If Kanye West never became the era-defining artist he is, he would still be known and celebrated for his role as the man who pushed Jay Z back to the top of the mountain. In 2000 after a decent track record of success supplying beats for the likes of Foxy Brown and Goodie Mob, West was brought in as an in-house producer for Roc-A-Fella Records. Almost immediately he, along with fellow producers Just Blaze and Timbaland, got down to work on their boss’ newest record, The Blueprint. While Hova’s four previous albums had been huge commercial successes, they failed to live up to the reputation and critical acclaim of Jigga Man’s first release, Reasonable Doubt. In August 2001, Jay Z released the first single from his latest record, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” produced by West. The track went on to become Mr. Carter’s first Top 10 hit, and solidified his position as the biggest name in hip-hop. It also marked the first of many occasions in the years to follow where West would use his talents for production to lift his mentor to the top of the charts.
As one of the preeminent street poets in rap, Common’s roots extend deep into the musical underground. The Chicago native received his first taste of mainstream success in 2000 with his fourth album, Like Water For Chocolate, produced by the acclaimed Soulquarian outfit headed up by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. The album broke through into the Top 20 on the charts and introduced Common to a much larger audience. Two years later he released the follow up, Electric Circus, that, while a critical success, failed to live up to commercial performance expectations. Shortly thereafter, Common signed onto West’s new label GOOD Music and tapped ’Ye to produce his next record. The end result, Be, performed well beyond expectations, peaking at No. 2 thanks to the rapper’s socially conscious message delivered on top of Yeezy’s infectious beats. The duo linked up again two years later for Common’s next solo release, Finding Forever, which remains the rapper’s sole No. 1 album.
From his 1990s beginnings as half of the acclaimed rap duo Playaz Circle, Tauheed Epps found a great deal of success for himself writing and delivering flows under the pseudonym Tity Boi. In 2007, with an assist from Lil Wayne, the duo scored big with their Top-20 hit “Duffle Bag Boy,” and they seemed poised for greater things. Alas, as one might imagine, a name like Tity Boi carries with it a certain glass ceiling from which one can never really hope to overcome when trying to win over the hearts and minds of the heartland. So it was with a heavy heart in 2011 that Epps bid adieu to his former moniker and assumed the name 2 Chainz. A modestly successful mixtape titled T.R.U. REALigion followed shortly thereafter, but the world didn’t formally accept both of Epps’ chains until his brilliant verse on West’s Cruel Summer No. 1 hit single “Mercy.” Always eager to help a friend, West even went on to solidify his cohort’s position as one of the biggest names in the game when he co-produced and appeared on the rapper’s second Top-10 solo single, “Birthday Song.”
After ’Ye and Common, Twista is probably the most acclaimed rapper to come out of Chicago. Known for his rapid-fire style of delivery, Twista earned a name for himself early in his career after being recognized by the Guinness Book Of World Records for being the faster rapper alive. Twista experienced a decent level of success throughout the latter half of the ’90s culminating with his 1997 release Adrenaline Rush. After that, the hyper-speed rapper put his solo career on hold to form the Chicago rap outfit Speedknot Mobstaz. The group’s first record, Mobstability, managed to make it to No. 34 on the Billboard charts in 1998, while its 2000 follow-up, Mostability II: Nation Business failed to chart at all. It was then that Twista apparently decided to get back to his solo career and partnered up with an up-and-coming West for the single “Slow Jamz.” The song went on to be a runaway success and provided each artist with his first No. 1. Twista’s subsequent record, Kamikaze, went on to peak the charts as well.
Most people were first introduced to Talib Kweli in 1997 when he, along with Mos Def, hit the stage as the rap duo Black Star. The pair managed to release one record together, Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star, in 1998 to modest acclaim before going their separate ways. Kweli then worked with DJ Hi-Tek on Train Of Thought, which garnered a great deal of critical praise but failed to make the sort of commercial impact that was hoped for. Not too long afterward, at something of a career impasse, Kweli began plotting his first solo album, turning to young Roc-A-Fella producer West for ideas. Ultimately, they managed to cook up the track “Get By,” which provided just the right spark to breath new life into Kweli’s career. Five years later, the two teamed up again, with West providing the Kweli with a couple of additions to his No. 2 charting record Eardrum.
By 2006, ’70s motorcycle stunt maven Evel Knieval wasn’t exactly on the general public’s radar anymore. That changed when West released the video for the fourth single from his sophomore release, Late Registration, in which he portrayed a figure named Evel Kanyeval. In the video West aped much of the stuntman’s iconic red, white, and blue aesthetic, even going as far as to mock his famed failed jump over the Snake River Canyon in 1974. Knievel, who had a reputation leaning toward ornery, wasn’t amused and sued West for copyright infringement. The whole thing made for one of the oddest beefs in rap history, but the matter was settled the following year and the two men even met and posed for a photo just days before Knieval’s death in November 2007. While the legal wrangling surely couldn’t have been pleasant for either party at the time, it did have the result of affording Knieval one last moment in the spotlight he so desperately loved.