There are a lot of fascinating moments in jeen-yuhs, Netflix’s new documentary about Kanye West. But one scene, in particular, has demanded more attention than the rest.
Roughly 17 minutes into the film, Kanye rushes into the Roc-A-Fella office in New York City and plays “All Falls Down”—a song that would go two-times Platinum and become his first solo Top 10 hit—for anyone who will listen. Instead of blowing everyone away, though, he’s met with apathy. Frankly, no one gives a shit.
It’s an illuminating sequence that shows Kanye’s self-belief and determination at a time when most people still thought of him as “just a producer” and dismissed his skills as a rapper. Many fans at home were stunned to see Roc-A-Fella employees so easily disregard a now-classic song like “All Falls Down,” and the scene immediately went viral. I even wrote a whole essay about how moments like this explain Kanye’s entire career. It’s his superhero origin story and his villain origin story.
There’s a lot more to every story than what first meets the eye, though. The four-minute scene only captures a small portion of Kanye’s interactions with Roc-A-Fella, and the full story is much more nuanced than it appears in the documentary.
I’ve had a lot of questions about the scene since I first saw it, so I called someone who was actually there. Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua—Kanye’s manager at the time and former head of A&R at Roc-A-Fella—was one of the first people Ye came across when he walked into the office building.
Hip Hop says Kanye didn’t come into the Roc-A-Fella headquarters often back then, but he did have a habit of performing his songs for anyone who might be able to give him a chance. “Those types of impromptu performances happened all the time,” Hip Hop says. “This was when he was becoming more confident in his music. He was still trying to get those opportunities.”
Kanye showed up unannounced that day, at a time when Roc-A-Fella employees were busy preparing album rollouts for artists like Cam’ron. Since the release of the documentary, many people have criticized one employee in particular, Chaka Pilgrim, for not immediately praising the greatness of a song like “All Falls Down.” But with additional context, a more complete picture comes to light.
For one, the timing wasn’t ideal. As Kanye walks over to Pilgrim’s desk and starts performing, she’s sitting behind a stack of papers and can’t give him her undivided attention (which would have been the case if this had been a scheduled listening session). “Chaka was definitely busy, because she’s behind her desk,” Hip Hop says. “If she’s behind her desk, she’s doing something. Usually, she’s walking around doing a bunch of shit or on a video shoot or something like that.”