Artist, producer and Kanye West’s longtime friend Fonzworth Bentley tells just one of the legendary stories from “The Life of Pablo” studio sessions — the process of how “Ultralight Beam” and “Waves” came about.
12/13 Update: During the “Rich Friend” podcast Fonzworth gave more details into how the creative process of the album went down. He even talked about the video shoot for “Everybody” back in 2006 and Ye’s recent hospitalization.
“Who’s the second most hated nigga in America? Chris Brown! I need to do a record with him,” Fonzworth said. “The next day, I come in fresh for real, I got the freakin’ scarf tied around my neck, I look like Fonzworth Bentley. So as I walk in the studio, the beat to ‘Waves’ is on and Ye is sitting on one side of the studio, Chris is on the other side, so I walk in with my bop and Ye is like, ‘”Walk up in this bitch like…'” That studio entrance inspired the lyrics “Step up in this bitch like.”
Additional lyric inspiration came from Fonzworth’s brother. “When waves crash and they hit that white surf that you see, my brother believes that angels are going to come out of there perpetually at the end of the Earth as we know it,” he said.
Listen to the episode below from the 60 minute mark on.
Original 2/27 story: Bentley told the detailed story on how “Ultralight Beam” was created, start to end during a phone interview with The FADER. He is listed as one of six producers on the track for the album credits.
DEREK WATKINS (Fonzworth Bentley): I get to the studio [in L.A.] and Mike Dean was playing the chords that you hear on the record. That was about after 10:30 p.m., 11ish. The chords just felt thick. Very thick and anointed. Swizz Beatz was there. Swizz would typically come at around 3 a.m. Swizz and I were the nocturnal ones. When I say that, understand that Ye stays longer and later than anybody. But Swizz would come through at 3 and stay until about 9 and we’d end up always being the last people there.
We were on shift as engineers at this point because we were trying to get this album done. Also we were doing G.O.O.D. Fridays. Swizz started playing with the drums, and it felt so anointed, and I heard tambourine. So I asked if we had any and he said no. So I asked Drew [Dawson], who by the grace of God has a studio around the corner, two blocks away. He said, “I got percussion over there, I got tambourines.” So me and Plain Pat walked over there. It worked double because we needed to scope out another studio because we were just running out of space. DJ Dodger Stadium was using a corner of one room, we had Charlie Heat using the lounge in another room. We were really using every inch of this studio.
So Drew handed me five tambourines and I walked back [into our studio]. Swizz was still programing drums. I walked in with five tambourines and Ye‘s like, “Oh, you got percussion?” He starts checking them out. At this point, the drums are in there, so they’re playing [the track] from the beginning again and then I hear the tambourines and I start shaking them. And Ye’s like, “Record that now. Get in there.” So I put on headphones and I do eight-bar intervals of that. Chance [The Rapper] was there too. I called Poo Bear, who’s from College Park and wrote a lot of Justin Bieber’s album. And he was with Justin at the time. I’m from Atlanta, Poo Bear is from Atlanta—so Poo Bear comes up and catches the vibe. Justin hops on the phone and is like, “Tell Yeezy whatever he needs I got it.” So Justin comes through and we vibed on that. And then Ye went right in. Ye was like, “Let’s all catch a freestyle.”
In his freestyle he said, “This is an ultralight beam.” He sings that and was singing the melody. Then Chance catches the vibe. A lot of what ended up in his verse was from this freestyle—as far as his patterns and some of the words. There weren’t that many words, more so vibes and patterns. Then Justin got on the mic and sang some a capella. It was free flow. It was creativity. It was about 8 in the morning at this point. Ye had a bed set up at the studio and so he would usually take a nap for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, go to the gym, and then come right out. I was walking out [that morning] and he was walking to his room where the bed was, which was also where all the people designing merch and all of that kind of stuff. It was a real DONDA creative hub at that point. Kanye’s the master orchestrator of all of it. They put the bed out and Ye was like, “Before I leave can you edit the freestyles and put them in order?” I was about to go to bed but I was like, “Sure, I got you.”
Ye had a bed set up at the studio and so he would usually take a nap for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, go to the gym, and then come right out.
So I sit there and I begin editing. I put Kanye at the top and put the other pieces in, doing what I do. Arranging is one of my strongest gifts as a producer. I get excited because I hear Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin in the choir. Clear as day, I hear that. I run out the room and I’m like, “I got to tell Swizz.” And then Kanye is up. He only slept like an hour. So Ye is up—not like kinda up, he’s up-up. I’m like, “I heard Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin in this choir.” And he’s like, “Oh, you got all the colors now.” He trusts me with that. I had already sent the freestyle that I edited to [Price and Franklin] as soon as I heard it. Then Ye said, “Send them the track but put my freestyle on it.” So I had to resend the email, like, “By the way, disregard anything!”
This was about 10 in the morning. I go home and sleep for a couple of hours. By the time I woke up, Kelly had called me. I’m in breakfast mode and it’s about 2 p.m. and she’s in Atlanta. She tells me she had recorded something. I had given her some direction: Here’s the ultralight beam, here’s what it means. This is that connection that goes straight to heaven. This is the thing that people say is intangible, that people try to wrap their heads around. A lot of different people articulate it in different ways, but it just made sense in the way that Kanye said it. So I sit there and play [what she sent me] in the kitchen and my wife’s there. And bro, what you hear on the record is exactly what she sent. Both of us burst into tears because it was so right on. It was perfect.
I had given her some direction: Here’s the ultralight beam, here’s what it means. This is that connection that goes straight to heaven.