On May 25, 2004, Kanye West (also known as Ye or Yeezy) released the fourth single from his debut album The College Dropout: “Jesus Walks.” Where there are many outstanding tracks on this Grammy-award-winning classic, this particular track has an unusual tie to the U.S. military. No, we’re not talking about Jarhead, a military flick that would come out in 2005, but the actual U.S. military. Many of the themes remain true today. The man behind the iconic sample that made the track a hit was someone who helped design aircraft.
Meet the Analyst Who Recorded the Sample for “Jesus Walks”
Being a part of a piece of art in any fashion is a great undertaking in and of itself. Never mind the fact that you get to be a part of an even bigger piece of music years later. However, that’s exactly what Pierre Sprey would find himself a part of.
Sprey worked as a defense analyst at the Pentagon. He and his colleagues were known as the “Fighter Mafia,” and they garnered a reputation for butting heads with the U.S. Air Force.
This would come into play on many different aircraft, including the F-15 and F-35. Still, he also helped design one of the most iconic aircraft in the history of the American Armed Forces: the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, a.k.a. the Air Force A-10 Warthog.
Where many civilians wouldn’t get away with rubbing higher-ups in the Pentagon the wrong way, Sprey had something to his advantage: his mind.
Don’t get it twisted; the genius of Saint Pablo is well documented, but perhaps we owe another genius a bit more credit.
Graduating from Yale with a double major in French literature and Mechanical Engineering, going to Cornell University afterward to study statistics and operations research, and then working as a statistician for various projects at Grumman Aircraft seems to prove you know what you’re talking about.
Working with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis from 1966 until his departure from the Pentagon in 1971, Sprey may have rubbed people the wrong way, but he was influential and a noted devil’s advocate, even if he didn’t intend to be.
Even after his departure, Pierre Sprey would work with Colonel John Boyd, Congress, and the Pentagon on legislative reform involving the military through the early 1980s.
You Know What the Midwest Is, Mr. Sprey?
A boy from Nice, France, would find himself a man with a recording that would help create one of the biggest musical stars of at least the first few days of the 21st century.
Founded in 1986, Mapleshade was a home recording studio that would go on to use non-conventional, innovative recording techniques to get the most out of the rawness that artists could provide.
This notably came into play when the ARC Choir recorded their album Walk With Me under Mapleshade Records in 1997.
Besides his rants, fashion ventures, and playful lyrics, the Louis Vuitton Don is known for using vocal samples to produce songs in ways no other can.
Ye provided one of these early examples by creating a sample from the song “Walk With Me” from the ARC Choir’s album of the same name in “Jesus Walks,” and the rest is history.
Sprey was the producer who recorded the song at Kelly Temple Church Of God In Christ, bringing out an intense, emotional, spiritual track with unmatched energy capable of making you feel something on Sunday morning and just the same on Friday night.
Jesus Walks and Got Punk’d
Today, Mapleshade Records continues to sell various high-end audiophile equipment for other aspiring artists and engineers. But the journey of the company and connections made to the military add just that much more to the track.
But there’s plenty of weirdness to go around. While “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West is but one hit in an ever-growing catalog of bangers, there was a time when Yeezy risked it all to complete the vision.
Ashton Kutcher decided to pull a prank as Mr. West was filming one of what would be three videos for the single by using a fake police officer to shut down the set and confiscate the tape.
Ye would end up finding the fake cop, wrestling the footage from him, almost running over the guy, and pouring $1 million into the production of the videos.
When it was all said and done, nothing serious became of the incident. The million-dollar story behind Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” music videos shows the dedication to his craft is unquestionable in the world of Yeezy.
Thankfully, the legacy of “Jesus Walks” and the unique connection it had to a man that worked to improve weaponry and conditions for troops continues to fascinate fans around the globe.
Pierre Sprey Image: Creator: Jed Kirschbaum | Credit: Baltimore Sun