"Two words, Chi-town raised me crazy/So I live by two words: 'Fuck you' 'Pay me!'" —Kanye West

Freeway: “No one really respected Kanye as a rapper. But I knew Kanye was talented because I had listened to some of his stuff. So when he asked me to get on the album, I said, ‘Hell yeah. Let’s do it.’ At the time, Roc-A-Fella was like a family. Kanye would be in one room working, Just Blaze would be in another room, Dipset might be in one room. Steel sharpens steel, so everybody was vibing off of each other’s music.

“I knew the song would feature other people, but I don’t remember if he told me Mos Def was going to be on it or not. When I heard the beat, I was excited because it was theatrical and big. I like beats that challenge my flow. I’ve been a fan of Mos Def’s, so it was good to work with him. That was a really big record for me. I perform that song to this day. Everyone loves it.”

Kanye West f/ Freeway & Mos Def "Two Words" (2004)

Miri Ben-Ari: “Kanye saw me performing with Jay Z and he wanted to [work with me] so he reached out to my manager and we got in the studio. The College Dropout is when Kanye developed his own unique sound. He did that by having people [whose] talent he trusted. He let them do them and he learned from them because he’s very open minded. He loves to learn.

“‘Two Words’ was the first recording I did with Kanye, so we didn’t really know each other well. The whole classical strings, orchestra was very new to Kanye. He wanted that sound, my writing, my sound, my style for The College Dropout. It was a fresh new sound, no one had done it at the time. Kanye liked to just sit and listen. I introduced him to that whole sound of classical strings and orchestration and he fell in love with it.

 

The weirdest thing is, he would put me in the studio and just watch me record. He’d just sit there for hours. He didn’t give me any [instructions], it was very minimal. —Miri Ben-Ari

 

“When I get in the studio, I’m like a one-woman show. I write on the spot, I produce, I arrange, I orchestrate, I do everything, and then I tell the engineer exactly how to record. He was very impressed with me. The weirdest thing is, he would put me in the studio and just watch me record. He’d just sit there for hours. He didn’t give me any [instructions]. It was very minimal. When you work with people you trust, you don’t need to. I learned so much from him too. You are your experience as an artist.

“He loved what I did on ‘Two Words’ so much that he had a version of ‘Two Words’ with only the strings. [Laughs.] I kid you not. He wanted to put out an album only with the strings.”

"Two Words" samples Mandrill's "Peace and Love" (1970)

Plain Pat: “We had boxes of instrumentals but we were like, ‘We’re not putting no instrumentals out.’ This was when whatever you put out as a song, 50 Cent would rap on it and then everybody would play 50’s version. It wasn’t specifically 50 though. In general, it’s like, fuck letting people rap over your shit. That’s why none of the singles have instrumentals.

"After a year or so, we were like, ‘Yo, we’re gonna do white labels.’ So I had like 50 boxes of vinyls in my office. We were like, ‘What are we gonna do with them?’ I ended up selling them to Fat Beats or something, made a couple grand. [Laughs.]”

"Two Words" samples drums from The 5th Dimension's "Rainmaker" (1971)

Consequence: “We drove fucking four hours upstate somewhere I can’t remember to get to this compound because I guess that’s the only place they would let the Harlem Boys Choir record.”

 

We had boxes of instrumentals but we were like, ‘We’re not putting no instrumentals out.’ This was when whatever you put out a song, 50 Cent would rap on it and then everybody would play 50’s version. That's why none of the singles have instrumental versions.
—Plain Pat

 

Plain Pat: “Kanye did two records for Scarface, [‘Guess Who’s Back?’ and ‘In Cold Blood’]. He was like, ‘Whoever mixed those songs, I want them to mix my albums. Find them.’ It was Mike Dean so I got in touch with him and he mixed ‘Two Words.’”

Dame Dash: “The one thing about Kanye is, he’s brave. He will walk on the killer’s block, even if he’s not a killer. There was an infamous battle in London at my crib between Mos Def and Kanye. Even though you know him, how do you get in front of Mos Def and go rap for rap with him? That’s when I was like, 'He’s fearless.' Because most people wouldn’t have done that shit. He wasn’t scared to be himself.”

Mos Def and Kanye West battle in London.

Plain Pat: “People don’t understand. You get all types of random people on a song nowadays and it’s considered the norm. Kanye definitely helped make this new culture that we live in, everything today still goes back to those times. Hip-hop was way more segregated back then. Kanye paid his own money to go on tour with fucking Talib Kweli with his big-ass Roc-A-Fella chain and people looked at him like he was crazy. [Laughs.] We knew [Kanye was bridging the gap between underground and mainstream]. Like, we fucked with Mos Def and we fucked with Freeway. So it was like, ‘Why shouldn’t they be on a dope beat?’”