Rhymefest Says ‘Only Kanye’ Could Have Made ‘Jesus Walks’

In October, AMC will air Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America, a documentary series executive produced by Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, examining and deconstructing the creation and impact of six landmark hip-hop songs from the last 40 years. In the exclusive sneak peek above, Chicago rapper Rhymefest breaks down the origins of the hit song “Jesus Walks,” written by Rhymefest and produced and performed by Kanye West, and how it transformed rap music forever.

The familiar choral sample from the Grammy-winning song plays as Rhymefest explains how he got the song and eventually determined it that it needed Kanye’s signature touch. “I knew it was special,” he says. “And I said, ‘Man, who can do this? Who can transform this into something I can express myself through?’ Only Kanye. Only Kanye can do this.”

“Jesus Walks” would go on to become an unlikely hit despite early skepticism. As Kanye himself said on College Dropout closer “Last Call”: “I played them ‘Jesus Walks’ and they wouldn’t sign me.” His and Rhymefest’s patience and faith paid off though; the song won Best Rap Song at the 47th Grammy Awards in 2005, earning placement on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2004 and coming in at No. 19 on that magazine’s 100 Best Songs of the 2000s. It peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified 2x Platinum in April 2015, arguably opening the door for the future success of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper, who openly grappled with faith on their own game-changing albums, DAMN. and Coloring Book, in the 2010s.

Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America airs October 13 at 12am ET / 9pm PT on AMC.