Never-Before-Seen Photos Of Early 2000s Kanye West By Jonathan Mannion

Early 2000s Kanye West, shot by Jonathan Mannion

Before Kanye West was a superstar, FADER offered the then-young star in the making his first magazine cover, as he readied his debut album, The College Dropout.

Enlisted to shoot Yeezy was celebrated photographer Jonathan Mannion, who recently reflected on the day of the shoot and the beginning of the Kanye era… along with the unreleased photos above.

Below is a quote from Mannion below. Read the full feature over at

I remember this shoot being a day of firsts for both of us, and everybody talking about that. It was the first magazine cover that he had ever done. It was also the first shoot that I did in my studio here in Gramercy Park. There were no windows in the skylight in my studio, but I was so anxious to get in my space and build that energy. I figured this was the most incredible kick off I could have. At that point Kanye was already building his legacy. Already at that point all eyes were on him. Cause even before dropping that first album, he’d claimed it, he wasn’t accepting no for an answer. I think The FADER showed a lot of foresight by saying, Okay, you’re our guy, you’re on the cover, let’s go.

Kanye styled himself that day, there wasn’t a stylist. I remember he wanted props, things that represented his style. A Louis Vuitton bag showed up and he told a story, “I tried to get a bunch of Louis stuff and they wouldn’t send it to me, so I just bought it.” Whether it was that bag he bought or a big clump of Louis Vuitton luggage he wanted to stand on, he wanted it to be LV to show what he appreciated. I remember his “If I want it, I’m just gonna get it” attitude. The brick phone he’s holding in some of these dates the photos, but there’s nothing else about these to make them seem like they weren’t taken yesterday. I’m sure that phone, at that time, was the freshest, greatest, nobody had it. It was always about being ahead of the competition. His style then was impeccable and there’s nothing about it that wouldn’t apply today.

There was this catwalk on the roof, where you could shoot right through the skeleton of the skylight, where the windows would soon be. It was inspiring to see what unfolded based on our dialogue and wandering around this new space. Both of us were treading carefully. In a session, it’s my eye that defines and interprets that moment, but I know I’m there to facilitate what the artist wants. I remember him not being super loud or outspoken. There was a calm swagger about everything that he did. He was in thought.

In 2003, people were waiting for the person, Kanye. People were aware of the tunes he’d done that were being released, but people were more fascinated by him as a character. In the last couple years, I bumped into him on the street in the Village. We stopped, I met Kim. It was a treat, she’s gorgeous, congratulations to them both. He said like, “I broke all the rules, so now I can just play the game, now I can just kinda fall in line.” I doubt that he could ever actually take that advice, because he’s forever pushing out all the borders. He challenges himself and everyone else in the genre to be better. We need those challenges.

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