Started From the Waldorf School: The Teenage Performances of 8 Superstar Rappers

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Last week, a video of a teenage Kanye West performing at New York City’s Fat Beats record store hit the Internet, an unlikely gem the store’s former manager found while converting old Hi8 videotapes to DVD. And now, a beautifully titled song by a 16-year-old Eminem — “Pooh Butt Day” — has also emerged from the Internet’s depths, a surprisingly upbeat foot-tapper from an artist known for anger and darkness.

The grainy beauty of these performances got us dreaming about the other tiny rappers frozen in time on YouTube, and before too long we gathered some clips capturing what’s basically a Muppet Babies of Rap — eight early performances by future all-stars.

Kanye West

Baby Ye sounds just like Big Ye, albeit with more Alanis Morissette references than he tends to make now (hey, it was timely in 1996).

Eminem

Here we have Eminem rapping about a “Pooh Butt Day,” otherwise known as Eminem and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Drake

A 17-year-old Aubrey Graham shows us what Drake meant when he said he “started from the bottom.” This, folks, is the bottom.

Meek Mill

Here’s Meek Mill in a freestyle battle with a friend. Skip to 3:00 for Meek to start his verse, complete with some intense theatrics and an expression of almost unblinking ferocity.

Biggie

You’ve seen this one before — it was even reenacted in Notorious — but it’s worth revisiting to remind yourself of Biggie’s rhythm and energy, and why this legend deserves his legacy.

Big Sean

This one is cute and a bit sad — here’s a 12-year-old Big Sean on the local news, leading his young peers in anti-drug and abstinence raps at his Detroit Waldorf school. Sean told Complex in 2011, “People be like, ‘Man when you were 12 years old you were rapping about not having sex and not smoking weed.’ That’s cause I wasn’t having sex and smoking!” And that’s when Baby Sean became Big Sean.

Jay Z

This one is a strain on the eyes (Jay Z’s pretty old, so it makes sense), but Hov’s voice is unmistakable, so you’ll know it’s him. He’s also, er, hard to miss in that pink suit — which I hope means they filmed this on a Wednesday.

Tupac

OK, we’re cheating a bit with this one, because 17-year-old Tupac isn’t rapping. But he is giving a sweet, smart interview and talking about how weird it is to be 17, that “in the middle” age where you’re basically an adult but still can’t sign your own release form for the interview you’re currently doing. I hope the CIA finds him soon.