Stronger (Kanye West song)
|Single by Kanye West|
|from the album Graduation|
|Released||July 31, 2007|
|Kanye West singles chronology|
"Stronger" is a song by American rapper Kanye West, released as the second single from his third studio album, Graduation (2007). The production was handled by West, with an extended outro co-produced with Mike Dean. The composition is electronic in nature, employing synthesizers as its prominent instrument. For the track, West utilizes a vocal sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by French house duo Daft Punk. On "Stronger", West speaks about the resolve that comes when one is faced with adversity, with lyrics at the song's refrain that paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche's dictum "What does not kill me makes me stronger". West also describes "Stronger" as an "emancipation", using the track to vent his frustration over mistakes he made in the past year.
The song's production process was arduous, with West and his team mixing the track reportedly over 75 times, including after its release as a single. Although he worked with eight different audio engineers and eleven different mix engineers around the world for the track, West still felt dissatisfied with the results and decided to enlist the aid of record producer Timbaland in redoing its drum programming prior to the release of Graduation. West felt "Stronger" paled in comparison to the sampled original, but Daft Punk were delighted by the song, leading to future collaborations. The single's music video was directed by Hype Williams, features sci-fi imagery based on the 1988 anime film Akira, and was shot largely in Tokyo, Japan. Kanye West's use of shutter shades in the music video became a signature of his in the late 2000s.
Released as a single on July 31, 2007, "Stronger" would top the Billboard Hot 100 several weeks later, becoming West's third number-one single. It was a top ten single in ten countries, topping the charts in four of them, including the United Kingdom. The song won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 50th Grammy Awards, and was named as one of the best songs of the year by Rolling Stone and Spin. Its popularity has been accredited to not only encouraging other hip-hop artists to incorporate house and electronica elements into their music, but also for playing a part in the revival of disco and electro-infused music in the ensuing years. "Stronger" has since sold five million copies in the United States, and has been certified octupuble Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
- 1 Background
- 2 Recording
- 3 Composition
- 4 Release
- 5 Commercial performance
- 6 Reception
- 7 Music video
- 8 Cover versions and media usage
- 9 Legacy
- 10 Track listing
- 11 Personnel
- 12 Charts and certifications
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Prior to release, a portion of "Stronger" was first released in May 2007 on West's Can't Tell Me Nothing mixtape. On June 27, 2007, "Stronger" was put onto the BBC Radio 1 Up-Front playlist and was later upgraded to the A-List a month prior to its release. The single's front cover art was released on West's website on June 28, 2007. It was designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, whom Kanye West collaborated with to produce the artwork for Graduation. The cover artwork features a cartoon version of West's mascot "Dropout Bear" wearing sunglasses similar to those West wears in the music video, as well as the small, trademark robot helmets of the Daft Punk duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
"Stronger" musically derives from a vocal sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (2001) by French house duo Daft Punk. The use of the vocal sample was requested through Pedro Winter, Daft Punk's manager at the time. The sample was approved by the duo, who deeply enjoyed the track. West later met Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo at Lollapalooza. The recording sessions for "Stronger" was a turning point in the production process for West's third studio album Graduation, whereas West had been "aimlessly making songs" prior to this. The record began to take definite shape and form upon the creation of the track, which West released as the third album's second single, as well as around the filming of its accompanying music video, which was directed by music video director Hype Williams. The sci-fi imagery of the video inspired West to take his music in a more futuristic direction.
On July 3, 2007, West told Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 that although he believes "Stronger" is a great song, it does not compare to the sampled original. When asked about their take on hip-hop music and how rappers like West are suddenly fascinated their music, Bangalter replied that, "Hip-hop has always been exciting and interesting to us." Daft Punk went on to say that they were very delighted with how West's single turned out to be. The two had first heard the new song on Power 106 while on a San Francisco flight. As de Homem-Christo stated, "Our song had a good sound, but when [the radio DJ] put Kanye's record on, the sound was really fat. It sounds really big." De Homem-Christo also clarified, "It's not a collaboration in the studio, but the vibe of the music we do separately connected in what [West] did with the song."
"Stronger" was recorded in three different recording studios worldwide, including Ape Sounds in Tokyo, Sony Music Studios in New York City, and The Record Plant in Los Angeles. The track utilizes a vocal sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" (2001) by French house duo Daft Punk, which itself features a re-worked instrumental of "Cola Bottle Baby" (1979), a song by the funk keyboardist Edwin Birdsong. Daft Punk had added "a melodic chorus with a descending chord sequence," which was the basis for West's sample. West subsequently "slowed down and loosened the rhythm, and overdubbed pulsating synths, evocative rapping and singing." After the filming of the single's music video, which began before he had even written its second verse, West returned to the studio to redo parts of "Stronger" and various other tracks he recorded for the album, watching films such as Total Recall for more ideas. West worked on "Stronger" with eight different audio engineers and eleven different mix engineers around the world and recorded over fifty versions of the track.
The final version of the song is credited to Manny Marroquin, a producer who mixed West's debut album, The College Dropout (2004). West and Marroquin first worked on the song together for fourteen hours at Lazrrabee North Studios in Los Angeles, followed by four three-hour sessions at Battery Studios in New York. Much of the song's keyboards and electric guitar accompaniment were added in New York by Mike Dean and Lamar "Mars" Edwards. West's sampling of Daft Punk had left many glitches within the clip, which Marroquin corrected by lowering the volume for several milliseconds on each. In crafting the song's distinctive four-to-the-floor rhythm, West and Marroquin employed multi–band compression and extreme EQ. This was primarily to ensure that the single would play well in club atmospheres.
West mixed "Stronger" seventy-five times, as he could not seem to get the kick drum to sound precisely the way that he wanted it to, amongst other issues. Still feeling dissatisfied after hearing number-one hit single inside a club played alongside Timbaland's 2007 single "The Way I Are", which at that time was his favorite hip-hop beat, West decided to enlist the record producer to assist him in redoing the song's drum programming. In the end, Manny Marroquin and Kanye West auditioned twelve different kick drums, going back to the original — which is a mix of three kick drums — shortly before completing the track. The song's final arrangement in Pro Tools included over 100 layers. This completed version of "Stronger" contains a master use of Edwin Birdsong's "Cola Bottle Baby."
"Stronger" is a hip-hop song that lasts for a duration of five minutes and eleven seconds (5:11). The composition incorporates elements from a range of electronic music genres, including house, electro, techno and electronica. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Universal Music Publishing Group, "Stronger" is composed in the key of E-flat minor (E♭m) and set in the time signature of common time, with a moderate tempo of 104 beats per minute. The song follows a basic sequence of E♭m–D♭–A♭m7–C♭–B♭ as its chord progression. The stark musical composition is electronic in nature, employing distorted, layered synthesizers as its prominent instrument. The production of the track revolves around a vocoder-affected vocal sample of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by the French house duo Daft Punk. As one of the most musically complex arrangements on Graduation, West experiments with an elliptic song structure that makes extensive use of descending synth-bass and alternating backbeats.
The song starts with its refrain, where the cut-up sample of Daft Punk's robotic vocals can be heard at a decreased tempo. Following its introduction, West raps the refrain as the vocal sample is played continuously in the background. During the refrain, the track maintains a distinctive four-to-the-floor rhythmic pattern which takes cues from house-music. For the verses, West switches to a syncopated hip-hop beat; propulsive programmed drums replete with rumbling kick drums that stomps over the layered synths. He integrates additional vocal hooks into the song's bridge while also adjusting its refrain and at one interval includes an ad libitum. At its close, the track enters a flanging extended outro that contains a synth-heavy breakdown. It comes complete with abrasive keyboard stabs, operatic harmonies and somber electric guitars which chime in unison.
"Stronger" demonstrates an influence of house music and electro, evident in its four-on-the-floor rhythm and distorted, layered electronic synths. The track is built around a Daft Punk vocal sample over alternating backbeats and also showcases a blending of infectious hooks and West's forceful delivery.
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For the track, West ulitises an evocative rapping technique atop a thumping beat. Within two verses, he delivers his defiant lyrics at loud volume with fragmented, forceful flow that makes use of rests as the song builds into a bombastic crescendo. With a simplified, halting vocal delivery, West manipulates his articulation to match the melodies of the musical composition. An inspirational aspect can be found within "Stronger," where West speaks about the resolve that comes when one is faced with adversity, with defiant lyrics at the song's refrain that paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche's famous dictum: "What does not kill him, makes him stronger." Regarding the lyrical content, West describes the abrasive track as an "emancipation," as he uses the first verse to vent his pent-up frustration over mistakes that he had made in the past year. In addition, West views the single as a return with the help from his fans, hence the "I need you right now" lyric which serves as a hook that follows the refrain. As he told an interviewer for The Guardian, "It's also a message from me to my fans that I'm coming back] after a time away and I need you right now, to help me come back."
West performed a partial version of "Stronger" live at the Concert for Diana held at Wembley Stadium on July 1, 2007 to a crowd of 63,000 people. An estimated 500 million people watched the event in over 140 countries worldwide. Daft Punk made a surprise appearance at the 50th Grammy Awards on February 10, 2008 to join West in performing a reworked version of the song on stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A press release specified that this was the very first televised live performance by Daft Punk in their career. In an interview, de Homem-Christo specified that the live performance of "Stronger" at the 50th Grammy Awards was "truly a collaboration from the start. We really did it all hand in hand."
In 2010, Vincent Peters sued West, arguing "Stronger" is an illegitimate copy of a song he recorded in 2006. Peters claimed that he handed a copy of his track to John Monopoly, West's business manager, who according to Peters, gave the song to West. Both songs share the title, make reference to model Kate Moss, and feature chorus lyrics that rhyme "wronger" and "longer". A federal judge dismissed the claim, finding no substantial similarity, but Peters went to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. West's lawyers claim both derive their respective chorus lyrics from Friedrich Nietzsche's famous dictum, "What does not kill him, makes him stronger." In 2012, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in West's favor, ordering the lawsuit dismissed. Diane Wood, the presiding judge, noted that Nietzsche's dictim had been employed in popular works for decades, including Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)", a hit single at the time. The Hollywood Reporter quoted the ruling: "Although the fact that both songs quote from a 19th century German philosopher might, at first blush, seem to be an unusual coincidence, West correctly notes that the aphorism has been repeatedly invoked in song lyrics over the past century."
The single was released to iTunes on July 31, 2007. "Stronger" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on the charting week of August 11, 2007 at number forty-seven, the highest debut single on the chart that week. Over the next eight weeks, the song steadily climbed upwards, reaching the number one position on the charting week of September 29, 2007, pushing the previous week's chart topper, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" into the number two position. However, the following week, "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" replaced "Stronger" atop the charts, making West's single reach its peak for only one week. It is West's third number-one single in the United States, following "Slow Jamz" and "Gold Digger."
After becoming West's first number one single in the UK, "Stronger" went on to be met by widespread international success, reaching number-one in Canada, Turkey, and New Zealand. The song debuted at number three in the United Kingdom and rose to become West's very first British number one single. Climbing on downloads alone, it surpassed the prior week's number one single, Robyn's "With Every Heartbeat". It has also topped the Canadian Hot 100, New Zealand, and the Turkish Singles charts. "Stronger" also spent 18 weeks on the German Singles Chart. The song ended 2007 as the 19th biggest-selling single in the United Kingdom of that year.
As of March 2013, the single has sold five million copies in the US.
Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times praised West's performance: "On 'Stronger,' he pushes himself like a runner on a treadmill, always on the verge of losing his breath." Although Louis Pattison of NME criticized what he viewed as "brazen theft" from Daft Punk, he called the song "a silicone-hearted vocoder serenade, beefed up with hoover-like synthesisers."
"Stronger" was named the number one record of 2007 in the January 2008 issue of Spin. Kanye West was featured along with Daft Punk on the front cover of the music magazine. The single was number 11 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007. The Village Voice ranked "Stronger" at number seven on their annual year-end critics' poll Pazz & Jop to find the best music of 2007. "Stronger" was also number 96 on MTV Asia's list of Top 100 Hits of 2007. Thought Catalog listed the song as the eleventh best Pop song of 2007. Consequence of Sound named it the seventieth best song of 2007. Furthermore, a 2013 Rolling Stone reader's poll ranked "Stronger" as West's eighth best song to that point.
Development and filming
The music video for "Stronger" was directed by Hype Williams, and was shot guerrilla-style over nine days in Tokyo, Japan in April 2007. West approached Island/Def Jam chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid with only a general concept for the video, with no storyboard, asking for $1.2 million to fund four videos. The treatment was simply "Kanye and Hype in Japan." West, a fan of Japanese directors and anime, had desired to shoot in Japan to give the video a futuristic look, in line with the creative design of Graduation as a whole.
In the clip's original storyline, West plays the part of a man in a motorcycle gang, who gets into a bar fight with Japanese rivals. The video features appearances by a real-life Japanese motorcycle gang, and the two principal actors from the film Daft Punk's Electroma dressed as Daft Punk. The video also features multiple scenes which pay homage to the 1988 anime film Akira. These include the light effects on the motorbikes, the hospital scenes and West being scanned by machines. Both West and Williams had originally planned to integrate scenes from the film into the video. West and his entourage got no permits to film, simply having interpreters explain the situation to locals. The clip features shots of a real-life riot of a Japanese politician; it took place directly outside of Williams' hotel, and West encouraged the director to go out and film it. Cassie Ventura, a singer and model, also makes an appearance in the clip; she accepted the offer without hearing the song or having knowledge of the video concept.
West was not satisfied when going over the footage back in the United States, and he spent ten weeks in expensive editing suites editing the video. He decided to abandon the storyline and choose a video with "the hottest shots possible," going to New York for additional filming at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Williams was unable to film additional footage, with the video already extensively over-budget, so West hired a local team. The video's most famous shots were filmed in New York, and feature West donning a pair of Alain Mikli shutter shades, which he requested from the designer specifically for the video. Dissatisfied with the photography of said shots, West distorted the footage to resemble what it might look like as if it were broadcast over a cathode ray tube television set. Further pickup shots were filmed in Los Angeles, including segments featuring Daft Punk. They were coincidentally in L.A. at the time and attended the video shoot.
Don "Don C" Crawley, West's manager and confidant, described his perfectionist attitude whilst editing the clip:
Kanye almost had a brain aneurysm, editing this video for three months. Literally, 10 weeks of editing going back in. Then he still was not satisfied, so he shot more footage in New York. [...] Kanye put everything else on halt. He was in the editing suite till 4 or 5 in the morning. He went way over budget editing, sitting in them expensive editing suites. He kept going — and not only kept going, but he wanted to shoot more footage.
A rough cut of the video first premiered at the Tribeca Studios in New York City on June 19, 2007, with West editing the clip until the last minute. Upon its worldwide release, the video was nominated two 2007 MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year and Best Editing in a Video. It won Best Hip-Hop Video at the BET Hip-Hop Awards as well as Best Video at the MOBO Awards.
Cover versions and media usage
The JabbaWockeeZ performed to this song in the first season finale of America's Best Dance Crew as their victory performance for being crowned champions. Thirty Seconds to Mars performed a cover version of "Stronger" on BBC Radio 1, which is featured on Radio 1's Live Lounge – Volume 2 and a UK release of the single "From Yesterday". The cover features a slower tempo on guitar and omits the profanity, which was reworded by their lead singer Jared Leto. Leto said that he "hoped that Kanye [was] okay" with the editing.
The song can be heard for the promo of the 2007 film The Kingdom. It can also be heard as the introductory song of the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Raptors, New York Mets, Texas Longhorns, Washington Wizards, Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays. The New York Giants entered the field to this song at Super Bowl XLII and during most of their home games during the season. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks play it at every home game as well. The song won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance for the 50th Grammy Awards and is also Featured in Season 4 Episode 4 of Entourage as background music in a night club. The A-Trak remix of the song is used in an advert for the short-lived American TV show Bionic Woman. This song is also used by Animal Planet to promote their new show Jockeys, appearing in commercials as well as being the series' opening theme. UK rapper Kano has freestyled over this song on his mixtape MC No.1. The song also appeared on the trailer for the videogame Top Spin 4. In 2008 "Stronger" was featured in the movie "Never Back Down", when the main character, Jake Tyler, enters the "Beatdown" tournament.
In 2011 Stronger appeared on the soundtrack for the movie The Hangover Part II and in the scene where the characters walk through the airport. That same year, West performed the song live at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, starting the introduction with a tribute to his mother who had died before his scheduled performance four years before, saying: "In 2007, I was supposed to perform this song on this show… and I lost my superhero – now she's my super-angel."
In 2013, on the HBO show Girls, Allison Williams's character performed the song at a slower tempo. "Stronger" was also used as a track that can be selected on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios Florida. The band Time for Three used their arrangement of "Stronger" in an anti-bullying video.
Considered one of West's most radio-friendly songs, "Stronger" has been accredited to not only encouraging other hip-hop artists to incorporate house and electronica elements into their music, but also for playing a part in the revival of disco and electro-infused music in the late 2000s. The song also brought Daft Punk to prominence in the United States; Rolling Stone credited it with "the beginning of the group's path to mainstream success."
CD single (International)
Promo 12" single
CD single (UK)
12" picture disc (UK)
iTunes Remixes single
Information taken from Graduation liner notes.
- Songwriters: Kanye West, Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Edwin Birdsong
- Producers: Kanye West, Mike Dean (extended outro)
- Additional drum programming: Timbaland
- Recorder: Seiji
- Mix engineer: Manny Marroquin
- Assistant engineers: Kengo Sakura, Bram Tobey, Jason Agel, Nate Hertweck, Jared Robbins
- Keyboards: Andy Chatterley, La Mar "Mars" Edwards
- Guitar: Mike Dean
Charts and certifications
- List of best-selling singles
- List of best-selling singles in the United States
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- List of number-one singles from the 2000s (New Zealand)
- List of UK Singles Chart number ones of the 2000s
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- List of Billboard Mainstream Top 40 number-one songs of 2007
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