Iconic: Kanye West shows early charisma, stand-up skills on 'Def Poetry Jam' in 2004
Back in 2004, Kanye West had already made an indelible mark on the hip-hop world by producing the best tracks on Jay-Z’s watershed 2001 album The Blueprint.
He had also scored production credits on a number of major hits, including Talib Kweli’s “Get By” and Fabolous’ “My Life.” But he had not yet scored ample time on the microphone (at least in public), and was still trying to put some buzz behind his debut album The College Dropout.
So what did ‘Ye do? He paid a visit to Def Poetry Jam, the Mos Def-hosted show that aired for several years on HBO, and spit out a poem called “Self-Conscious.” In the clip below, you can hear Mos (or whatever he’s calling himself now) declare Kanye “the future of hip-hop,” and if you listen to the lyrics, you can hear the genesis “All Falls Down,” which became a bona fide hit for West nearly a year later.
Even though we couldn’t afford it, my roommate and I subscribed to HBO back then, mainly so we could watch The Sopranos. Because we wanted to get our money’s worth, we watched just about everything that HBO put in front of us, which consisted mostly of never-ending replays of Gladiator and the death throes of Arliss.
But Def Poetry Jam provided a two-pronged piece of entertainment. It not only allowed us to keep up with some up-and-coming rappers (I remember a great performance by never-was Mums) and also some unintentionally hilarious comedy (her work with Salt-N-Pepa is untouchable, but Cheryl “Salt” James’ foray into poetry was extremely ill-advised).
We already knew West from his production work on hip-hop albums we loved, but we were unconvinced of his prowess as a performer. Even though this spin above is a bit shaky, he did have a shaggy charisma that was undeniable, and that later evolved into what we have today.
But you could see even then that the dude was destined to be a star. Readers, were you there too? What did you think?