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Behind the Mic: The story behind Kanye West song 'Stronger'

Kanye West has been an unwavering force in hip hop, and since the early noughties, West has been bringing us hit after hit. From ‘Through The Wire’ to ‘Touch The Sky’, the Chicago producer-rapper is an unmatched hit-maker. However, although looking back through Kanye’s extensive discography is daunting, with Ye’s ingenious use of samples, exploring how the producer made some of these songs is fascinating, and even the tiniest look into his creative process is revealing. 

As listeners and fans of Kanye, we only get to hear what the artist wants. West, one time, even revealed that he, along with a heavy-duty team of audio engineers, had to mix his 2010 single ‘All Of The Lights’ 16 times until it had the sound he wanted. There’s even footage of West begging fellow producer Timbaland to alter the sonics of the kick drum for ‘Stronger’ because he felt it wasn’t cutting through the mix in the clubs. For fans, it is fascinating to see how a concept or small idea can lead to a song of legendary status. In this article, we’ll be looking Behind the Mic to discover the story behind Kanye’s 2007 hit ‘Stronger’ and bring you secrets no one else knows about on how this classic was made.

An extremely popular song, ‘Stronger’ was released in July 2007 and, along with ‘Flashing Lights’, is considered one of the pivotal songs that shifted the sonics of hip hop. ‘Stronger’ incorporated more digital and electronic sounds than a usual rap record. However, hip hop, began to embrace synthesis and sequencing, two things typically associated with electronic dance music. 

‘Stronger’ is based around a sample taken from the Daft Punk song ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. The original was released in 2001 and peaked at number 25 on the UK Singles Chart. The vocoded, robotic voice featured on Kanye’s track is an integral part of Daft Punk’s signature sound, which matches their futuristic aesthetic. 

Recorded in Japan, New York and L.A, West had extreme difficulties getting the finalised version of the song sounding up to scratch. After working with 19 different audio engineers in the best studios around the world, the track had to be mixed over 75 times before West eventually took it to Timbaland, with whom he reprogrammed the drums. Kanye credited Timbaland and Manny Marroquin as the two engineers who actually took ‘Stronger’ over the finish line.

Released through Roc-a-Fella and Universal Music Group, the single topped the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Kanye’s third number one. The track is certified Diamond in the US selling over 5 million units, and is certified platinum in the UK, selling over 1.8 million copies. 

The lyrics for Stronger are said to be based on the famous quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger” which appears in the philosopher’s 1889 book Twilight Of The Idols. As Kanye enters the track, he raps, “N-n-now that that don’t kill me Can only make me stronger / I need you to hurry up now ‘Cause I can’t wait much longer.”  

With such a futuristic-sounding song, West needed the video to match. Directed and produced by the famous Hype Williams, the video for stronger was meant to encapsulate the concept of futurism and being set in a space-age Japan. Featuring Daft Punk, the music video was shot in both Tokyo and Los Angeles and includes visual references to the 1988 anime film Akira, of which Kanye is a fan.

So there we have it, some hidden nuggets of information about what was, and still is, a pivotal hip hop track ‘Stronger’.

You can listen to ‘Stronger’ by Kanye West below.