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Never Let Me Down (Kanye West song)

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"Never Let Me Down"
Song by Kanye West featuring Jay-Z and J. Ivy
from the album The College Dropout
ReleasedFebruary 10, 2004
StudioBaseline Recording
(New York, New York)
The Record Plant
(Hollywood, California)
Larrabee Sound North
(Los Angeles, California)
GenreHip hop

"Never Let Me Down" is a song by American rapper and producer Kanye West, that features Jay-Z and J. Ivy, from West's debut studio album The College Dropout (2004). It was released as the album's eight track, produced solely by West and samples "Maybe It's the Power of Love" by Blackjack.[1] Within the song, one verse is included from West and so is one from Ivy, whose verse is a poem, whilst Jay has two verses. Music critics mostly had praise for it, but tended to view Jay's appearance in a negative light. In 2011, Billboard listed the song as the second greatest collaboration between Kanye and Jay. Although an accompanying music video wasn't ever produced for "Never Let Me Down", the audio of it was used in one of West's videos for "Jesus Walks". The song has managed to develop a significant legacy over time, despite never being released as a single.

Background[edit | edit source]

Ivy revealed that he originally knew West from Chicago, but was reintroduced to him in Jersey shortly before they collaborated on the track.[2] He got a call from Coodie at 11pm on December 7, 2002 about being part of the song, in which Coodie said to him: "J, you need to get to L.A. Kanye got this song with him and Jay Z and he wants to put a poet on it. I told him he had to put J. Ivy on it." and Ivy was initially like: "Stop bullshitting", before Coodie played it for him over the phone from Record Plant in Hollywood, California.[3] At the time, Ivy had feelings of excitement about being on the record, not only because of: 'knowing that [West] was taking off to superstardom at the time', but also because he thought of Jay as: 'one of the greatest of all time'.[4] After penning his verse, Ivy called Coodie and rapped to him over the phone, then he put Ivy on speaker phone to rap his verse again once Coodie went in the other room with people in it and the people in there reacted positively to Ivy's verse - this lead to him rapping it over, over, over and over again to them.[3]

Release[edit | edit source]

On the original track list of The College Dropout, "Never Let Me Down" was number fourteen, instead of number eight as it stands on the official release.[5][6] When the album was released, West referenced featuring artist Jay-Z in the booklet's list of 'Thanx' by crediting: 'Jay 4 blowin me up'.[1] Despite a music video never being released, part of the song is played during the ending of the second version of three videos for West's 2004 single "Jesus Walks", which comes one position before it on the album's track list.[7][6] Ivy performed a poetry style rendition of his verse for the Season 5 opener of Russell Simmons presents HBO Def Poetry in 2006, which was only performed live and never part of any release by the rapper.[8] The verse being performed by Ivy for this opener was appropriate, since he considers it to be a poem.[4]

Sample[edit | edit source]

Within the track, American band Blackjack's 1980 song "Maybe It's the Power of Love" is sampled.[1] In February 2015, band member Michael Bolton recalled clearing the sample at the time, revealing that he required the artists to send him the lyrics first to see if the content was worthy of his approval - in the end, Bolton believed that: 'the song turned out beautifully' and he's 'totally happy with it'.[9] Bolton actually took to the online site Rap Genius and annotated the song.[9] However, it was also revealed by Bolton that he didn't know who Kanye and Jay were when he first found out that they were trying to license "Maybe It's the Power of Love", until his daughters told him: "They're like the biggest rappers in the business, dad." - Bolton himself even admitted to being out of touch during this time.[10]

Lyrics[edit | edit source]

Jay-Z has two verses on "Never Let Me Down"

The first of the two verses by Jay is recycled from his 2002 song "Hovi Baby" (Remix), whilst the last is an entirely new verse.[11] Ivy's verse is a poem that he wrote in a notebook, which Ivy claimed was something that he turned to God and prayed for.[4] The lines rapped in West's verse: "Nothing sad as that day my girl's father passed away/So I promised to Mr. Rainey I'm gonna marry your daughter" mark a promise that he didn't keep, since the rapper went on to marry Kim Kardashian in 2014 rather than Sumeke Rainey.[12] Within the verse, West raps the line: "Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin' it", which went on to be one of his most quoted lyrics.[13] The 2002 car accident involving West is referenced by him with the line: "I know I got angels watching me from the other side", which is a subject he mostly touches on in debut single "Through the Wire".[14]

Recording[edit | edit source]

On February 13, 2014, a video surfaced online from 2003 of West rapping his verse to Pharrell in the studio, as well as singing along with the sample and Pharrell clearly showed excitement after hearing the rap from him.[15] The verse was actually recorded by West on the night of the Madison Square Garden show by Jay that he wasn't invited to.[16] Ivy rapped his verse on speaker phone to West and others on December 7, 2002, then flew over to Hollywood to join them in recording via West's request.[3] It was revealed by Tarry Torae that West set up a little studio section in his living room during the recording of "Never Let Me Down" and Torae ended up recording two or three songs in the night of this session, one of which was "My Way" which ended up on West's mixtape Freshmen Adjustment (2004).[2][17] When it comes to Jay's appearance on the track, John Monopoly revealed that he recorded for it literally two days before mastering of the featuring album - however, Jay had confirmed to give West a feature before it was even known which track he'd be part of.[3]

Reception[edit | edit source]

Critical response[edit | edit source]

"Never Let Me Down" received positive reviews from the majority of music critics, though most tended to have praise for West's work and express negativity towards Jay's contributions. Paul Cantor of Billboard had mixed views towards the song, describing Jay's presence as being where he "phones in a verse about making number one albums", but praising the rest of it for being "about overcoming racism and undefeatable odds".[18] Rob Mitchum of Pitchfork felt negatively about Jay's contributions too, labelling his appearance as him "already sounding groggy from retirement".[19] Jay's content was viewed as paling in comparison to that of West by Dave Heaton of PopMatters, since he described the song as "where Jay-Z rhymes about attaining status and power, Kanye one-ups him with a show-stopping attack on racism and meditation on death".[20] The staff of HipHopDX actually put Jay forward as being better than West on the song but didn't lack praise for either rapper, writing that "Jay-Z drops 2 incredible verses on [Never Let Me Down] with Kanye not far behind delivering the verse of his career."[21] It was viewed by Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine as being one of the album tracks where West "proves he can flow with the best of them".[22]

Accolades[edit | edit source]

HotNewHipHop placed it at number 48 on their list of West's 50 best songs.[23] On Complex's list of his 100 best songs, the track was ranked at number 82.[24] "Never Let Me Down" was listed by Billboard as being the second greatest Jay and Kanye collaboration in August 2011, post-release of their collaborative album Watch the Throne.[25]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The video of West rapping "Never Let Me Down" to Pharrell from 2003 actually surfaced online within the same week as the tenth anniversary of The College Dropout and it was regarded as a classic track by this point.[15] Ivy's appearance on it has been regarded as one of the most significant moments of his career.[26] West's lyrics: "I get down for my grandfather/Who took my mama/Made her sit in that seat where white folks didn't want us to eat/At the tender age of six, she was arrested for the sit-ins/And with that in my blood, I was born to be different" were viewed by Spin in 2014 as showing "heavenly inspiration and scrappy determination", which was claimed for West to still be showing nine years later in his 2013 track "I Am a God".[11] When Ben Westhoff of The Guardian published an article in April 2015 that ranked the album at number one in West's discography, the song was the end of what he called "as powerful a sequence as I've ever heard on record".[27] In July 2016, a poetic analysis of "Never Let Me Down" was published by Kenneth Braggs to Prezi, which looked in detail at its lyrical content.[28] Ivy blogged in celebration of The College Dropout's 13th anniversary on February 10, 2017 and shared the original page with his lyrics scribbled down, alongside various notes.[8]

Personnel[edit | edit source]

Information taken from The College Dropout liner notes.[1]

  • Songwriters: Kanye West, Shawn Carter, James Richardson, Michael Bolton, Bruce Kulick
  • Record producer: Kanye West
  • Recorders: Gimel "Guru" Keaton, Anthony Kilhoffer, Brent Kolanto, Jacelyn Parry, Rabeka Tunei
  • Mix engineer: Manny Marroquin
  • Keyboards: Ervin "EP" Pope
  • Guitars: Glen Jefferey

Cinematic version[edit | edit source]

"Never Let Me Down (Cinematic)"
Song by Kanye West
ReleasedMarch 22, 2005
GenreHip hop

On March 22, 2005, The College Dropout Video Anthology was released, which features a bonus audio CD with a cinematic version of "Never Let Me Down" as a track on it.[29]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 The College Dropout (Media notes). Kanye West. Roc-A-Fella Records. 2004. 986 173-9.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ahmed, Isanuel (February 10, 2014). "The Making of Kanye West's "The College Dropout"". Complex. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Ramirez, Erika (February 5, 2014). "Kanye West's 'The College Dropout': An Oral History". Billboard. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Lamarre, Eddy (September 12, 2016). "J. Ivy talks poetry and dealing with emotions". Rolling Out. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  5. Garrison, Lucas (January 25, 2016). "Kanye's Early 'College Dropout' Tracklist Will Blow Your Mind". DJBooth. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "The College Dropout - Kanye West". AllMusic. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  7. West, Kanye (December 24, 2009). "Kanye West - Jesus Walks (Version 2)". YouTube. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "The College Dropout Anniversary". J. Ivy. February 10, 2017. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Burgess, Omar (February 28, 2015). "Michael Bolton Recalls Clearing A Sample For Kanye West's And Jay Z". The Urban Daily. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  10. illersss (January 25, 2017). "Michael Bolton Admits "I Didn't Know Who Jay Z and Kanye West When They Licensed My Song"". WhoSampled. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  11. 11.0 11.1 ""Never Let Me Down" - Kanye West - 6". SPIN. February 2, 2014. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  12. Charity, Justin (March 4, 2015). "10 Other People Kanye West Should Apologize to in 2015". Complex. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  13. Mojica, Nicholas (November 18, 2016). "7 Times Kanye West Spoke About Racism". IBTimes. Yahoo News UK. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  14. Cush, Andy (September 15, 2016). "Here's Definitive Proof That Kanye's "Through the Wire" Accident Wasn't Faked". SPIN. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Smith, Trevor (February 13, 2014). "Kanye West Raps "Never Let Me Down" For Pharrell For The First Time". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  16. Ahmed, Insanuel (February 11, 2014). "15 Things You Didn't Know About Kanye West's "The College Dropout"". Complex. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  17. "Freshmen Adjustment - Kanye West". AllMusic. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  18. Cantor, Paul (February 10, 2014). "Kanye West's 'The College Dropout' at 10: Classic Track-by-Track Review". Billboard. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  19. Mitchum, Rob (February 20, 2004). "Kanye West: The College Dropout Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  20. Heaton, Dave (March 4, 2004). "Kanye West: The College Dropout". PopMatters. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  21. J-23 (February 13, 2004). "Kanye West - College Dropout". HipHopDX. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  22. Clinquemani, Sal (April 30, 2004). "Kanye West The College Dropout". Slant Magazine. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  23. Schwartz, Danny (February 15, 2018). "Top 50 Best Kanye West Songs". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  24. Barber, Andrew; Klinkenberg, Brendan; Scarno, Ross (January 5, 2018). "The 100 Best Kanye West Songs". Complex. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  25. "'Watch The Throne': Jay-Z and Kanye West's 10 Best Collaborations". Billboard. August 4, 2011. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  26. "About". J. Ivy. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  27. "I love every Kanye West album – so I've ranked them, from great to really great". The Guardian. April 15, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  28. Braggs, Kenneth (July 28, 2016). "The Poetic Analysis of Never Let Me Down by on Prezi". Prezi. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  29. "Kanye West - College Dropout: Video Anthology". Amazon. Retrieved November 1, 2018.

External links[edit | edit source]

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