Mixtape Memories: 5 Classic Kanye West Freestyles
(Image via Andrew Kendall)
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Kanye West’s new album Yeezus drops today, and fans and critics alike seem to have mixed emotions about it. We’re sure you’re going to be bombarded with reviews and think pieces all week, praising and/or attacking it from every angle. So we’ll spare you our thoughts. Instead, we thought we’d celebrate the longevity of ‘Ye’s career as a solo artist by revisiting some of his early freestyles for our Mixtape Memories series.
It’s been a decade since most of these joints were released on either official Kanye West or Roc-A-Fella Records tapes, and one thing’s for sure—dude was poised to blow as a solo rap artist once he was chained. And though we might not have been able to see the vision at the time when he rapped about going platinum, he did that shit, so you have to give him his propers. Get reacquainted with Mixtape Yeezy below.
1. Kanye West “The Truth Freestyle”
The first time most people outside of the hip-hop scene in Chicago heard Kanye West rap was on the Roc-A-Fella posse cut “Champions” that he produced, which initially appeared on DJ Envy’s Dream Team Paid In Full mixtape, a prelude to the official double disc soundtrack release in stores. The general reaction was basically, “Oh shit, Kanye’s kinda nice!”
And towards the end of the tape, Envy also included a solo freestyle, where ‘Ye went in over “The Truth” instrumental he made for Beanie Sigel, flexing his skills even more with lines like, “Last 9/11 I was poor on the Ave/‘Til I pluraled my math/Now it’s Porsche 911s and I’m flooring the gas/Got a lotta problems, money’s one that I not have/Date ballplayers wives that divorced and got half.” Yup, Kanye was now officially a problem on the beats and the mic.
2. Kanye West “A Million Freestyle”
On Kanye’s official Get Well Soon mixtape—which pictured him laid up in the hospital after the infamous L.A. car accident that broke his jaw—he gave fans a blend of the outside production he had done for everyone from Nas to Jay-Z to Scarface to Talib Kweli. The tape also included exclusive solo cuts (like an early snippet of “Jesus Walks”), live recordings, and freestyles by various artists, including himself.
Over his big brother Jay-Z’s DJ Premier-produced classic, Kanye projected the future, rapping confidently on the hook, “I’m about to sell a [million].” He also addressed the rumors about his industry practices with questions like, “Is it true he won’t send a beat tape until he get a check?” This was light but legendary work.
3. Kanye West “Half Price”
Kanye flipped the beat he made for Lil Kim’s “Came Back For You” into a conceptualized freestyle that appeared on his official I’m Good mixtape, proudly admitting that he would give the baddest rapper chicks in the game half price on tracks if they chose to work with him. He raps, “You’re looking all thick and sweet/You need a nigga that can give you dick and beats,” and also kills it with some dated but great name drops, like, “Maybe K could get a menage with Lazy K and Lady May?” Nicely done.
4. Kanye West & Consequence “Electric Relaxation Freestyle”
‘Ye and Cons teamed up more than a few times on tracks back in the day, both on albums and mixtapes. Though things went sour between them recently, they always had chemistry on the mic, exhibited both on their remix of Souls of Mischief’s “93 ‘til Infinity,” and this rendition of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation.” It’s a solid back-and-forth homage to Cons’ cousin Q-Tip’s rap group, and it gave ‘Ye a chance to make sure his people back home knew he would still rep the Chi even if he was now living in New York. This is cold.
5. Kanye West “Warriors 2 Freestyle”
Dame Dash recruited legendary DJ Brucie B for the Armadale sponsored The Warriors Mixtape Part 2, which showed off the depth of Roc-A-Fella at the time, featuring artists from Jay-Z to Cam’ron to Beanie Sigel. Their squad was crazy, and Kanye only made them that much iller, dropping one of his most slept-on mixtape freestyles ever on the tape, setting it off like, “I got girls in my room like hostages/Giving me neck like ostriches/Give some play to the real Kanye ‘cuz we all know who the imposters is.” Fire.