“What are you doing here?” asked the toned, attractive, dark-haired public relations representative, her eyes wide, impeccably shaped eyebrows raised.
She didn’t look thrilled to see me, even more so when she spotted photographer Mohd Sahar Misni adjusting his camera next to me.
It was April 2007. I was 24, 10 months into my career as a journalist, and I had come to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to what I thought would be a huge reception for the rapper Kanye West, ahead of his maiden (and so far, only) concert in Malaysia.
I had been given his flight number, arrival time, and the name of his PR rep. My brief was “Get a picture of Kanye West arriving, write about the scene and send a news story”.
I had thrown on a pair of old jeans, a sweater and flats to which my boyfriend exclaimed, “You’re meeting Kanye West in that?”
So I changed into a newer pair of jeans, a tighter sweater, low heels, slapped on some make-up and left for the airport.
When the PR lady (let’s call her Audrey) spun around and looked at me in horror, I experienced that sinking feeling of “should I actually be here?” – followed by the thrill of a scoop.
Genuinely shocked at my question – “Is Kanye West coming from this exit?” – her expression said it all: no welcome party had been arranged, we were the only press there, and West wouldn’t be pleased to be caught off-guard in what he assumed would be an uneventful arrival.
“But I need to send a news story, can I just take a quick picture and be on my way?” was probably what I meant to say to Audrey’s attempts at encouraging me to leave at once but being inexperienced and nervous as heck it probably came out as “OMG please my editor will kill me, how could you be so heartless?”
Audrey let out a sharp breath, and said, “Ok, but be quick and NO interviews.”
Minutes later, a group of four tall, well-built guys, walking close together, parted from the crowd of tired travellers.
In the centre, barely recognisable, was Yeezy, not looking extra fly in a white T-shirt and a dark blue cardigan, no Rollies on his wrist.
As soon as he had a clear shot, Sahar snapped a few quick photos of the Grammy-winning star.
What happened next would have been great clickbait in this day and age – but sadly never saw the light of day (more on this later). West, stunned by all of the lights, sensed what was happening and exclaimed, “Aw, man, if I’d known this was gonna happen I wouldn’t have come here!” while huffing and puffing and stamping his foot.
Three things happened at once – the American Boy’s entourage moved to shield him from the “paparazzi”, Audrey turned around, grimacing, and Sahar and I made a run for it.
I wanted to push through the bodyguards and demand a quote, but my petite frame would have never made it past the burly men – additionally, there was to be a press conference the following morning and I didn’t want to give them any reason to bar me from that. Plus, I would likely encounter Audrey again, and didn’t want to get on her bad side.
When we were at a safe distance away, Sahar and I captioned the photos and sent them off.
Truly flustered and at a loss for what to do in the situation (West says most of the press don’t mess with him), I texted my senior entertainment writer Melody L. Goh, asking her what I should do.
Tell the truth, describe the scene, she said, this is a scoop – you were the only press there!
Sadly, there was no space for my entertainment news piece, and I was told the press conference and concert stories would be prioritised instead.
The next day, West would arrive over an hour late to the press conference at the Ritz-Carlton, but would charm and inspire the roomful of reporters nonetheless, flirting with a hot Singaporean journalist in a tight floral-print dress throughout.
Did he recognise me from the night before when I asked him questions during the press conference? If he did, you couldn’t tell – there was no sign of the flustered, annoyed West of yesterday. Instead he was in fine form, oozing charm and wit.
The same night, thousands of hip-hop fans would nod along to hits like Gold Digger, Touch The Sky, Diamonds, Through The Wire and Heard ‘em Say, completely captivated by the charismatic star.
“Every morning when I look in the mirror, I tell myself that before I die, I’m gonna touch the sky!” West cried to the adoring crowd, me included – the amazing performer had everyone hooked.
Today, the 40-year-old West is married to reality star Kim Kardashian, with whom he has three children (the third was born via surrogate just last week).
Eleven years ago, when he performed to 6,000 fans at Stadium Negara, he had six Grammies, and now he has 21. He has critically acclaimed albums which have all gone platinum, a fashion label and many, many more achievements.
To this day, I remain a fan of his music, and admire all his accomplishments, but ever so often I am reminded of that time Kanye West, the mega star, was only human, and one who could chuch a hissy fit at the airport.
West’s concert in Kuala Lumpur on April 7, 2007, was his only stop in South-East Asia on his Touch The Sky tour, and he has never been back to KL since. And while I would love to take credit for this, let’s just put it down to scheduling conflicts.
From The Vault is a new fortnightly series that takes readers behind the scenes of memorable interviews and assignments our journalists have experienced.