That time Kanye freestyled in a tiny London record store

Legendary record shop Deal Real shares its favourite in-store performances, ft Yeezy, Amy Winehouse and Ghostface Killah

Ask any hip hop fanatic or emerging artist worth their salt where they were on a Friday night between 2002 and 2007 and they’re probably going to say Deal Real. The renowned record store was a hip hop Mecca for London’s music scene, and a must-see stop off for artists visiting from the US. It served as a much-needed platform for emerging British acts like a young Tinchy Stryder and Example, who gave some of their first performances at Deal Real's now-infamous open-mic sessions. In what sounds like the stuff of urban legend, the store hosted improv performances from icons like Amy Winehouse, Yeezy, Mos Def and Ghostface Killah. Although shutting its doors in 2007, Deal Real continues to live on. With a pop up event organised earlier this year to honour its legacy, below, the store’s owner Vincent Olutayo opens up the video archives to give us an insight into the most memorable moments in Deal Real history.


“One of the UK’s finest MCs, lauded by boom-bap loving hip-hop purists and the new generation of UK rap and Grime kids alike. Klashnekoff’s unique skill was his ability to turn the harsh realities of existence in the ‘East Maze’ (Hackney) into gripping stories, memorable anthems and hip hop quotables. His signature song ‘Murda’, became the Deal Real anthem at Doc Brown’s infamous ‘holler-back sessions’, where the crowd would recite the entire song lyrics word-for-word.”


“By 19 years old, Cassidy’s battle credentials had become pretty infamous, especially following his legendary battle with Jay-Z /Roc-A-fella Records signing Freeway. Going on to record with R. Kelly and Swizz Beats, Cassidy was in the UK promoting his album Split Personality. Feeling fully at home, he treated the Deal Real crowd to freestyles and some of his infamous punchlines – consistently referring to the shop as like ‘being back in the hood.’”


“Another legendary MC with immense battle credentials and a freestyle world record under his belt. Supernatural was in London to host a major event and had to touch down at Deal Real. Super Nat’s instore was a complete masterclass in the art of freestyle, incorporating album titles from records on the walls, items of clothing from the crowd and even Deal Real Director Olu’s video camera, into his rhymes.”


“Having heard early songs from her first album Frank, the team knew Amy was an exceptional talent. One of the guys tracked her down to a performance she was doing at a local chain and we all pretty much blagged our way in to speaking to her about an in-store at Deal Real’s “Ladies Night”. Amy was really easy going and following her in-store performance, became a good friend to the shop, always finding time to pop by and hang out.”


“Kool Keith, founder member of the renowned hip hop group Ultramagnetic MC’s and owner of a slew of pseudonyms including Poppa Large, Dr Octagon and Black Elvis, was one of the first US rappers to bless Deal Real in Carnaby, along with his producer and Beastie Boys collaborator KutMasta Kurt.”


“Not many people appreciate just how much of a hip hop kid is, so when we got the opportunity to talk to him at a brand launch, he was super keen to attend and hang out at an instore. Catching the vibe, he asked to bless the open-mic and ended up shutting down the event with a well-received freestyle. Later on Fergie also performed, admitting to being nervous as it was her first time performing in London, but showing the slightly cynical MC’s her amazing vocal ability (another Deal Real exclusive!). That very same week, the Black Eyed Peas hit No.1 in the UK charts with “Where is The Love?””


“As one of the founder members of the Wu-Tang Clan and a staple in most hip hop fans list of top 10 MCs of all time, The GZA’s instore topped a bill which included Percussions, Mos Def and the UK’s very own Lowkey. Gza’s contribution was a mind blowing display of lyricism. Having recently released Legend of the Liquid Sword (2002), he treated the crowd to some of his most infamous verses over a collection of UK rap anthems spun by DJ Baby Blu, and went onto treat the crowd to a number of brand new acapellas.”


“Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah, had embarked on the Theodore Unit project, promoting his crew of Staten Island protégées. Featuring the likes of Trife Da God and Shawn Wigs, the Theodore Unit treated the capacity Deal Real crowd to anthems from The Pretty Toney and 718 albums. Ghostface also had time to discuss the UK hip-hop scene and asked the crowd to recommend producers for his next project. Deal Real unanimously recommended Lewis Parker who was later recruited to produce songs for Ghostface’s 2006 album Fish Scale.”


“Deal Real friend and man behind The Bullitts, Jeymes Samuel, had loosely mentioned a project he was working on with Canibus. As one of the most critically acclaimed underground rappers at the time, it was only right that Jeymes brought the man himself to perform exclusive tracks from the project as well as some Canibus classics including his infamous LL Cool J diss record “Second Round K.O.””


“Deal Real’s good friend and supporter Estelle, had initially persuaded John Legend to perform in the shop to promote his forthcoming debut album Get Lifted. John ended up performing for close to an hour and towards the end of his set, invited Kanye to join him for the Slum Village remix of ”Selfish“. By this time Mos Def was a regular visitor to Deal Real and had performed a good few times. Hearing John and Kanye were around, he also passed by the shop and what happened next was set to go down as one of the shops MOST memorable moments.”

Footage Courtesy of Deal Real Legacy, © All rights reserved