The Neptunes and Timbaland get all the ink, but the thinking man's hot producer in recent times has been Kanye West.
The 26-year-old beatmaker's stock has been rising lately — thanks to his work on Ludacris' "Stand Up" and his collaborations with Jay-Z on The Black Album — and it only looks to go higher. A slate of new projects is on the way, including a long-in-the-works solo album.
Most recently, Kanye has been working in the studio with Common on the follow-up to last year's Electric Circus. "He'll always be in L.A., and I'm always in L.A., so he'll come by the studio and we'll work," West said of the sessions.
Common is only in the beginning stages of putting together his album, but Kanye already has a vision of where he wants to take the lyricist. "We just gonna bring it back to the 'Resurrection' days," he said, referencing Common's breakout single from 1994. "We're making a lot of groundbreaking music, I think. He's really picky about his stuff, just like Jay."
The Kanye-produced "Stand Up" helped propel Ludacris' Chicken-N-Beer to #1 on the albums chart this week (see "Feels Like A #1 Album Is Hanging From Luda's Necklace"), and Alicia Keys hopes Kanye can work the same magic with her. He produced the first single from her upcoming The Diary of Alicia Keys, a sexy track about a smitten crush called "You Don't Know My Name" (see "Alicia Keys Mulls Over First Single; Nas Predicts Saddam Misfortune On New Track").
The star-quotient rises even higher next week, when Kanye will hit the studio with Janet Jackson to work on a song or two for her upcoming album. "I don't want to talk about it before it comes out," he said coyly, "but it'll be unbelievable."
Kanye's most vital asset has been his versatility. He's able to work with less mainstream artists like Dead Prez but still turn around and work with Jay-Z. He hopes that'll help propel his own projects — New York singer John Legend and rapper Consequence, as well as his own solo album, College Dropout, due January 27 (see "Producer Kanye West's Debut LP Features Jay-Z, ODB, Mos Def").
Of course, everyone wants to know about Jay-Z's swan song, due November 28 (see "Jay-Z Strays From His Blueprint For Black Album"). Kanye, a favorite of Jay's, doesn't want to give away anything about the album, but he did say he produced two tracks, "Encore" and "Lucifer." About the former, he said, "When you hear the horns, it sounds like the last time you'll ever hear Jay rap. It almost brings a tear to your eye when you hear it."
So can we assume "Encore" will be the last song on Jay's last album? "Maybe," Kanye said with a laugh. "But when you assume, you make and ass out of you and me."