On the tenth anniversary of The College Dropout‘s debut, Billboard grabs an intimate chat directors Coodie and Chike in which they talk about and share scenes from their early days with Kanye West. From what Coodie says a 17 or 18-year-old Yeezy on up, the two have been behind the camera, tracking and documenting his career even before the rapper/producer truly was anything more than a backpack rapper in the crowd.
While sitting in Coodie’s Harlem pad, he and Chike take Billboard associate editor Erika Ramirez through their archives of amazing footage. There’s early Kanye rocking struggle braids, a scene where Pharrell hears “Never Let You Down” for the first time in the studio and runs away screaming and stories of them brainstorming ideas on how to shoot his early vids (check their detailed breakdowns here). They even share a ton of video footage and storyboards that went on to become the scenes for ‘Ye’s first video, “Through The Wire.”
Kanye’s debut album stands a million miles away in the rearview because, in rap years, 10 years are more like 20 to 30 years. So much has transpired since those early days when ‘Ye was proud to throw the Roc up. Awards have been won, outbursts have been had. His mom died, a baby’s been born. He called out one President, while another President called him a jackass. His music has gone through shifts and so much more.
But, so have we and that’s what we fail to acknowledge at times. Over the course of 10 years, Kanye’s core personality – his self-aggrandizing, volatile yet passionate self – has remained the same. He’s always been the guy telling us about his greatness and I don’t mean in the typical braggadocios way that rappers promote themselves. We’re talking him talking genius shit about himself. Yeezus placing himself side-by-side with Jesus in songs. His own admittance that he’s a flawed, highly fashionable individual. All of it has been there since day one.
It’s how we hear and accept it all that changes over the years. We grow up and mature in our own right. The outspoken, frank talk that we once stood behind and cheered can irritate us now. His boasts of bagging the baddest chicks pale compared to our own dating exploits. Him calling himself a deity and genius doesn’t quite match the regular man and woman’s goal just to be a good person. In short, maybe we didn’t grow at the same accelerated pace as the kid from the ‘Go. Or maybe we didn’t grow at all.
It’s not his fault.
If I look back at the rappers who dominated the landscape in 2004 and survey the now to see who’s around, there stands Kanye in his self-driven prophecy. Without a doubt, he’s my absolute favorite artist to write about off the simple fact that he’s a polarizing Gemini, much like the last great Gemini rapper who I enjoyed studying and talking about endlessly.
Sure, I thought Yeezus was a shitbomb – and I side-eyed every outlet and person who put it at the top of their year-end list – I’m still cool with ‘Ye completely pushing the boundaries of what he wants his music and rap to sound like. The petulant behavior and mid-concert rants stopped me from accepting two offers to see him free on tour, yet I’m not the least bit mad at him using his platform the way he feels like and not backing down from speaking what’s on his mind.
“Nobody can deny that he deserves to be where he’s at right now…just through hard work,” Chike proclaims in the video. “I don’t care how much antics, I don’t care how much crazy shit he says. Nobody can deny him where he should be at right now.”
Watch the video below and also block off an hour or two of time to read Rameriz’s extremely thorough oral history of the album with just about every player involved with the project. It’s damn near mind-blowing to read the names and realize how the project was almost guaranteed to be a success when so many creatives are behind it working to push it to the top. This is probably where the 10 years really hit me because, remember, that Dropout… came out when CDs were still around. I’ve read the album credits and shit, but I totally forgot of few were in on the project (Ferris, 88), now realize how a couple went on to be involved with other landmark works (“3H,” Plain Pat, etc.) and flat-out wonder where some went (Really Doe, Miri Ben-Ari).
And, while we’re here, there’s an additional clip below, courtesy of A-Trak, featuring footage from the days when he served as Kanye’s tour DJ during the Dropout era. Again, we get to see early players like Consequence, Common, GLC, John Legend and more well before all of the stardom. Props to Complex for the find.
I guess a lot of changes and events really can happen over the course of 10 years.