Backbeat: How Adult Swim Came to Book Kanye West For This Year’s Upfront

Roseland Ballroom where Adult Swim held their upfronts at which Kanye West performed. (Photo: WireImage for Turner/Courtesy Adult Swim)

The last time Kanye West played Adult Swim’s annual upfront party, it was 2008 – and on the same night he played a topless fashion show for Casio G Shock, causing him to arrive two hours later than promised. The show ran well past the 1 a.m. mark, but few left the packed crowd to catch Kanye in his “Stronger”-era prime.

Kanye West 'Aint No Muthaf---in Celebrity' at Adult Swim Upfront

So it was almost shocking when West went on at 10:40 p.m. Wednesday night for his Adult Swim return, just 10 minutes after he was scheduled and amid rumors that the rapper had to be in the building by 10:15 per contractual obligations resulting from the 2008 appearance. Jason DeMarco, Adult Swim’s VP of marketing and promotions, says there were no formal arrangements to ensure West’s prompt arrival, just that “he’s sort of a different artist since last time. He’s toured the world with Jay-Z, and I think he himself has grown his stage show and performance. I think he’s gotten to point where he’s a consummate professional when it comes to his stage show, so we weren’t really worried.

Nevertheless, conversations about booking Kanye have been in the works for months. DeMarco says he spoke with Mark Shimmel, a music consultant and industry veteran who most recently served as chief operating officer of Epic Records before vacating his post in January. Shimmel soon involved West’s agent at CAA, Cara Lewis, and more serious conversations got underway afterward.

All of the Pyramid Lights: Kanye West performing.

(Photo: WireImage for Turner courtesy of Adult Swim)

Wednesday’s gig was one of the rapper’s first booked in support of his forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album that may or may not be due June 18, depending on how you choose to interpret his cryptic tweet.


He debuted snippets of at least two new songs, one of which was believed to potentially be his collaboration with Skrillex, the other a song likely titled “Awesome” dedicated to Kim Kardashian. DeMarco says he only heard the new tracks during rehearsal, but has yet to listen to any new recorded tracks from Kanye.

For the staging, an Illuminati-esque pyramid with red and purple lights and lots of smoke, DeMarco says West had been working with a set designer in Paris on the concept and it all came together rather quickly. “Once he decided to play some new songs, I think he made the decision two weeks ago to use that set-up,” he says. “There was a lot of  last-minute tweaking, it involved a lot of Kanye himself personally hanging out and just sitting with his stage designer and his artist making sure we were getting the look that they wanted.”

As for future collaborations with Kanye, DeMarco says Adult Swim is in “very early discussions, talking about a larger relationship with him. Certainly we’re interested in more, but obviously he’s a little busy right now. We love him as an artist and are definitely interested in working with him in a bigger way.”

Just don’t ask Kanye to participate in a sketch lampooning his own celebrity.