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Look back at rare footage of pre-fame Kanye West freestyling in 1996


Love him, loathe him or barely recognise his talent, it is hard to ignore the sheer presence of Kanye West. One of the most prominent artists on the planet, West is a global phenomenon, gaining as much love and appreciation for his mind-bogglingly brilliant production and song creation as he does hate and vitriol for his personal life. A curator of controversy, it seems now that imagining Ye as anything but an icon is impossible to achieve. However, some things have a way of grounding you.

Like all of us growing up amid the technological boom of the late-20th century, Kanye West’s life has been chronicled for some time. In fact, much of that archival footage arrived with his Netflix documentary special Jeen-Yuhs, which saw Ye get paid $30 million to allow the streaming platform to air an astoundingly candid documentary about his life under the spotlight. Below, however, we have some rare footage from before Ye really hit the big time.

West’s career saw him begin life in the music industry as a producer, working his way up the hip-hop ladder quickly after word spread of his futuristic approach to beat creation. It was an ethos that allowed West to become one of the most sought after producers in the world. Despite his rich successes behind the desk, his aim from day one was to become a rapper, and despite doubts about his capabilities to make the step up, West proved them wrong with apparent ease.

Although his most recent releases have been a little off the boil, commercially and critically, as this list alludes to, Kanye is an artist that has proven time and time again that you can never write off a true innovator. Following College Dropout in 2004, fans loved and embraced his authenticity, which shined through from then on. West has made albums that are always challenging and dripping with artistic integrity.

Much of Kanye’s rise to the top of the production pile can be heard in his song ‘Last Call’. Within those lines, Ye not only shares how he upped sticks and got himself out of Chicago but how he took himself to New Jersey in 2001 to really get his career moving. But it wasn’t the only time he made his way to the Tri-State area. Back in 1996, five years before he made the fabled move, Ye took part in a freestyle competition at the iconic Fat Beats store in New York City.

The Big Apple would become a rich piece of Kanye’s rise to the top, but in this rare footage, the 19-year-old Ye is a little out of his depth. It’s unusual for us, in 2022, to witness Kanye West, not at the top of his game — or at least not thinking he was —however, during the first few bars of this rare footage unearthed by DJ Eclipse, we see a goofy Ye faltering before becoming the confident, calm and collected artist we now know him to be.

A young kid with a backpack full of beats attempting to make his way in the hip hop world. After his first few bars fall flat, he grows in confidence to deliver a captivating freestyle that gets the crowd moving in his direction. This footage of a pre-fame Kanye West not only captures the icon at the beginning of his career but gives us a blueprint for his forthcoming success.