Jon Brion had recently scored the 2004 trippy rom-com Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when he got a call from an unlikely admirer: Kanye West.
Brion had never worked with a rapper in his life. At the time, he had recorded a power-pop solo album, produced artists like Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann and scored the Paul Thomas Anderson films Hard Eight, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. But, as Brion told Noisey in 2018, West “wanted to expand himself” at the time, finding traditional rap production boring. During their first session together, the pair tracked most of the cheeky, joyous “Gold Digger,” which later went to No. 1 and was nominated for Record of the Year at the 2006 Grammy Awards.
The songwriter and composer went on to co-produce the rest of 2005’s Late Registration, and he’s ventured further into its stylistic waters ever since. Most recently, he worked with the late Mac Miller for 2018’s Swimming and his final album, Circles, released in January. By maintaining a catholic attitude toward genre and tapping into the DNA of Miller’s songs, Brion helped bare the troubled-yet-gifted rapper’s soul.
He still scores Oscar-nominated films like 2017’s Lady Bird, and works with artists from Sky Ferreira to Bruce Springsteen. But for any rap and R&B fans unaware of Brion’s contributions to those genres, here are six major albums you may not know he was integral to.
Late Registration (2005)
Continuing in an R&B vein from LEMONADE, Brion produced, arranged and contributed keyboards and drum programming to a number of songs on Frank Ocean’s Blond.
Like West, Mac Miller fell in love with the Eternal Sunshine score and wanted to work with the man responsible. When the rapper approached the producer, he was nervous, telling him, “I don’t know if you’d even consider what I do as music.”
Dirty Computer (2018)
Two years after Janelle Monáe made her acting debut in Moonlight, she released her breakout album Dirty Computer and a film of the same name. Brion sprinkled his “magic vintage fairy dust” (Monáe’s words) on both projects.
While Miller’s Swimming hewed closer to hip-hop, his posthumous album Circles is wintry and intimate, a drawn curtain into his precarious mental state. Miller died in the middle of its making; Brion assembled it from nearly finished pieces.