When I compiled this playlist of artists influenced by Kanye West, I found it surprisingly difficult to find artists that truly qualified. It seems like only a welter of rappers follow in his footsteps, just like it once seemed everyone tried to rap like his "big brother," Jay-Z. Such is the afterglow of his first five albums, spawning what fans call the humble braggart, or the guy who mistakes his hungry pleas for financial prosperity and pop ubiquity for faux modesty. More charitably, Kanye has expanded hip-hop's definition of class aspirations, complementing the familiar tale of the street hustlers who believe the rap game is like the crack game with suburban latchkey kids enthralled by dreams of fame and fortune.
Perhaps West's biggest imprint has been via his music, and the way he has absorbed a multitude of trends and fads, from the chipmunk soul of The College Dropout to the Auto-Tuned electronic ballads of 808s & Heartbreak, to arrive at something that encapsulates pop culture at a given moment. Macklemore may not have much in common with him, but Macklemore's collaborator Ryan Lewis sure does, as anyone who listens to the gospel-like handclaps and keyboard melodies of "Can't Hold Us" will notice. West has had a wavering commitment to societal critique, at least until the arrival of the divisive Yeezus; the same can't be said for Lupe Fiasco, a committed member of the radical left. But on his albums, Fiasco uses the same kind of pop-rap template, with soaring vocal hooks and melodies ready-made for radio airplay.
Then there are the artists everyone regards as West's descendants, like Big Sean and Drake. Some, like Theophilus London, seem reminiscent of West's focus on fashion and luxury; others, such as B.o.B, share his talent for turning collaborations with pop artists like Maroon 5's Adam Levine into big hits.
As West's influence wanes -- and it's inevitable, whether it happens with Yeezus or at a later date -- these rappers will appear less like devoted acolytes than just markers of a certain frame in music history. But for now, his imprint looms large among hip-hop's new generation.