‘Stronger’ by Kanye West is one of the most recognisable hip-hop songs ever made. However, the Chicago rapper has admitted in previous interviews that the initial track he produced did not live up to the aspirations he had for the song.
Released in 2007 as the second single for his critically acclaimed third album, Graduation, Kanye’s intention for making ‘Stronger’ came from several places. Until his third project, West’s signature sound derived from his ‘chipmunk soul’ sampling style. The producer would get classic soul songs and pitch them to achieve this sonic. Although he had received vast amounts of renown using said method, after having been on tour with Jay-Z for Brooklyn rapper’s Kingdom Come project, West realised that his material simply wouldn’t cut through and impact large-capacity arenas.
Searching for a new sound that would penetrate crowds in an arena or stadium capacity venue, West discovered that EDM’s simple, dynamic, catchy sonics seemed to evoke reaction en masse in a high-capacity setting. Realising this, West sought to assemble a hip-hop project that utilised some of the production techniques used in EDM. While on tour with Jay-Z in Europe, Kanye tuned in to a local French radio station which happened to be playing Daft Punk. West had never heard of them before but knew that he liked their sound.
When it came to making Graduation, Kanye West has openly stated that while Justin Timberlake was releasing his singles for FutureSex/LoveSounds he looked to songs such as ‘Sexy Back’, ‘My Love’ and later Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 album for creative inspiration and direction. Produced by Timbaland in conjunction with Danja, ‘Sexy Back’ was Timberlake’s first number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained in the top spot for two months. It was also his first UK number-one single. Kanye had seen Timberlake and Timbaland’s success with a heavy-hitting electronic approach to R’n’B and looked to do the same with hip-hop. However, he failed with ‘Stronger’ miserably.
Kanye had ‘Stronger’ mixed by various audio engineers over a dozen times. However, it still wasn’t pumping in the club how he intended it to. The reason why was the kick drum. In an interview with Lex Friedman the producer explained, “When I made ‘Stronger’ I did it to compete with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake because my fiancée at that time like Justin Timberlake just a little bit too much. So I made it to compete. Then we have the song out it’s on Apple it’s blowing up but then I play it in the club and sounds muddy. It doesn’t sound the way ‘SexyBack’ sounded in the club. So I go to Pharrell Williams to do the drums, and it sounds like a different, then I got to Swizz Beatz it sounds like a different record! Then I go to Timbaland, the person who did ‘SexyBack’ and he did it in five minutes and then spent the rest of the hour talking about how no one could have done it except for him!”
Timbaland is renowned for his punchy drums and funky percussion. When Kanye called upon the producer (real name Timothy Mosely) for ‘Stronger’ there was even a cameraman to capture the magic you can see Kanye and Timbaland in the studio in the video below.