“Please Give It Up For the Future of Hip Hop, Kanye West”
Kanye West’s debut album, The College Dropout, came out exactly 10 years ago today. My favorite artifact from that album is this video of an unknown Kanye performing a verse from an unknown excerpt from “All Falls Down” on Def Poetry Jam some time in 2004. I dug this clip up for an 808s & Heartbreak appreciation, and I still love watching it — in part because it provides the unique experience of seeing a global superstar when he was unknown and nervous (or at least good at acting like it) and in part because of the way it recontextualizes a song so many know so well today, and sets up the kind of pop culture jigsaw puzzle that the internet lets us track down these days: the verse he performs eventually ended up on the third Dropout single, featuring Syleena Johnson on the reworked Lauryn Hill hook; before that, it appeared in an early recording now compiled in the great Freshman Adjustment tapes.
I like watching this version of it, though, now that Kanye — some 10 years into a different kind of fame — can’t enter a room without being greeted with a sea of cell phones waiting to record what we can only collectively understand as “rants” and now that he’s earned the very real pressure of an expectation to awe or perplex us on a regular basis. Ten years ago no one knew to cheer extra loud when Kanye came out onstage, and no one knew they should listen to what he had to say, but they still did, and still laughed at all the right parts, even if the funny parts were also kind of sad, and they still exhaled in at least a little bit of awe once he had said his piece. It’s a cool thing to see. You should also go read Billboard’s oral history of the album.