’s tried recording and mixing a song every conceivable way. I was getting calls from A&Rs in July saying, “We have to stop him. We have to cut him off because he’s going to miss another release date.” And my response was always like, “Well you guys have to tell me what you want me to do.” And that call saying, “OK, you’re done, send it in,” would never come. Nobody from the record company tells Kanye anything. To the point where he was in mastering at Sony in New York and ended up booking studio time to do some more recording during the mastering process. In fact, story has it that during the mastering he was listening to the final version with Jay-Z and LA Reid from beginning to end. After they finished listening to the album, Jay-Z and LA Reid both were talking about how much they loved it and Kanye said, “It’s not even done.” And they both were like, “OK. Do what you’ve go to do.” So he kept on going and my belief is that he would have kept on going forever if it wasn’t for the fact that the timing of the release coincided with the MTV Video Music Awards.”
You want to be a big time rap producer like hip hop legend Kanye West? Get a sampler, sequencer, turntable and some records from the 70s.