Kanye West‘s music has more depth than your typical hip-hop artist. His productions are like compositions, and he’s one of the few hip-hop acts that gets covered by indie artists and actually taken seriously. Sure, we’ve seen indie covers of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Eminem, but they’re tongue-in-cheek versions that come off as borderline ironic or downright laughable. But an acoustic take on “Heartless” or a dramatic rock version of “Runaway” is a different story. Here’s our picks for the 10 Best Indie Covers Of Kanye West Songs.
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10. Francis and the Lights – “Can’t Tell Me Nothin”
When a non-hip-hop artist covers a hip-hop track it’s fairly rare for the beat to translate well. Something about the transition from 808’s to an actual kit played by an actual drummer (besides Questlove) makes it extremely hard to preserve the natural vibe of hip-hop. Francis and the Lights manage to avoid that pitfall with their interpretation of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
9. Bad Bad Not Good – “Flashing Lights”
Bad Bad Not Good have injected a burst of fresh energy into jazz with their take on hip-hop tracks. They take the foundation of “Flashing Lights” darken it with some extremely heavy work in the opening minutes, and then build into a full fledged jazz-topia of free-flowing improvisation. It’s entertaining enough that you won’t even miss the words. It’s a long one, but stick with it. The fun part kicks in around the 3:00 mark.
8. Kendra Morris – “Can’t Tell Me Nothin”
Simplicity can be underrated. Kendra Morris comes up with a completely different interpretation of “Can’t Tell Me Nothin” than that of Francis and the Lights. The understated guitar is round and comfortable and Kendra’s vocals weave around the melody before nestling into the chorus. It’s a good demonstration of how a banger can be converted to a lullaby with a few adjustments.
7. Blänk – “Welcome to Heartbreak”
Swedish music makers Blänk turn “Welcome to Heartbreak” from an ominous lament to a smoke filled euro-lounge chill out track. If the original is moody and dramatic, Blänk’s cover aims to calm all that drama right out of you. The Röyksopp-esque groove may take a moment to really get into, but the vocal embellishments, and even the guitar solo give it nicely crisp variety.
6. Nite Club – “Good Life”
One of Kanye’s brightest tracks gets a light makeover that takes it from an absolute party song to a feel-good-and-smile song. Nite Club adds some smooth funk to a track that already had it’s fair share of groove. Of course it’s a different type of funk—it has rounded edges and the video seems to have been shot from the point of view of a cat. That fits pretty perfectly, seeing as cats do most certainly live the good life.
5. Parts & Labor – “Runaway”
The good folks over at the A.V. Club do a really wonderful job with the Undercover series. Parts & Labor stopped by in 2011 to blast a hole through “Runaway” and right from the start it is abundantly clear that they were onto something. The synth that replaces the piano in the intro slices like a chainsaw and the brash vocals give the song a more flippant and rebellious tone.
4. Chamberlain – “Lost In The World”
This is a curious one, as Chamberlain haven’t really gone off in a completely foreign direction. The Bon Iver aspect of the original does lean toward a folksy falsetto cover, but Chamberlain flips it with some rhythmic guitar. It accents that folksy vibe and almost blends close to bluegrass-y, or at least about as bluegrass as a Kanye cover could possibly get.
3. William Fitzsimmons – “Heartless”
“Heartless” is arguably the Kanye track that lends itself most readily to an acoustic folksy ballad. The fantastically bearded William Fitszimmons proves this fact with a breathy delivery and exacting guitar work. Fitszimmons susses out the delicate vulnerability that was always near the core of “Heartless” but is often hard to get at due to the fact that it’s a Kanye song.
2. Mobius Band – “Say You Will”
Refreshingly un-autotuned and brightened by the addition of the children’s voices, this cover of “Say You Will” manages to stay true to the original tone of the track. It’s still accusatory and slightly dreary, but in the best way. The addition of the pop organ lifts the mood a bit and lets the song out from under it’s own weight. Mobius Band really own the vocals, and if you didn’t know any better, you might find it hard to believe this is a cover.
1. Oberhofer – “Runaway”
The track that inspired this list, Oberhofer‘s spacey, floating, dreaming rendition of “Runaway,” takes the cake. Oberhofer removes the churning drums and snares to reveal the cloudy and obscured side of the track. We all knew it was there, Oberhofer just managed to bring it out, and instead of sounding like an indie rock twist on “Runaway,” they made “Runaway” sound like it was always meant to be an indie rock song.