April 22, 2013


10 Things We Learned From Kanye West's Pre-Fame Mixtape

Getty Images
Getty Images

Although Kanye West, like most megastar artists, probably isn't jockeying to share his pre-fame material with the world, his much-rumored 2001 demo mixtape has finally hit the Internet. Dubbed The Prerequisite by fans, this mixtape features early versions of classic tracks like "Jesus Walks" and "All Falls Down" (entitled "Dream Come True" here) as well as several never-before-heard songs from the Chicago MC's days as a producer. 

So from his Godfather sample to his collabo with a pre-fame John Legend to verses from forgotten songs he'd recycle years later, here are 10 things we learned from West's 12-year-old demos.

1. "Jesus Walks" Is Missing the Key Verse 
The centerpiece of his breakthrough track—Kanye rapping about how he can address "guns, sex, lies and video tapes but if I talk about God my record won't get played"—is not present in the original version (which is a full minute shorter). But that makes sense when you think it over: West must've unsuccessfully shopped this song around and been repeatedly told "God and rap don't mix" before feeling the need to record that famous third verse for the final version of "Jesus Walks."

2. A Pre-Fame Kanye Was Working With a Pre-Fame John Legend
West—who would produce Legend's studio debut the same year College Dropout arrived—was already collaborating with the R&B smoothie way back in 2001. Legend provides vocals for "Home (Windy)," which would morph into "Homecoming" for 'Ye's third album Graduation. Note: That track featured vocals from Chris Martin, but the Coldplay singer was crooning an entirely different hook from Legend's.

3. West Cribs The Godfather Theme for One Track
On "Know the Game"—one of the never-heard-before tracks on this just-dropped mixtape—West employs the iconic Godfather riff for this song about an affair. It sounds better on paper than on headphones, which probably explains why he never bothered messing with Don Corleone again.

4. West Is Not Afraid to Recycle Lyrics 
On "Need to Know," Kanye raps, "Henny make hoes look like Halle Berry to me." That line popped up on The College Dropout's "New Workout Plan." And in that same song he tells a girl, "You remind me of my Jeep but not no Kia," which he'd use as a line on Malik Yusef's "Wouldn't You Like to Ride." The point is this: Kanye should be on our list of green artists, because the dude clearly loves recycling. 

5. His Infamous Ego Was in Full Effect Even Before Fame
Years before he actually became famous, West was already bragging, "Magazines call me rock star/ Bitches call me cock star." Incidentally, he'd also reuse that line for his feature on Jay-Z's "The Bounce."

6. The Mixtape Features A Better Version of a Joke He Would Use Later
"Have It Your Way" (which is an early version of Late Registration's "Bring Me Down") features the wonderful line, "There's no wrong way to eat your face, like a Reese's." West excised that line from "Bring Me Down" but recycled it for Eminem's "A Drop in the Ocean." Unfortunately, his reworked version of that joke is less funny and awkwardly phrased: "You don't remember when I called you Reese's Pieces / 'Cause it's no wrong way to do 'you know what.'" P.S., Adult men should never call sex "you know what."

7. There Are Some Blessedly Forgotten Lyrics
This line from "Out of Your Mind" is best left in the past: "I got a girl at home but she don't cook / So I got my condoms in the stove 'cause she won't look."

8. The Production Can Be A Bit Clunky
Sure, it's a demo tape, but it's surprising to hear such rough production from the notoriously consummate Kanye West. "Out of Your Mind" stands out in particular with its stop-start rhythm, a stark contrast to polished production he flaunts elsewhere on the early version of "Hey Mama" and "Home (Windy)."

9. He's Already Using Obscure Samples
West takes a hook from '70s soft rocker Stephen Bishop's "Never Letting Go" on "Never Letting Go (The Stalker Song)," which is about a girl who keeps calling him even though he only "f—ked her once." This slice of 1976 yacht rock was neither a hit nor is it a cult classic, which means that like any great producer, West always had an eye out for obscure melodies to remake in his image.

10. West Flirted With Reggae for a Minute
"Wow!" is a far cry from the soul samples and sing-along choruses of The College Dropout. Its reggae-inflected guitar riff and laid-back pace prove to be a strange match for Kanye's excitable flow, which is probably why this song never cropped up elsewhere in his career.