“Please listen to my demo!” That particular plea may no longer be heard coming from plucky upcoming rappers, what with the Internet age and all, but there’s an undeniable pull about getting to hear the industry-ears-only dusty tapes that begat some of hip-hop’s finest album moments. This week sees the release of a collection of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit associate Latee’s previously demo-only tracks; each is produced by future Jay-Z collaborator Mark The 45 King and hails from the early ’90s, and the whole shebang is released as a premium-priced vinyl-only offering from the Diggers With Gratitude stable.
The Flavor Unit prospered from over the river in New Jersey, so here’s a run-down of six great ’90s New York City rap demo tapes that are now just a Mediafire muddle away. (Note: The Internet is filled with a lot of alleged and actually unreleased material; we’ve plumped for the perceived demos that come closet to offering up a stand-alone listening session, as opposed to one-off tracks. Curate this lot together as a playlist and you won’t be disappointed.)
Omar Credle announced himself to the rap world with a guest stint on Organized Konfusion’s “Fudge Pudge”; his demo contains nuggets that preceded his 1994 debut Word… Life. Pick of the bunch, “Visual Picture,” demonstrates the sort of studious-but-furious flow that saw the future D.I.T.C. mainstay endorsed by radio jock Bobbito Garcia on his show, while a rougher version of eventual album track “O-Zone” is also present. (Note: “A Clear Day,” which includes O.C. referring to the year 1995, was allegedly tacked on to the package when the early demos were freed onto the great wilds of the Internet.)
5. The Notorious B.I.G.
A jaunt through the trenches of uncleared sampledom, you can nab what’s usually tagged as the “O.G. Version” of Biggie’s debut album and experience the songs in what’s assumed to be Big’s original intended form. The most drastic pre-vamps include “Me And My Bitch,” which despite its title comes off as a far more tender song thanks to a Minnie Riperton sample that’s absent from the officially released version’s groove, and a lyrical take of “Machine Gun Funk” that’s paired with a more jarring DJ Premier production. You still have to suffer through the gross “Fuck Me” interlude, though.
Prematic! That, at least, is the title Nas stans have slapped on a collection of ten bundled-together tracks from the Queensbridge kid. The tag might not be totally accurate in terms of the songs all technically pre-dating the recording of Illmatic, but together they’re a far more exhilarating listen than any album Nas has released since the Clinton era. Of prime lyrical intrigue, the smooth “Deja Vu” has Nas kicking a rhyme that was flipped into his verse on Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” while “Nas Will Prevail” was eventually molded into “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” and has Nas threatening to “detonate bombs at the policeman’s ball” and bragging that his “mic comes in contact with the third rail.” Nasty!
3. Simply 2 Positive (a.k.a. Organized Konfusion)
More power to the hiss! Cut under the Simply 2 Positive moniker and laid down under the tutelage of sadly deceased enigmatic engineer Paul C, Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po’s demos showcase lyrics that stay enlightened and a delivery that’s searingly on point. Sequence next to O.C.’s demo nuggets for maximum synergy.
2. Mobb Deep
Before Prodigy and Havoc staked their place in the great thug rap pantheon as Mobb Deep, the duo attempted a rap career as the Poetical Prophets. Demos from their juvenile incarnation can be found online, but the collection of recordings that became the Mobb’s adored album The Infamous is one of the great rap sneak peaks. A fascinating mix of original sketches of songs like “Survival Of The Fittest,” “Give Up The Goods,” and “[Q.U.] Hectic” married to tracks like “If It’s Alright” and “Light ‘Em Up” that failed to make the cut, it’s an insightful companion piece to the actual album. A deluxe edition with ALL-CAPS liner notes from Prodigy would be essential.
1. Wu-Tang Clan
The Wu might have staked their first claim to greatness with a bunch of tracks that traded in raw, lo-fi production values and amped raps, but the Clan’s demo tape makes the recording quality of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) sound like an audiophile’s adventures in the grand pursuit of perfection. Of the eight tracks that are often collated together, you can peep a take of “Bring Da Ruckus” that fuses different samples with alt lyric takes (“Yo, something new from a real live rapper so catch this!” begins Raekwon, before also characterizing himself as a “drunk monk”), the bass-swamped “The Wu Is Comin’ Thru,” and “It’s All About Me,” an almost happy-go-lucky Wu outing that nods to the Clan’s Staten Island compadres The UMCs and references De La Soul. The true start of the Wu-Tang saga.