By Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
I lived in Washington D.C. for a few years after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2000, and was working a full-time job directing an after school program and a teen travel summer camp. I also had a side hustle slinging mixtapes out of a clothing store at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. I wasn’t really actively rapping at the time, but I still recorded every once in a while, and one of my boys who always told me I should be going harder trying to get on sent a couple of my songs out to his contacts in the music industry. This was the summer of 2003.
This dude who had done lots of work with Ruff Ryders and Bad Boy was starting a record label based out of Sony Studios in Manhattan, and he ended up really liking my stuff. So he signed me to a production deal, which basically meant that him and his partner would would fund my studio time, give me tracks from their in-house beatmakers, and help me get an actual record deal where they would partner with a major label to put me out. They told me I was going to be the next Eminem, and I believed them enough to give it a shot. Plus, I had just broken up with my girlfriend down in D.C. and was dying to move home to New York.
I still hadn’t moved back, but was slowly starting to put in work on weekends at Sony. I took the train up from D.C. the weekend of Halloween that fall to hit the lab to record some songs. This was back in the Discman days before iPods were standard, or at least before I had one. I had this Kanye West mixtape, Akademiks: Jeanius Level Musik Vol 2, that we were selling at our store with a bunch of unreleased songs and exclusives on it, and I was listening to it on my walk from Penn Station up to Sony on 54th Street. I had this joint by John Legend—who was still unknown at the time—on repeat. It was the original version of “Live It Up” that Kanye produced, and I had literally played it back like five times on my walk up to the studio.
As I walked into Sony to go to my session, this short white kid was in front of me signing in. I didn’t recognize his face, but when I went to sign in after him, I recognized his name from being shouted out by Kanye West on mixtapes. Plain Pat. You know, the now famous drop: “Plain Pat, what up!”
After signing in, I started walking down the hallway to go to the elevator, still listening to that same John Legend song in my headphones. As I passed a series of doors, one opened. All of a sudden, Kanye West was looking right at me. He was opening the door for Plain Pat—I just happened to pass by at exactly the right second.
I was like, “Yo, what’s up, I’m listening to your shit right now.” And Kanye was like, “Oh, word? Let me hear.” So I handed him the headphones, and he nodded, “Oh, yeah, this is my shit.” I told him I was a fan of his music, that I was a rapper as well, and was on my way to a session downstairs. “Oh, that’s dope. I want to hear you rap,” Kanye said casually. Then he invited me in.
The studio Kanye was in was plush, and way bigger than the little basement joint I was recording out of downstairs. There were a good amount of people in there, and he introduced me around to everyone—Plain Pat, some guys I don’t remember, and GLC was there, too. He was super friendly and welcoming. He was playing the “Thru The Wire” video on his phone, and this was 2003, so everyone was bugging off that new technology.
It was pretty hectic in there, and I was now running late for my session. They weren’t really working on music, because it was Halloween weekend, so they were all in the lounge area just chilling, getting ready to go out later. I remember ‘Ye talking about this black Polo jacket with a skull on it that he wanted to wear for Halloween, and then he started playing Connect Four with someone who I think was interviewing him for a magazine feature. So I figured I would bounce—rather than hang around like a groupie—and get down to my session. I had some songs I was really excited about laying down, and had been on the train all afternoon. I was anxious to settle in.
I said peace to GLC and Pat and everyone, then walked over to Kanye, and told him I was heading down to my session. I thanked him for inviting me in, and wished him luck with everything and all that. He stopped his Connect Four game and was like, “I thought you were gonna spit something for me.” So, without hesitation, I started spitting this random verse for him acapella. It was some shit I was about to lay down that night for this song I had called “Marinate On That,” and it was the first thing that popped into my head. Not my greatest bars, but at the time I was feeling it. It was pretty raunchy, actually, but I didn’t give a fuck. That’s what I was on at the time. This is how it went:
“I skate off baking an eighth
Marinating by the lake, figure-eighting your date
Getting right, real low in that Delta 88
Pimp status, blowing dro with a bad Playmate
She sniffs snow and goes both ways you can’t hate that
She gives me face while I count cake and fall way back
You gotta love it, hot tub it, Lyle Lovett of rap
I style lovely, wild bubbly and a dub of that black
We get gully, like this and like that, like this
The Mack Ip twist her tits with the flick of the wrist
Tune in Tokyo, you know me bro, I’m making those hits
I drop hot flames like Satan taking a shit.”
Yo, he was actually listening… closely. I was looking him right in the eye and shit, letting him know I was serious. Pause. And he was smiling, and seemed to be genuinely feeling the verse, though maybe he was just being polite. Unfortunately, I’ll never know, because when I was finished, I didn’t even give him a chance to comment or anything. I just dapped him up, said peace, thanked him again, and bounced.
Thinking back on it now, I still regret leaving that session that night. It’s a move that I’ve beaten myself up over in the past. I knew Kanye was the shit. I was a huge fan already, and this was before his first album was even out. He had invited me in to chill, and I kept it moving after ten minutes rather than sticking around to see what the night had in store. I guess I was so focused on what I was doing that I felt like, “It’s all good. I’m in the same building as him. We’ll cross paths again.” You know, “I’m on my way up, too, so why sweat the next man?” Plus, he had yet to blow up himself, so it wasn’t like if he was feeling my shit he was in a position to sign me or anything like that.
Still, I should have gotten his contact or something, or hung out a little longer. At the very least I should have given him a chance to react to my rhyme. I remember being down in my recording session telling cats in there I had just met Kanye, and they didn’t even know who he was. I wanted to leave and go back upstairs, but in my mind, it was too late. Now, like Jigga said, “Gotta learn to live with regrets.”
For a few years after that, when I was still pursuing a rap career and before I met my wife and had my kids, I was a little harder on myself about how I handled my interaction with Kanye. I thought maybe it was fate or something that I met him that night, and was listening to a song he produced at the exact same moment he opened up that door for Plain Pat. Like, that’s too crazy of a coincidence, right? Plus, we’re basically the same age, and I was a really big fan of his rhymes and production. Who knows? Maybe if we connected and vibed out a little more something crazy may have happened. Especially since my own label situation went to complete shit a year later, and since he ended up being the biggest thing in music.
It’s all good, though. I love my life as a husband and father of two little spitters. I’m happy where I’m at now. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had the opportunity to lay down some tracks with Kanye West. Imagine, Stan Ipcus on G.O.O.D. Music. That would’ve been some shit.
Read Daniel’s other contributions to Pigeons & Planes here, and hear his latest track, as heard on Hot 97, below: