Kanye West Is Why Rappers Love Coldplay
As Graduation became the producer-rapper’s crossover record, “Homecoming” was a prime example of how that came to be.
“I told Jay I had a song with Coldplay / Next thing I know, he got a song with Coldplay,” Kanye West raps on “Big Brother,” the closing track to 2007’s Graduation, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. West’s conflicted ode to his then-mentor Jay-Z was, indeed, a swipe at the veteran rapper when he came out of retirement with 2006's Kingdom Come. The closing track is the Chris Martin collaboration “Beach Chair,” a song so dour and anti-climactic that West's grudge against Hov seemed absurd.
Prior to “Beach Chair,” West had logged his own time with the Coldplay frontman on “Homecoming.” This track may not be the first to spring to mind when it comes to Graduation — that honor may fall to the Daft Punk–sampling “Stronger,” or “Good Life” featuring T-Pain, or “Can't Tell Me Nothing.” But “Homecoming” is important because of how West demands we take him seriously — not just as a hip-hop artist, but as a pop and rock star. Given its platinum status, and how a lot of rappers still want a piece of Coldplay today, the world clearly took notice.
West once explained “Homecoming” by telling Clash in 2004, “Sometimes God just brings collaborations together and delivers music to the world. I just serve as a vessel.” “Homecoming” was a natural succession of what was another one of these divine guest spots. For his 2001 demo mixtape, West got together with John Legend before either were famous. They recorded the song “Home (Windy),” a song about how West felt guilty leaving his native Chicago to pursue stardom. “Home” was adapted for West’s next mixtape. Then finally, a couple years later, he and Martin re-recorded the song as “Homecoming” after they randomly ran into each other at London's Abbey Road Studios. West was so pleased by the end result, he told Billboard that “Homecoming” would be Graduation's lead single.
“Can't Tell Me Nothing” and “Stronger” were pushed as the lead Graduation singles instead, though even critics liked “Homecoming” because of its Elton John–inspired piano motif and naked honesty — how it sounds like 'Ye taking off his shutter shades to level with us, even if from the O2 Arena stage.
It may be tough to imagine West and Martin as kindred spirits. But both artists were making their stadium ambitions clear at the time. In 2005, critics skewered the pop-rock band’s third album X&Y for being “more concerned with its very bigness than with meaning something,” as The Guardian put it. West opened for U2 during their international Vertigo tour for dates in 2005 and 2006. “Stadium music is from the UK. You have people like Coldplay. There are no American stadium bands apart from me right now,” he told Clash.
By the time Graduation dropped, Swizz Beatz had sampled Coldplay twice. 50 Cent, whose album Curtis would lose the release date showdown against Graduation, riffed on the British group’s “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” in “God Gave Me Style.”
And since “Homecoming” (and “Beach Chair,” technically) hip-hop's love for Coldplay has grown moreso. Rappers ranging from Joe Budden to Shawty Lo and California backpack group Pac Div have all sampled the Brits. Jay-Z guests on a remix of “Lost!,” off X&Y follow-up Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, making its live debut at the 2009 Grammy Awards. In a 2009 survey of the best working act in music today, Busta Rhymes volunteered Coldplay (along with Lil Wayne). Chance the Rapper has covered “Fix You” in concert. Timbaland was one of several producers who worked with Coldplay on 2014’s Ghost Stories, while Big Sean almost featured the band in this year's I Decided.
The number of rap acts citing Coldplay as an influence have also grown. Take Lil Yachty: To further distinguish himself from his fellow, more trap-minded peers from inside Atlanta's perimeter, he pointed to his upbringing. “I kinda grew up on the outside of the suburbs, listening to Coldplay and shit, which they don’t fuck with. So that’s why my music is so much different. And open,” Yachty said to The Guardian in May. What Yachty apparently didn’t know is that back in 2014, Future — one of Atlanta’s biggest rap stars, from inside the perimeter — listed the band among the other “greats” (Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix). “The way he expresses his words through his melody. It's incredible,” the Dungeon Family descendant once said of Chris Martin on “Paradise.” Future’s “Blood, Sweat, Tears” video, where he walks from dusk to dawn, may as well be a “Yellow” remake. “#Coldplay legendary forever,” he tweeted last year.
While Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz duet with Future “My Darlin'” interpolates Ben E. King's 1961 soul classic “Stand By Me,” the song’s producer Mike Will Made-It cited a completely different influence. “That beat originally had all live drums and sounded real anthemic,” he said to Noisey. “It was kind of like a Coldplay feel, because Coldplay is one of my favorite bands. I just try to bring stuff my way. I feel like we're in the generation now where people listen to all types of music.” Such wide-ranging taste has since paid off: This year Future showcased his full range with 2017's back-to-back chart-topping Future and Hndrxx, while Mike Will, Rae Sremmurd, and Gucci Mane scored their first No. 1 record with the rock-leaning “Black Beatles.”
Graduation was West extending his reach with an iPod shuffle–inspired guest list. It featured New York hip-hop greats (DJ Premier, Jay-Z) among the South’s increasingly in-demand stars (Lil Wayne, Jeezy, T-Pain), plus samples from varied icons like Daft Punk, Steely Dan, and Can. “Homecoming” was another example of how West made his crossover success seem inevitable.
Over the past year, hip-hop surpassed rock as the most popular genre in America. Modern rock rarely cracks Pollstar’s list of top 50 selling tours. Yet Coldplay has thrived in an era where “rock music has been done,” in Martin’s own words.
For this band, nothing seems too absurd or out of reach. West’s mentee Big Sean combined with Coldplay on “Miracles (Someone Special)” for their Kaleidoscope EP from July. This came two years after the band featured uncredited vocals from Beyoncé on "Hymn for the Weekend" and “Up & Up,” off their most recent album A Head Full of Dreams. Martin’s explanation behind the latter song was simple: “If you want to do something just dream it up, make it happen. Whether you’re designing a train or wanting to put two of your favorite people on the same song that no one else would necessarily group together.” He sounds like he has been listening to Kanye West.