Recycled Sounds: Kanye Samples Steely Dan

Contemporary hip-hop's emphasis on sampling has its share of pitfalls (see: P. Diddy) but occasionally makes the old and forgotten seem wonderfully new and urgent. And given Kanye West's eclectic musical tastes, it's not surprising that a bunch of unexpected and esoteric samples pop up on his most recent effort, Graduation.

West's "Champion," in particular, anchors its hook on a triumphant-sounding lyric from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne," a single from their 1976 effort The Royal Scam It's there because it includes the word "champion" and is generally illustrative of West's declarations of his own musical prowess.

But in cribbing some lines from a pair of the most notoriously oblique lyricists in American pop music, I believe, West is doing more than creating a record that builds his appeal amongst the hipster set. He's created his own Royal Scam, an album for the dancefloor that also reflects a certain amount of cultural malaise. It's not difficult to trace the lineage of West's darker, more spastic narratives back to the arch sarcasm of Steely Dan ("Drunk and Hot Girls" certainly owes a little something to the Dan's irrationally exuberant ode to safe sex in the '70s, "The Fez").

Even if Kanye is all about cultivating a certain image, popularizing Venetian-blind sunglasses and appearing onstage with Peter Bjorn and John, his consciousness of his own place in the pop culture spectrum is enough to turn nearly anything he does into a riff on the bling-and-booty excess of mainstream hip-hop. Is Kayne the next Walter Becker or Donald Fagen? If his music continues to resonate with the current gangsta-weary, ironic zeitgeist, it might not be as odd as it sounds.
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