The Kanye West song that sampled Steely Dan
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The Kanye West song that sampled Steely Dan

Kanye West is one of hip-hop’s most revered producers. Since his emergence in 2002 alongside Jay-Z as part of Roc-a-Fella, the Chicago native has proved himself an ingenious musician. That said, one of his most outstanding talents is his ability to sample.

Although beatmakers such as DJ Premier and RZA could do amazing things with samples, West has always managed to flip the most obscure samples, taking the most arbitrary songs and turning them into hip-hop anthems, and that’s precisely what he did on his 2007 track ‘Champion’.

‘Champion’ is a fusion song and, like much of Ye’s music, does not present itself as one genre but instead as a cleverly composed myriad of genres that somehow manage to gel themselves together, forming a new yet recognizable sound. The sample used by the Chicago rapper in this track informs the song name as the sample contains the word “Champion” in its lyrics. For this track, Kanye chose to sample the 1976 song ‘Kid Charlemagne’ by Steely Dan. 

Kid Charlemagne appears on the band’s 1976 project Royal Scam. Recorded at ABC Recording Studios in Los Angeles, Royal Scam was Steely Dan’s most guitar-oriented album. The album features a classic song ‘Haitian Divorce’ which made it into the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart. 

However, Kanye picked out the first track on the album for the iconic ‘Champion’. Produced by Gary Katz and Larry Carlton, the lyrics are rumoured to be about the endeavours of the LSD chemist (creator) Owsley Stanley.

At the song’s 34-second mark, there is a line where Fagen sings, “Did you realise that you were a champion in their eyes?” and Kanye West uses this section for ‘Champion’. With a thumping 808 bass kick behind it, a crispy clap and the addition of some synthesizers to the track’s original keyboard melody, the Chicago native managed to produce a futuristic hip-hop anthem.

The track was released with an accompanying music video that sees a Kanye West puppet competing in the 100m sprint in the Olympics. Near the end of the race, West convinces himself that he is a ‘Champion’ and manages against the odds to win the race.

Below you can listen to the original Steely Dan track and then listen to West’s version.