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Ultralight Beam
"Ultralight Beam" is a song by American hip hop artist Kanye West, from his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo (2016). The song features singer The-Dream

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"Ultralight Beam"Song by Kanye Westfrom the album The Life of PabloReleasedFebruary 14, 2016 (2016-02-14)Recorded2015–2016Genre
  • Hip hop
  • gospel
  • GOOD Music
  • Def Jam
Songwriter(s) Various Producer(s) Various

"Ultralight Beam" is a song by American hip hop artist Kanye West, from his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo (2016). The song features singer The-Dream, R&B singer Kelly Price, rapper Chance the Rapper, gospel singer Kirk Franklin, and a ten-piece choir, with additional vocals by Natalie Green and Samoria Green. West first performed the song live on Saturday Night Live on February 13, 2016, with the artists that performed on the song. The song charted in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada in 2016.

The song, heavily influenced by gospel music, is about West's faith in God. Specifically, West looks to the Lord when he's down and knows in the end everything will be alright. The song has received general acclaim from music critics, with Chance the Rapper being consistently singled out for praise. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2017. The song has been covered by multiple artists, most notably Harry Styles, Stormzy, and Local Natives.

  • 1 Recording
  • 2 Composition and lyrics
  • 3 Release and promotion
  • 4 Reception
    • 4.1 Critical response
    • 4.2 Accolades
  • 5 Live performances
  • 6 Commercial performance
  • 7 Legacy
  • 8 Cover versions and usage in media
  • 9 Credits and personnel
  • 10 Charts
  • 11 Certifications
  • 12 Notes
  • 13 References
  • 14 External links
Recording Producer Swizz Beatz programmed the song's drums.

According to writer and producer Derek Watkins, also known as Fonzworth Bentley, the song originated when he arrived at the studio and heard Mike Dean playing the song's chords.[1] The song's drums were programmed by Swizz Beatz a couple days later. Watkins and Plain Pat retrieved some tambourines and held an impromptu jam session with Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. The tambourines from this session can be heard in the final mix of the song.[1] The group was joined by Justin Bieber collaborator Poo Bear and Bieber himself. A freestyle was initiated by West.[1]

The song's melody and the lyrics "this is an ultralight beam" were sung by West and Chance the Rapper during this freestyle. According to Watkins, many of Chance's patterns and words during this freestyle ended up in his final verse.[1] The two were joined by Bieber, who sang a cappella. Watkins began editing the freestyle at the request of West. As he was editing, he heard Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin in the choir. Watkins told West and contacted Price and Franklin. Price contacted Watkins, who told her about the concept of the "ultralight beam".[1] Price herself said that Watkins sent her the track and told her to "write what you feel."[2] Price further said that everyone had a spiritual connection in making the song.[2] Watkins called Franklin and had him fly to L.A. to record his verse. When Franklin was in the studio with the choir, he taught every member all their parts in seven minutes.[1] After the choir, Franklin and Price had recorded their parts, Chance knew the lyrics to his verse. He put headphones on and penned it out.[1] According to Watkins, the song was not officially complete until The Life of Pablo's release. The song, like its parent album, was viewed like "a working document." "You don't hear the final version of it until it is available for purchase."[1]

In a separate interview, producers Samo Sound Boy and DJ Dodger Stadium (DJDS) stated that they both contributed to songs on The Life of Pablo, including "Ultralight Beam", a month before the album's release.[3] On the final release, Same Sound Boy is credited as a writer and DJ Dodger Stadium is credited as both writer and producer.[4]

Before The Life of Pablo's release, Canadian singer Justin Bieber made an appearance on the track.[5] It was first revealed by Chance the Rapper, and later confirmed by Fonzworth Bentley in an interview with The Fader.[1] Bieber, however, does not appear on the final version.[5]

Composition and lyrics

"Ultralight Beam" is a hip hop song with elements of soul and gospel music.[1][6][7] The song has one official sample credit, a video uploaded on social media site Instagram by user @sheisnatalie of a 4-year-old girl named Natalie talking about God.[8] In the video, she says "We don't want no devils in the house, God!", followed by "We want the Lord, and that's it!" The clip is used as the intro to the song.[9] In addition to the officially credited sample, the song also contains a sound effect from the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012).[10]

After the Instagram sample, West provides his verse, with assistance from singer The-Dream. Kelly Price provides the third verse and Chance the Rapper provides the fourth verse. The song ends with West, choirs, and gospel singer Kirk Franklin.[1] West, in his verse, talks about his relationship and faith with God.[11] In her verse, Price asks her own questions about God, but ultimately knows that when her faith is tested, she can look towards "the light" and everything will be alright.[11] In his verse, the longest on the song, Chance the Rapper speaks about his relationship with God, his daughter, and his life growing up in Chicago.[11] Chance the Rapper also comments on Spike Lee's film Chi-Raq (2015), a film Chance the Rapper has openly spoken out against the premise of.[11][12]

The artists who performed on the track have spoken out about the song's meaning. In an interview with The Fader, Derek Watkins describes the "ultralight beam" as "the connection that goes straight to heaven."[1] Watkins continued, "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."[1] Chance the Rapper has stated that "'Ultralight Beam' is about Kanye's faith in God. Whenever he's down or feels he can't fight any more, he searches for the light and knows, in God's hands, everything will be alright."[13]

Release and promotion

The song was released on February 14, 2016, as the first track on West's seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo.[4][14] The day before, on February 13, 2016, West performed the song live on Saturday Night Live with Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream, Kelly Price and a gospel choir.[15] The performance received positive reviews from critics, with many commenting on Chance the Rapper's verse. Matt Wilstein of The Daily Beast said Chance "ended up stealing the show with his fire verse".[16] Jon Caramanica of The New York Times described the performance as "stirring, a performance of uncommon intensity and vision".[17] Price in particular has praised the performance, due to her "spiritual connection" with the song.[2] On Easter 2016, West shared the SoundCloud link to an alternative version of the song, titled "Ultralight Prayer", via Twitter and wished happy Easter to everyone in his tweet.[18] Chance is not present in the alternative version, which is full of gospel delivered by Franklin and stands at only 2 minutes long.[18] When West travelled to Iceland with The Kardashians in April 2016, it had been rumoured for him to either be filming a music video there for "Ultralight Beam" or fellow album track "Highlights", and it was confirmed by his wife Kim Kardashian and her sister Khloe Kardashian that West filmed one for "Highlights".[19] Kim released Ultra Light Beam Highlighters for KKW Beauty in November 2017, as an unexpected tribute to her husband's song of the same name.[20] This marked the first time that West had ever been part of KKW Beauty, but wasn't the very first connection between his music and Kim's brand, since she featured prominently on some of the merchandise for West's Saint Pablo Tour.[20] The name choice was praised by fans across Twitter.[20] In the track "Kids See Ghosts" by the group Kids See Ghosts, which consists of Kanye West and Kid Cudi, West drops a reference to the song with the line: "Ultralight building in the building by amateur".[21]

Reception Critical response Chance the Rapper has received widespread acclaim for his performance on the song, with his verse described by one critic as a "clear highlight".[22]

The song has received acclaim from music critics, with Chance the Rapper's verse and vocals being singled out for praise.[23][24] David Jeffries of AllMusic praised the song, calling it a "masterpiece".[14] Jeffries further wrote " represents the angelic side, offering a complicated emotional ride with the Gospel of Kirk Franklin fueling the song's jaw-dropping climax."[14] Forrest Wickman of Slate described the track as signaling "listeners that will be the anti-Yeezus."[22] Kelly Price, who provides the third verse, has particularly praised the song, calling it "a street parable".[2] Price continued, "I can listen to it and hear messages of hurt, shame, anger, and fear, and then I can turn around and see hope, faith, redemption, compassion, rejuvenation, forgiveness, and getting up from a fall."[1]

Many critics have commented upon Chance the Rapper's verse and performance on the song. Forrest Wickman of Slate called him "a clear highlight".[22] Brian Josephs of Spin wrote that "Chance's performance on "Ultralight Beam" was arguably his strongest" performance of 2016, on top of his own critically acclaimed mixtape Coloring Book.[24] Complex described Chance's verse as one of the best rap verses of 2016, with them describing his verse as "dexterous and forceful. Furthermore, they described his verse as "more than a star turn, it's the kind of performances legacies are built on.[23]


The song has appeared on year-end lists by multiple publications. Pitchfork listed "Ultralight Beam" as the best song of 2016 on their ranking of the year's 100 best songs, writing " is an exalted space, a promise of redemption and healing that felt more fragile and unlikely as the year wore on. It is a song of Godlike perspective from a man who spent most of the year appearing to have none."[25] Similarly, Rolling Stone listed the song as the fifth best song of 2016 on their list of the year's 50 best songs, writing " help plant a foot on the devil's neck."[26] Conversely, Complex ranked the song 31 in their list of the year's 50 best songs, describing the song as "audio weed, Xanax on wax, and a Bible verse rolled into one".[27]

The song received Grammy nominations for Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2017, ultimately losing both to "Hotline Bling" by Canadian rapper and singer Drake.[28]

Live performances

West performed "Ultralight Beam" with Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream, Kelly Price and a gospel choir live on Saturday Night Live alongside fellow The Life of Pablo track "Highlights" – this was on the very day before the album was released.[15] Immediately after the performance, West made the announcement of The Life of Pablo being released, telling those viewing: "Kanye West dot com right now, Tidal streaming right now."[29] "Ultralight Beam" had been written on the setlist shared by West for the kickoff show on the Saint Pablo Tour in Indianapolis on August 25, 2016, but he did not perform the song live at the concert as planned.[30] On September 5, 2016, West performed the track as a closer when taking the very same tour to Madison Square Garden, where it served more as a collective exhalation for everyone making their way towards the exit rather than musical entertainment and a choir interlude was part of the performance of the song.[31][32] G-Eazy and Carnage moshed with a fan to the song when West performed it live on October 29, 2016 in Las Vegas on the Saint Pablo Tour.[33]

Commercial performance

"Ultralight Beam" charted in multiple countries. The song peaked at number 63 on the UK Singles Chart and remained on it for two weeks.[34] The song also peaked at number 67 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and spent two weeks on the chart before dropping off it.[35] On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, "Ultralight Beam" debuted at number 22 in the same week as its debut on the Billboard Hot 100.[36] In its second week on the chart, the song fell down 11 places to number 33.[37] It fell a further eight places down to number 41 in its third and final week on the chart.[38][36] In Canada, the song debuted at number 88 on the Canada Singles Top 100 chart, where it remained for one week before falling off the chart.[39] The song also charted in Ireland, debuting at number 78 on the Ireland Singles Top 100 chart where it remained for two weeks and this placed it along with "Waves" as the only non-single releases from the album that managed to chart in the territory.[40] The second week, the song dropped to number 82, before falling off the chart the following week.[41][40]

In March 2018, the song was certified Platinum in the United States.[42] It stands with "Waves" as the only non-single releases from West's seventh studio album to achieve this certification in the US.[43]


On March 10, 2016, West tweeted out: "A lot of people tell me Ultralight Beam is my greatest artwork to date only rival being Jesus Walks."[44] Kim listed the track among her 28 favourite songs by her husband Kanye in August 2016.[45] When Premier Gospel looked into The Life of Pablo possibly being the gospel album of 2016, Jamie of the site voiced the belief that if "Ultralight Beam", "Jesus Walks" or fellow album track "Low Lights" had been released by anyone else, then: 'we'd be hailing them as the new hero of gospel music'.[46] According to Lawrence Ware of The Root, "Ultralight Beam" has become "the official song of Christians who love Jesus but curse a little."[47] Ware believes this because of the track's callback to old gospel traditions, also citing the lyric "This is a God dream" and Kirk Franklin's appearance as enhancing the song's gospel roots.[47] Ware ended by saying " took me and many other black millennials into the presence of God like few songs can. It is self-assured yet humble, genre-bending while respecting and participating in black folk traditions. If that doesn’t describe the current generation of black folks, then I don’t know what does."[47] In June 2018, Complex looked back on "Ultralight Beam" as a track that: 'sounded exactly like what promised' when he made the claim that The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album.[48]

Cover versions and usage in media "Ultralight Beam"Single by Local NativesReleasedNovember 30, 2016 (2016-11-30)FormatStreamingGenreIndie rockLength2:56LabelInfectiousSongwriter(s) Various Producer(s)Bryan GroneLocal Natives singles chronology "Coins"
(2016) "Ultralight Beam"
(2016) "I Saw You Close Your Eyes"

American indie rock band Local Natives covered the song in late 2016 as part of Spotify's "Singles" program.[49][50] The band announced the cover on Twitter, saying they "need the prayer of peace & serenity now more than ever".[51][52] In early 2017, English hip hop artist Stormzy covered the song during an appearance on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge. Stormzy altered the song's lyrics to reflect his own upbringing, as well as referencing his early life in London, homelessness, and footballer Lionel Messi.[53] In May 2017, Harry Styles covered the song during a surprise concert in London, in celebration of the release of his self-titled debut album.[54] Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone said Styles stripped the song of its gospel elements, instead giving it a "moody Purple Rain makeover" that made Styles' rendition stand out on its own.[55] Chance the Rapper performed a cover of the song live in June 2017 on the Be Encouraged Tour, alongside covers of fellow album tracks "Waves" and "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1".[56] American cinematographer Arthur Jafa used "Ultralight Beam" as the soundtrack of his 2017 short film Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death.[57]

Credits and personnel

Credits adapted from West's official website.[4]

  • Production – Kanye West, Mike Dean #MWA for Dean's List Productions, Chance the Rapper & Swizz Beatz
  • Co-production – Rick Rubin & Derek Watkins
  • Additional production – Plain Pat, DJDS & Noah Goldstein for Ark Productions, Inc
  • Engineering – Noah Goldstein, Andrew Dawson, Anthony Kilhoffer, Mike Dean & Mike Malchicoff
  • Mix – Manny Marroquin at Larrabee Studios, North Hollywood, CA.
  • Mix assisted – assisted by Chris Galland, Ike Schultz & Jeff Jackson
  • Vocals – Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream & Kelly Price
  • Additional vocals – Natalie Green & Samoria Green
  • Trumpets – Donnie Trumpet
  • Keyboards & bass guitar – Mike Dean
  • Choir contractor – Anthony Evans for Sherman James Productions
  • Choir – Aaron Encinas, Shanika Bereal, Crystal Lewis Ray, Kenyon Dixon, Rachel Whitlow, George Young, Lakesha Shantell, Tiffany Stevenson & Chavonne Stewart
Charts Chart (2016) Peak
position Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[58] 88 Ireland (IRMA)[59] 78 UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[60] 63 UK R&B (Official Charts Company)[61] 15 US Billboard Hot 100[62] 34 US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[63] 22 US Hot Rap Songs (Billboard)[64] 16 Certifications Region Certification Certified units/Sales United States (RIAA)[65] Platinum 1,000,000

sales+streaming figures based on certification alone

  1. ^ a b Credited as co-producer
  2. ^ a b c Credited as additional producer
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External links
  • Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
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The College Dropout
  • "All Falls Down"
  • "I'll Fly Away"
  • "Spaceship"
  • "Jesus Walks"
  • "Never Let Me Down"
  • "The New Workout Plan"
  • "Slow Jamz"
  • "Two Words"
  • "Through the Wire"
Late Registration
  • "Heard 'Em Say"
  • "Touch the Sky"
  • "Gold Digger"
  • "Drive Slow"
  • "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
  • "Hey Mama"
  • "Gone"
  • "Good Morning"
  • "Champion"
  • "Stronger"
  • "I Wonder"
  • "Good Life"
  • "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
  • "Barry Bonds"
  • "Drunk and Hot Girls"
  • "Flashing Lights"
  • "Everything I Am"
  • "The Glory"
  • "Homecoming"
  • "Big Brother"
808s & Heartbreak
  • "Say You Will"
  • "Welcome to Heartbreak"
  • "Heartless"
  • "Amazing"
  • "Love Lockdown"
  • "Paranoid"
  • "RoboCop"
  • "Street Lights"
  • "See You in My Nightmares"
  • "Coldest Winter"
My Beautiful Dark
Twisted Fantasy
  • "Dark Fantasy"
  • "Gorgeous"
  • "Power"
  • "All of the Lights"
  • "Monster"
  • "So Appalled"
  • "Devil in a New Dress"
  • "Runaway"
  • "Hell of a Life"
  • "Blame Game"
  • "Lost in the World"
  • "Who Will Survive in America"
  • "See Me Now"
Watch the Throne
  • "No Church in the Wild"
  • "Lift Off"
  • "Niggas in Paris"
  • "Otis"
  • "Gotta Have It"
  • "Welcome to the Jungle"
  • "Who Gon Stop Me"
  • "Made in America"
  • "Why I Love You"
  • "Illest Motherfucker Alive"
  • "H•A•M"
Cruel Summer
  • "To the World"
  • "Clique"
  • "Mercy"
  • "New God Flow"
  • "The Morning"
  • "Cold"
  • "The One"
  • "Don't Like"
  • "On Sight"
  • "Black Skinhead"
  • "I Am a God"
  • "New Slaves"
  • "Hold My Liquor"
  • "I'm In It"
  • "Blood on the Leaves"
  • "Guilt Trip"
  • "Send It Up"
  • "Bound 2"
The Life of Pablo
  • "Ultralight Beam"
  • "Father Stretch My Hands"
  • "Famous"
  • "Feedback"
  • "Low Lights"
  • "Highlights"
  • "Freestyle 4"
  • "I Love Kanye"
  • "Waves"
  • "FML"
  • "Real Friends"
  • "Wolves"
  • "Frank's Track"
  • "30 Hours"
  • "No More Parties in LA"
  • "Facts (Charlie Heat Version)"
  • "Fade"
  • "Saint Pablo"
  • "I Thought About Killing You"
  • "Yikes"
  • "All Mine"
  • "Wouldn't Leave"
  • "No Mistakes"
  • "Ghost Town"
  • "Violent Crimes"
Kids See Ghosts
  • "Feel the Love"
  • "Fire"
  • "4th Dimension"
  • "Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)"
  • "Reborn"
  • "Kids See Ghosts"
  • "Cudi Montage"
Other singles
  • "Impossible"
  • "Classic (Better Than I've Ever Been)"
  • "Forever"
  • "We Are the World 25 for Haiti"
  • "Christmas in Harlem"
  • "Only One"
  • "FourFiveSeconds"
  • "All Day"
  • "Champions"
  • "Lift Yourself"
  • "Ye vs. the People"
  • "XTCY"
  • "I Love It"
Featured singles
  • "This Way"
  • "Talk About Our Love"
  • "The Food"
  • "I Changed My Mind"
  • "Down and Out"
  • "The Corner"
  • "Go!"
  • "Number One"
  • "Extravaganza"
  • "Brand New"
  • "Grammy Family"
  • "Number One"
  • "Wouldn't Get Far"
  • "I Still Love H.E.R."
  • "Pro Nails"
  • "Finer Things"
  • "American Boy"
  • "Put On"
  • "Stay Up! (Viagra)"
  • "Swagga Like Us"
  • "Go Hard"
  • "Knock You Down"
  • "Kinda Like a Big Deal"
  • "Walkin' on the Moon"
  • "Supernova"
  • "Maybach Music 2"
  • "Make Her Say"
  • "Digital Girl"
  • "Run This Town"
  • "Whatever U Want"
  • "Erase Me"
  • "Deuces" (Remix)
  • "Start It Up"
  • "Hurricane 2.0"
  • "E.T."
  • "Marvin & Chardonnay"
  • "Pride N Joy"
  • "I Wish You Would"
  • "Birthday Song"
  • "Thank You"
  • "I Won"
  • "Nobody"
  • "Blessings"
  • "U Mad"
  • "One Man Can Change the World"
  • "Pop Style"
  • "Figure It Out"
  • "That Part"
  • "Friends"
  • "Ballin"
  • "Castro"
  • "Feel Me"
  • "Love Yourself"
  • "Glow"
  • "Watch"
Promotional singles
  • "Facts"
Other songs
  • "Champions"
  • "The Bounce"
  • "It's Alright"
  • "Us Placers"
  • "Beat Goes On"
  • "Billie Jean 2008"
  • "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)" (Remix)
  • "Therapy"
  • "Ego" (Remix)
  • "Blazin'"
  • "Welcome to the World"
  • "Sanctified"
  • "Drunk In Love" (Remix)
  • "All Your Fault"
  • "Jukebox Joints"
  • "Pussy Print"
  • "Cops Shot the Kid"
  • Book
  • Category
  • Portal
  • v
  • t
  • e
Local NativesStudio albums
  • Gorilla Manor
  • Hummingbird
  • Sunlit Youth
  • "Breakers"
  • "Past Lives"
  • v
  • t
  • e
Pitchfork's Track of the Year
Outkast – "Hey Ya!"
Annie – "Heartbeat"
Antony & The Johnsons – "Hope There's Someone"
Justin Timberlake featuring T.I. – "My Love"
LCD Soundsystem – "All My Friends"
Hercules and Love Affair – "Blind"
Animal Collective – "My Girls"
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – "Round and Round"
M83 – "Midnight City"
Grimes – "Oblivion"
Drake featuring Majid Jordan – "Hold On, We're Going Home"
Future Islands – "Seasons (Waiting on You)"
Kendrick Lamar – "Alright"
Kanye West featuring The-Dream, Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin – "Ultralight Beam"
Cardi B – "Bodak Yellow"



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