We were never supposed to hear Kanye West rhyming or Jamie Foxx singing on “Gold Digger.”
“He did that beat a while before the movie ['Ray'] was even thought of,” West’s A&R rep, Patrick “Plain Pat” Reynolds, said of the song many thought was conceived after West saw Foxx’s Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles. “He did the beat at Ludacris’ house in Atlanta and he did it for Shawnna. She passed on it, actually. I’m not sure why.”
Originally the song, nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy, was meant to appear on rapper Shawnna’s 2004 debut, Worth Tha Weight. West had tailor-made the now-famous “Gold Digger” hook for the female MC to spit in the first person: “I’m not sayin’ I’m a gold digger, but I ain’t messin’ with no broke n—as …”
With fate leaving “Gold Digger” in the hands of its creator, West began to write his verses. The second verse, which starts with “18 years, 18 years,” was made up years ago as well. In fact, Kanye used to rap the verse in early 2004 while on tour promoting his debut album, The College Dropout. The first verse was written later in the year while Kanye was on Usher’s Evolution Tour and the original third verse was culled from an unreleased record called “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” which Kanye had rapped on and produced for the St. Lunatics’ Murphy Lee. It wasn’t until just about a year later, right before the “Gold Digger” singles were being pressed up and sent to radio, that Kanye decided to write a new third verse.
“We had the mastering studio and the regular studio right next to each other,” Plain Pat remembered. “We did that at Sony [studios in New York]. We were recording things and walking it over to master. We’d be going back and forth for a week straight up until we cut the final part. We made changes up until the end — that’s why a lot of the credits on the album are f—ed up, because the artwork was done and we were making changes.”
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The idea to make Jamie Foxx a part of “Gold Digger,” which had initially used a sample of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” came after West went to see “Ray” with his friend John Mayer.
“It was the natural thing,” Pat explained. “If we couldn’t clear the sample, we were going to use Jamie. There’s actually a version with Jamie singing all the way through the song. It’s good, but it didn’t feel the same because we had to replay the instruments too.
“Jamie went in the booth and recorded a whole bunch of takes,” Reynolds continued. “The beginning — ‘She takes my mon-eeee’ — was an ad lib. It was actually a lot dirtier. But after he recorded it, Jamie like, ‘Y’all can’t use that.’ He was cursing on it.”
Late Registration‘s co-producer, Jon Brion, put some extra sounds on “Gold Digger” during his first session with Kanye, and the two knew right away they had a good working chemistry.
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“When Kanye hears something he likes, he knows it,” Brion divulged. “I would just lay out on any given song a bunch of different options of ways it would go. He’d be like, ‘I like this, I like this and I like this.’ I’d be like, ‘Great, we’ll focus on those things.’ For me, it’s easy to take any given piece and push it in a million different directions. It’s not hard to do. What you need is the artist who has these visions of what they like and what they don’t like and stand by it. I think he kind of got used to asking crazy things of me and me making them for him and then him deciding whether he wanted them or not.
“I’m fond of it all,” Brion said about the songs on the album. “I’m a fan of the guy. I’ve loved watching him work.”
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