Heard 'Em Say

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"Heard 'Em Say"
Single by Kanye West featuring Adam Levine
from the album Late Registration
Released November 8, 2005
(see release history)
Recorded 2004; Sony Music Studios
(New York, New York)
Grandmaster Recording Studios
(Hollywood, California)
Length 3:23

Gold (RIAA)

Kanye West singles chronology
"Heard 'Em Say"
"Touch the Sky"
Adam Levine singles chronology
"Heard 'Em Say"
"Say It Again"

"Heard 'Em Say" is a song by American hip-hop artist Kanye West. It was released on November 8, 2005 as the third single for his second studio album, Late Registration. The song features Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, who sings its chorus and bridge. Co-produced by Jon Brion, the song contains samples of "Someone That I Used to Love" as performed by Natalie Cole. The refrain of "Heard 'Em Say" was later recycled for the Maroon 5 song "Nothing Lasts Forever" which appears on their 2007 album It Won't Be Soon Before Long.


Kanye West and Adam Levine had first collaborated when Maroon 5 commissioned West to remix "This Love."[1] The two later developed a friendship while sitting together on a flight to Rome for the 2004 MTV Europe Music Awards. While playing songs from his then-upcoming sophomore effort on his iPod for Levine, West came across the demo for "Heard 'Em Say", the very first track recorded for the album. "He was rhyming over it, and I had just written a hook that was so perfect for it. It was one of those natural collaborations where you're so excited because it's all very pure and very easy."[2] West himself initially hesitated slightly, as he felt the singer was a bit too popular for him, but came to be overwhelmed by the sheer prowess and quality of Levine's voice after overhearing his band rehearse backstage at the 47th Grammy Awards ceremony.[3]

Music structure and composition[edit]

"Heard 'Em Say" is a mid-tempo hip hop and R&B song. It is set in common time with a moderate tempo of 95 beats per minute and composed in the key of F major. The song begins with a medium tempo followed by its melody, a cascading piano medley provided by excerpts of "Someone That I Used To Love" as performed by Natalie Cole, laced over cluttered beats, warped bass and a slight mix of acoustic guitar.[4] Its chords are arranged in the progression of F9-Bbma7-Bb6 Aaug-F. West raps two verses within the song, both followed by a refrain which he delivers in tandem with Levine. The lyrics of "Heard 'Em Say" are constructed in verse-chorus form with a brief bridge after the second chorus. As the composition enters its coda, it acquires new musical aspects, exhibiting xylophone flourishes, quivery synth riffs, and twinkling foreign bells before reaching its conclusion.[5]

Lyrically, "Heard 'Em Say" is a "mournfully contemplative" song that "talks about being honest with yourself in a world that is not." The song is conceptually written from the perspective of an afflicted, impoverished American quietly lamenting the fallacies of society and questioning the ways of the world, swiftly touching on various social, economical, and religious issues along the way.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

"Heard 'Em Say" received critical acclaim and is often cited by fans and music critics alike as one of West's best songs. In a review of Late Registration, PopMatters described the song, saying, "With its sweet piano chords and Levine's gentle cooing, the track is probably the best hip-hop lullaby to come along since Slick Rick's 'Children's Story'. As Kanye preaches, 'Nothing's ever promised tomorrow, today.'"[7] Time magazine music critic Josh Tyrangiel listed "Heard 'Em Say" as one of the three best tracks on the album and characterized it as an "atmospheric ballad" which displayed "the stealthy power of West's storytelling."[8] Slant Magazine music reviewer Eric Henderson likened Adam Levine's falsetto delivery of the song's "delicate chorus" to that of a "butterfly singing" while Rolling Stone compared his vocal performance to that of Stevie Wonder.[9][10] Virgin Media reviewed the single as "an accomplished piece of production," commenting on its "poignant sample ... the cascading piano melody which runs throughout, alongside tumbling delayed beats, a parping bass synth and the odd interjection of subtle acoustic guitar."[4] Robert Christgau concurred with this sentiment and similarly voiced his approval of the complex yet subtle musicality of the composition, highlighting the Chinese bells and berimbau found in the coda.[5]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at one hundred and rose to number forty-seven for the issue dated November 19, 2005.[11] Over the next four weeks, the song climbed the chart and eventually reached its peak at number twenty-six on December 17.[12] The single remained in the position for two weeks before relapsing.[13] "Heard 'Em Say" debuted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number and reached its peak position in the seventeenth spot on the issue dated December 31.[14] It peaked at number thirty-four on the Pop 100 chart and at number twelve on Hot Rap Tracks.[15][16] "Heard 'Em Say" has since sold over half a million copies in the United States, earning a Gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.[17]

"Heard 'Em Say" entered the Irish Singles Chart at number twenty-six on the issue date of December 8, 2005.[18] The next week, the song dropped down eight spaces to number thirty-four.[19] In its third week on the chart, it yielded another slot and dropped to number thirty-five.[20] The song experienced a rebound in its fourth week, when it rose upwards again and reached number twenty-seven.[21] "Heard 'Em Say" rose once more to reach its peak at number twenty-three on the issue date of January 5, 2006.[22] In the United Kingdom, "Heard 'Em Say" debuted and peaked at number twenty-two on the issue date of December 11, 2005.[23] On the Australian Singles Chart, the song peaked in the twenty-seventh position on the issue dated January 23, 2006.[24] The song's highest chart performance occurred in Finland, where it charted at number ten for the issue date of March 1, 2006.[25] In New Zealand, "Heard 'Em Say" made its debut within the top twenty, entering and peaking on the chart at number fifteen on March 6.[26] "Heard 'Em Say" debuted at number ninety-five on the German Singles Chart on March 20, where it stayed for just one week before relapsing.[27]

Music videos[edit]

Kanye with his children in the original music video (left). Kanye, the young boy, and his mother as they appear in the alternate music video (right).

Two separate music videos were produced for "Heard 'Em Say," one live-action while the other was mostly animated. Filmed in Macy's flagship department store on 34th Street in New York, the original music video for "Heard 'Em Say" was directed by Michel Gondry.[2] Having been set to be released near the end of the year, the music video expressed a Christmas motif. It features Adam Levine as Macy's security guard and Kanye West as a homeless guardian of three young children who stay inside the store overnight.[28] Jon Brion, co-producer of the song, also made a brief appearance within the video, playing miniature pianos in the store's toy section. Using his signature special effects, Gondry created a surrealistic Christmas story within the seemingly living department store, where among other things, toys come to life, suits dance, and beds can be driven like cars. Shortly before the original video was to be premiered in mid-December, MTV pulled it from the schedule.

A second music video for "Heard 'Em Say" premiered on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on November 12, 2005 and in the United States on November 21.[29] The animated music video, which was co-directed by Bill Plympton and West, expresses grayscale pencil-sketch animation. West had watched and loved Plympton's work since his youth, saying that his images were important to him as a child.[30] The two later collaborated to create Through the Wire: Lyrics and Illuminations, a graphic book filled with illustrations based on West's song lyrics. To visually reproduce the tone of "Heard 'Em Say," Plympton depicted West as a taxicab driver working in a bleak, fictional city who picks up troubled passengers and eventually comes across a young boy and his mother. The animated segments are intercut with live-action scenes of West and Levine performing the song. According to Plympton, "The child is meant to represent Kanye as a young boy and the film is about his experiences."[30]

Live performances[edit]

Kanye performing "Heard Em Say" with Maroon 5.

Accompanied by a seventeen-piece, all-female string orchestra, West performed "Heard 'Em Say" live for an exclusive concert held at Abbey Road Studios in London, England on September 21, 2005.[31] The performance was recorded and later released on a live album titled Late Orchestration.[32] On October 1, West appeared with Adam Levine as a musical guest on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live where they performed the song together.[33] West included "Heard 'Em Say" within the setlist of his Touch the Sky Tour that took place in late 2005. During one of its stops in Universal City, California, Adam Levine was able to join West onstage to sing his portion of the song.[34] He performed the song for a pre-game concert held during VH1's Pepsi Smash Super Bowl Bash on February 2, 2006. Wearing a Detroit Pistons jacket, West introduced "Heard 'Em Say" by saying it was "my favorite song I ever worked on."[35] West performed the song at Santa Monica High School on December 5 for a concert promoting higher education sponsored by his charity foundation.[36] He played "Heard 'Em Say" during his appearance at the first day of Coachella 2006 in Indio, California, where he later on had A-Trak spin A-Ha's "Take on Me" while he danced onstage to the delight of the audience.[37] Backed only by a DJ and two backup singers, West performed "Heard 'Em Say" during his gig at Wango Tango on May 8, 2006.[38] West provided a performance of "Heard 'Em Say" during his set at Live Earth 2007.[39] On October 10, 2007, while Maroon 5 was playing "Nothing Last Forever" during a sold-out concert held inside Madison Square Garden, Adam Levine announced that he was to introduce "a good friend" to the stage, followed by a surprise guest appearance by West. To the delight of the audience, the two segued into a live rendition of "Heard 'Em Say."[40][41] West included "Heard 'Em Say" within the setlist of his Glow in the Dark Tour.[42] Near the end of the tour's North American leg, West performed the song during the final night of Lollapalooza 2008 in his hometown of Chicago, where he co-headlined the festival with Nine Inch Nails.[43]

Track listings[edit]


Information taken from Late Registration liner notes.[44]

  • Songwriters: Kanye West, Adam Levine, Michael Masser, Gerry Goffin
  • Producers: Kanye West, Jon Brion
  • Recorders: Andrew Dawson, Tom Biller
  • Mix engineer: Craig Bauer
  • Assistant engineers: Taylor Dow, Nate Connelly, Mike Mo
  • Additional vocals: Tony "Penafire" Williams