As one of the most high-profile names in both music and fashion, artists and brands alike have leveraged Kanye West’s name to take careers and ventures to new heights.
With Kacy Hill set to become the latest “prodigy” of sorts to have her career steered by West — with her debut album, Like a Woman, dropping June 30 on G.O.O.D. Music — it would suggest that the one time backup dancer is poised to become the next artist to receive the “Kanye Bump.”
But it begs the question, can Kanye West still make a star on his G.O.O.D. Music label?
With a past G.O.O.D. Music roster featuring names that don’t necessarily register on a grandiose level like Really Doe, CyHi the Prince and Malik Yusef — and unconfirmed signees like Theophilus London, D’banj and Sa-Ra — there are really only three artists who West shaped from total obscurity into superstardom; John Legend, Big Sean and Kid Cudi.
While one could certainly make the case that Pusha T has grown into an impresario using G.O.O.D. Music’s resources, he already had an established fanbase before signing to the label in September 2010.
It would seem only natural that the more established Kanye West became as an artist himself, the greater impact he would have on those aligned with him.
This has certainly been the case for acts like Travi$ Scott, Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz — although none of them ultimately decided to count West as a label boss.
“Kanye’s best prodigy, he ain’t signed me but he proud of me,” Chance rapped on “Blessings” from his latest, Coloring Book.
During West’s own infancy as a musician is when he helped others out the most — due in large part to his involvement in the making of actual music as opposed to being a figurehead who informed the tastes of large groups of people.
John Legend’s 2007 debut, Get Lifted, sold over 500,000 copies on the way to being certified gold and saw West contribute to four of the 14 songs. The project ultimately won Legend the 2006 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, and earned him another two awards for Best New Artist and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
In total, Legend released four projects under G.O.O.D. Music with each album earning at least gold distinction. Although West’s involvement decreased on the next two projects, he was always involved as a featured artist/producer in each instance.
On Legend’s final album on G.O.O.D. Music, Love in the Future, West returned for seven placements out of 16 songs.
“I worked with Kanye more on this album than I had before, and I think part of it is just us connecting and getting together to create, given how busy he is and how busy I am,” Legend said. “Just finding time for us to work together kind of added a little bit of extra time to the process. But I think it was worth it.”
The project was ultimately Legend’s highest-charting album to date in the UK and only his second album to reach the UK top 10.
West’s next major signing was Big Sean — who famously ambushed him at a radio station and showed his passion for the craft by rapping for him on the spot.
“One of my best friends called and was like, ‘Yo, Kanye is down at the radio station. If you go down there and rap for him, he’ll sign you,'” Sean recalled.
Big Sean ultimately did just that and earned not only West’s respect, but also his interest in cultivating him as an artist despite being in the depths of recording his third album, Graduation.
“It was like out of the movies,” Kanye remembered. “I could hear his personality and character and style in it. He just walked up to me and said a rap and I said, ‘I’mma sign you.’ That’s what happened.”
Big Sean’s debut, Finally Famous, was executive produced by West and debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200 — with first-week sales of 87,000 copies in the United States. His lead single, “My Last,” also climbed to the top of the Rap charts and earned him his first number one song.
His sophomore project, Hall of Fame, saw production handled primarily by No I.D. and Key Wayne and debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 — selling 72,000 copies in its first week. West was notably absent from the project in both artist and production capacities — although they recorded several songs that never made it on the album.
“He was jamming to it, he was proud of it,” said Sean. “There’s always some things that we may disagree on, but as an artist, you just gotta roll with what you wanna roll with. He definitely respects that and supports me and I support him.”
Sean’s third project, Dark Sky Paradise, debuted at number one on Billboard and eventually went platinum based on both tangible album sales and equivalent streams.
West’s lone contribution, “I Don’t Fuck With You” became Big Sean’s third highest-charting single ever and sold over 1 million downloads in 2015.
For his latest project, I Decided, West is only credited in a lone instance for writing elements of “Bounce Back.” The album ultimately debuted at number one and has since been certified gold.
A chance encounter at the Virgin Megastore in New York City in 2004 is what led to Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s earliest dealings.
‘How you doing? My name is Cudi,'” he recalled telling West. “Actually, I said my name was Scott, because I wasn’t Kid Cudi yet.”
Although West denied Cudi’s request to sign him to G.O.O.D. Music, the Cleveland rapper/crooner indicated that he would be hearing about him soon enough.
After releasing his debut mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, West’s then manager, Plain Pat, passed it along and West enjoyed what he had heard and signed him in 2009.
His debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, followed in the fall that same year and climbed to number four on both the Billboard 200 and Billboard’s Top Rap Albums where it was ultimately certified gold.
West notably appeared on “Make Her Say” and helped write “Sky Might Fall.”
His next two projects, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager and Indicud (released in conjunction with Republic Records) each debuted at number three and two on the Billboard charts.
Despite the string of album successes, Cudi announced his departure from the label in 2013, stating, “I’m announcing that I’m no longer on G.O.O.D. Music. And this is something that no one knows really. I’m no longer on G.O.O.D. Music.”
You could make the argument that Kanye West hasn’t made a superstar since — although he has certainly tried.
Mr. Hudson had all the makings of an act who could appeal to various music aficionados thanks to his haunting vocals and his appearance on “Forever Young” off Jay Z’s Blueprint 3 — as well as his work on West’s own 808s & Heartbreak.
West had initially been drawn to Hudson’s work as “Mr. Hudson and The Library” who had released their debut album, A Tale of Two Cities, in 2007 to critical acclaim but little commercial success.
He particularly favored the song “Cover Girl” which was a blend of Hudson’s somber tones over production which borrowed from Eric B. and Rakim’s “Move the Crowd.”
“I’m really proud that it was the music that got the ball rolling, that it wasn’t some sort of backroom deal between record companies,” Hudson said of the experience.
“Ah, he’s an incredible artist,” Kanye told MTV during the MTV Europe Music Awards in Liverpool in 2008. “I believe Mr. Hudson has the potential to be bigger than me, to be one of the most important artists of his generation. … He’s playing these songs, he’s playing them back-to-back-to-back — ‘Dude, I’m telling you, your problems are not going to be getting hit records, blowing up and being a big star — your problems are going to be living real life, and dealing with real life, so just prep yourself.’ Everything I hear [from him] is a smash.”
The project that had West so animated, Straight No Chaser, was released August 4, 2009 and featured the lead single “Supernova” in which West also appeared. The album charted at 25 in the UK but failed to find an audience Stateside.
Despite what had been a white hot amount of enthusiasm for Mr. Hudson, the flame seemed to die out almost immediately.
In 2012, G.O.O.D. Music released their compilation album, Cruel Summer. Hudson has nowhere to be found despite still being signed to the imprint.
Although Hudson notably worked with Future and Miley Cyrus on “Real and True” in 2013, little else has been heard from him in a commercial capacity since.
At the same time, G.O.O.D. Music inked another singer/songwriter, Ryan McDermott, who had similar soulful appeal as Mr. Hudson.
“I think my name had been in his ear as far back as 2008 through a designer friend of mine named Tracey Mills who messaged me on Myspace, where at the time I had over a million and a half plays from stuff I had thrown up there,” McDermott said of garnering interest from G.O.O.D Music. “Long story short, years later I get introduced to a guy named Che Pope who had recently been brought on to help run things at G.O.O.D. I played one song for Che (“Paradise”) and a couple days later I was in Paris with Kanye, who offered to sign me on the spot after meeting me and hearing my music.”
McDermott’s label experience has been particularly enlightening as to what it’s like to have Kanye West’s backing. Not only does it reveal that it’s not a magic pill, but often that the onus is still on the artists themselves to establish an upward career trajectory.
“I would say it’s mostly perception,” McDermott said of inking to the label. “There are a lot of things that go along with getting signed, especially to a notable personality like Kanye. In your own internal process you think, ‘Now [you] have to redefine [yourself] under these new terms; but then I think you realize you don’t. I’m signed and I was put in this position because I’m me and that’s what I’m here to be.”
He also added the idea that many artists felt like they needed to redefine their music when it was the original material that put he/she/them on West’s radar.
“It’s funny because you’re literally the same person making music the same way as you always were,” he said. “Ultimately it’s a blessing, but when someone like Kanye puts his stamp on something people think it must be [a certain way], but it’s exactly what it was before the stamp. I’m grateful because it’s a blessing to have that, because it helps in getting people behind something, but ultimately I hope people hear [my music] for what it is.”
Although McDermott has failed to release an album, he did receive writing credits on West’s “Wolves” off The Life of Pablo.
Teyana Taylor has been poised to break out in a major way since inking to Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak imprint in February 2007. Although the partnership resulted in a tepidly received debut mixtape, From a Planet Called Harlem, Kanye West still saw enough to bring her over to G.O.O.D. Music after having her do additional vocals on “Dark Fantasy” and “Hell of a Life” from his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — as well as a verse on “Christmas In Harlem” from a string of G.O.O.D. Friday releases.
Soon after, Taylor would contribute to the Cruel Summer compilation on songs “To the World,” “Sin City” and “Bliss.”
Despite the key placements, her major label debut, VII, managed to sell only 24,000 copies after three weeks.
Prior to his 2015 signing, HXLT was a stalwart of Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene — alongside the likes of The Cook Kids, Mic Terror and Million Dollar Mano — and known as “Hollywood Holt.”
His first major entrance into the popular culture realm came on the production side when he created the music for a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” which would ultimately be performed by Beyoncé and Andre 3000 for the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby.
Even though he had a much more established hip-hop pedigree, HXLT illustrated very early on that he was much more interested in crafting a project more in line with the sensibilities of Joy Division than other rappers coming out.
His self-titled debut released in the spring of 2015 and was derided by most critics — with Pitchfork remarking, “some of this stuff is brutal.”
Desiigner is a name that is still fresh in the mind of many due in large part to his song “Panda” which was later repurposed into “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” off West’s The Life of Pablo.
Riding the way of the infectious hit, the Brooklyn rapper released his mixtape, New English, in the summer of 2016. The project was universally derided by critics for its derivative content and his attempt to mimic/mime the same qualities of “Panda” which had plucked him from obscurity.
While he has a planned G.O.O.D. Music album slated for a summer release, to this point, it feels like a case of Kanye West wanting “Panda” on his album so badly that promising him a deal to do so wasn’t out of the question.
Desiigner’s first experience with West involved the latter playing him a finished version of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2.”
“I didn’t have to go in there, do more takes or nothing,” he told The Fader. “He just took my song and was like, ‘I love it.'”
It remains to be seen if Desiigner turns into a certifiable act or if he goes the way of other artists who were signed off the strength of a single popular record like J-Kwon (So-So Def/Arista), Trinidad Jame$ (Interscope), Soulja Boy (Interscope) or Chief Keef (Interscope) — whose “I Don’t Like” was repurposed by West in a similar manner as Desiigner’s “Panda.”
Kacy Hill is the next artist to see if she can break a string of misses for G.O.O.D. Music. The early indication and buzz suggests she is poised to breakout in a major way.
In the past, West has seemed to lose interest in projects/artists when they don’t immediately strike a chord.
With Kacy Hill, her 2015 EP, Bloo, seemed to only strengthen his desire to push her even harder and to even come on board as an executive producer for her debut, Like a Woman.
Whether it was his own strong personal beliefs, or strong cosigns by peers like Travi$ Scott who featured Hill on “90210” or Kid Cudi who did the same on”Releaser,” West’s involvement seems to heavily suggest that her career isn’t a “wait and see” experiment.
When departing G.O.O.D. Music in 2014, Common seemed to suggest that there were no hard feelings, but that West wasn’t always there in a creative capacity — even for those as established as the Chicago emcee — with whom he had an extensive past work relationship with.
“I think his focus was somewhere else…Marriage, life, good places,” Common said.
Kanye West’s life hasn’t grown any less complicated in subsequent years. This suggests that his involvement in Kacy Hill’s career isn’t just a roof over her head; he’s given her the actual keys to the castle.
- Featured/Main Image: Team Kanye Daily