Some people have villain origin stories. Others have superhero origin stories. Kanye West has both—and they happened at the exact same time.
Lucky for us, the moment was captured on film, and 20 years later, it’s finally being shown to the public. The whole thing goes down around 17 minutes into the first film of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, which hit Netflix today.
One of the film’s directors, Coodie Simmons, sets the scene perfectly.
“If the world was ever going to hear Kanye’s music, he needed a record deal,” he says, as footage of Kanye in the lobby of a fancy New York City office building plays in the background. “After producing half of The Blueprint, his sights were set on getting signed with the number one rap label, Roc-A-Fella Records. He just needed to convince Jay-Z and his co-founders Dame Dash and Biggs that he deserved a spot on the Roc. So one day, we decided to bum-rush their office, and I kept my camera rolling.”
Sure enough, we see a young Kanye West knock on the front door of the Roc-A-Fella offices, and no one immediately opens it for him. He waits for a few seconds, then opens it himself and walks right in.
He gets a couple daps from A&Rs at first, but no one really notices him, so he takes matters into his own hands. Walking up to Chaka Pilgrim, who worked in the Roc-A-Fella marketing department at the time, he says, “Let me play you something.” Then he throws a demo CD into a stereo system on the wall and presses play.
Suddenly, “All Falls Down” starts blasting into the small room. Yes, that “All Falls Down.” The song that would eventually be released as the third single from The College Dropout, ultimately going two-times Platinum, earning a Grammy nomination, and becoming Kanye’s first solo Top 10 hit.
By all accounts, it’s a timeless classic. But back then, in that Roc-A-Fella office building, no one gave a shit. We see Kanye go from one room to the next, rapping along to a song that would end up selling millions of copies, and literally no one (but Kanye) cares. Meetings keep happening, phones keep ringing, and Roc-A-Fella employees chuckle as he plays a smash record that would peak at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Admittedly, Kanye didn’t go about this whole situation as well as he could have. Showing up unannounced, in the middle of the afternoon, he took everyone off guard. These Roc employees had work to do, and he presented himself as a nuisance. At one point, we even see an executive assistant put a phone call on hold as Kanye blasts the song on her stereo and raps into her face.
By the time this all went down, Kanye was getting desperate. He was walking around with classic songs like “All Falls Down” on a demo CD, but no one would take him seriously as a rapper. Because of his success producing records like Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” everyone thought of him as “just a producer,” and nothing more. He had already tried the subtle approach, sending demos to collaborators and executives, but at a certain point, he had to start kicking down doors. He had to force the issue until others could see the vision he had for himself.
At the end of the scene, we see Kanye walking out of the Roc-A-Fella offices with a dejected look on his face. No one is taking him seriously, and it becomes painfully clear he’s still a long way away from a record deal—even with “All Falls Down” in his back pocket. Adding insult to injury, Kanye runs into an acquaintance, who looks into the camera and yells, “This boy is hot right here!” Then he turns to ’Ye and hollers, “Make sure I get my beats, man!” Once again, Kanye was being pigeonholed as just a producer.
In this moment, we see Kanye develop a chip on his shoulder that would follow him for the rest of his career. He had a vision for his own future that no one else could see yet, and he had to advocate for himself in order to actually make it happen. For the next 20 years, different versions of this would keep happening. He would try to break into the fashion world, and no one would take him seriously, discrediting him as “just a rapper.” He would try new styles of music and get bashed by fans and critics before ultimately proving to be ahead of his time. Over and over, he would find himself boxed in by the opinions of others, and then (loudly) advocate for himself until people took him seriously.
This would play out in inspirational ways, building on his superhero origin story. But other times, it would lead Kanye into controversial territory, playing into the villain character that some see him as today.