Kanye West is an icon. Despite his polarising nature, ensuring you either love him or loathe him — Ye is a true creative genius. No matter the context of genre, generation or style, most would struggle to talk down West’s achievements as an artist. There’s a case to be made for the enigmatic producer-turned-rapper to be labelled as one of the most influential contemporary artists on the planet, and his repertoire of material speaks for itself. But where he found fame was in making creative beats, taking samples from across the musical spectrum. It makes sense then, perhaps, that his favourite song of all time is a rock classic from Jimi Hendrix.
West’s career saw him begin life in the music industry as a producer, working his way up the hip-hop ladder quickly after word spread of his futuristic approach to beat creation. It was an ethos that allowed West to become one of the most sought after producers in the world. He did so by regularly showcasing his ear for a classic beat, retro sample or niche reference. It’s what made his music stand out from the identikit hip hop of the 2000s.
Ye knew his way around a beat and transferred his creative energy into every project. It was a frenetic style that has since seen the Chicagoan rapper drop from hip hop icon to polarising pop star. Much of that divided opinion is based on his inability to stop supporting himself. It makes the fact his favourite ever song isn’t one of his own extremely surprising.
No, instead, Ye’s favourite song is a rock classic from Jimi Hendrix and his enigmatic cover of Bob Dylan anthem ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Speaking with Harper’s Bazaar, Ye noted that his favourite song of all time was: “‘All Along the Watchtower.’ The Jimi Hendrix cover.” Though it may seem strange for the hip hop pioneer to lean on a rock giant for his favourite track, the rapper has actually compared himself to Hendrix on numerous occasions, including when speaking to W magazine: “Visiting my mind is like visiting the Hermès factory. Shit is real. You’re not going to find a chink. It’s 100,000 per cent, Jimi Hendrix.”
The original of Ye’s favourite song featured as part of Bob Dylan’s LP John Wesley Harding, and it has been included on most of Dylan’s subsequent greatest hits compilations—ranking as one of his most beloved songs among many of his fans. In fact, since the late seventies, he has performed it in concert more than any of his other songs, which when you consider the freewheelin’ troubadour’s long-running track record for barely playing or entirely avoiding, ‘the hits’ is no mean feat.
An impresario of his instrument in many ways, Hendrix was a maestro on the guitar, but he was also a perfectionist. The artist was known to spend hours and hours deciphering minute details into more discernible patterns. He created new soundscapes that some would never and only those with an expert ear would catch a glimpse of. It was the kind of uniqueness that makes him still adored to this day.
It was claimed that Hendrix could hear so many more differentiations on the notes that others simply couldn’t pick up. It was this pursuit of perfection, coupled with an undeniably tuned-in spirit, that made him the greatest guitarist to have ever lived. With that talent, he could take this, and frankly any other song, and make it entirely his own. Dylan said of Hendrix’s version; “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
Listen to Kanye West’s favourite rock song, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ below.