The last 24 hours have been weird because the internet is weird. Literally overnight, everyone from MTV to HipHopDX and the assorted rest of the rap interwebz has been writing about this early Kanye beat tape that had just been uncovered, except it hadn't just been uncovered at all. I first dropped it four years ago.
At the time I was working with Jensen Karp and Eric & Jeff (aka ItsTheReal) on the late-great Hypemen podcast. This was 2011, which both seems like just yesterday and an eternity ago; SoundCloud didn't exist, Stitcher didn't exist, podcasts on iTunes were only just starting to be a thing, so I was helping the guys stream the podcasts via my late-great site, RefinedHype.
At one point Jensen, who had once been signed to Interscope as the rapper Hot Karl, mentioned that he had come across old beat CDs from the now almighty Kanye West. When Jensen was working on his major label album he had been connected with a young 'Ye as someone who could produce for him, Jensen was given a couple CDs full of Kanye instrumentals to choose from...and then Jensen decided he didn't want to be a rapper anymore and left the label and those CDs literally sat in a box in his garage for a few years before he came across them again.
He realized those instrumentals would be some of the earliest Yeezy beats ever released and asked if I wanted to help put them out. Again, this was before Audiomack/SoundCloud/etc., so at that point his options for putting out a "mixtape" online were basically Datpiff, some shitty ZShare link or DJBooth/RefinedHype. Since he already knew me and I was so excited about doing it because of fucking course I wanted to put out early Kanye beats, boom, it was decided. On December 23, 2011, we dropped The Hype Men Present: Kanye West’s First Beats (Disc 1).
And then....not a whole lot happened. The guys stopped doing the Hypemen podcast, I eventually shut down RefinedHype, and in a way that "Kanye West's First Beats" post became the internet equivalent of those CDs that sat in Jensen's garage for all those years, not literally gone, but largely forgotten.
Fast forward to 2015. Someone uploaded the beat tape to YouTube two days ago because that's a thing that happens now, it blew up on Reddit yesterday, and today it was getting covered on MTV (and beyond), spreading far faster than it had originally because the internet's viral capabilities are exponentially more powerful than just four years ago. Often though, all that context I laid out above had been stripped down to something more closely resembling "YO, CHECK OUT THESE OLD KANYE BEATS I JUST FOUND!" At best, the stories were often only this quote from Jensen that I had included in the original post:
Owner of the disc, Jensen Karp: “I was stumbling through my garage, searching through old storage bins, when I came across some old beat CDs from my days as a signed Interscope rapper. I was shocked to find that two of them, both given to me in ‘01, had the name Kanye West on them. These two CDs, which I believe are the oldest Kanye beats ever released.
I think this collection of early Kanye beats shows you where he came from, even if it doesn’t necessarily sound like ‘Kanye’ now. He kept at it and became the incredible producer he is today. I remember he even had to leave the studio sessions early, so he could make the last train back to his mom’s house. He’s come a long way, and I’m proud to have been around, even if for just a second at the start.”
Seeing the beat tape re-emerge years later has been a strange experience on a few levels. First, even being reminded of its existence has been like running into an old girlfriend, except in the years since you've last seen her she's had plastic surgery, and not neccesarily for the better...and you know that she's had sex with a lot of people. Like a lot of people. And second, seeing an incomplete version of the story being circulated, often with no mention of my involvement, was a good lesson in how quickly things can escalate on the internet. I happen to be in a position where I can contact a lot of my fellow writers directly, ask them to link back to the original post and update their stories, but it's easy to see how scary it could be to watch something you did go viral and not even have a sliver of control. This is a Kanye beat tape I played the most minor of roles in - it may be the big news in a small corner of the internet today, but in the grand scheme of things it's not even remotely important. It's got to be terrifying watching something spiral out of your control on the internet when it really matters though.
So really, shrug. In a few weeks, along with the rest of the world, I'll forgot this day happened, just like I had forgotten about the initial post. It'd be hypocritical for me to get worked up about music content being shared in ways the original creator didn't neccesarily intend; live by the sword internet, die by the sword internet.
Ultimately, the important thing is that yes, Jensen was right all those years ago. It's fascinating to listen to these beats from a young Kanye and think about how far he's come, especially considering how much further he's come since the post first came out. So whether it's on DJBooth, YouTube or one of the eleventy-billion other places it's now been posted, I recommend taking a listen. Whether I get the credit or not, at least everyone reading this will know who dropped the beat tape first.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks on podcasts/radio/TV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]