Whenever Kanye West's name is in the news these days, it's generally because he's done something epic and offensive. That's why it was such a surprise when, earlier Thursday, rare footage went viral of a humble and earnest 19-year-old West rapping in New York City circa 1996, waiting for his break.
The video reveals the humble beginnings of West's now globally recognized musical style, giving us a peek at the timid, raw talent that became one of the biggest stars (and egos) of music's modern age. West, donning a big white Polo raps at the opening of Fat Beats record store in New York City.
At age 19, West was still sorting out his style — in this video he has a flow more akin to Black Thought or Nas than his current sound. After a timid start, chuckling with the mic in hand, he launches into 32 bars of punchline rap, the dominant style of the time. But because he was far from famous, and because other big-name rappers like Lord Finesse, Ill Bill and J-Live were present at the event, West's pre-fame performance was lost in their shadows.
Then, recently, DJ Eclipse, manager of the iconic record store that closed in 2010 went through footage of the opening and stumbled onto Ye's early verse. Upon finding it, he sent the clip to Complex, who posted it Thursday.
It's a powerful video. He's clearly talented, but West lacks the brash attitude and garish threads he's now known for. He begins his verse with a reference to Lake Shore Drive in his native Chicago. The rest is a raw, smooth flow that's fit for the '90s, complete with an Alanis Morissette reference. Before he gives up the mic to the next rapper, West lets out a closing chuckle with the same humility as when he began. That was certainly long, long ago.