Earlier this week, the archival department over at Rap Radar unearthed some 1989 public access TV-looking footage of a pre-fame Jay-Z freestyling with his mentor The Jaz over an instrumental of E.P.M.D.’s chunk ‘o funk “So What Cha Sayin’.” Ever one for a sense of occasion, Jigga decided to sport a pink and white striped tracksuit for the appearance. In honor of the old man’s legacy then, here’s a run through some of Mr. Carter’s low-key pre-fame recordings that go back nearly a decade before he dropped his “In My Lifetime” solo shot.
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6. “It’s That Simple”
Jigga’s early moves with The Jaz are often relegated to his corny cameo in the poppy “Hawaiian Sophie” (wherein he was billed as Jay-Zee), but this cut from his mentor’s 1991 EP is a doozy. Prince Paul is on the production and comes through with a deliciously jangling piano sample, while for his part Jay-Z brags how “MCs are petro when Jay lets the pen flow.” This was presumably before he decided to run with the schtick of not writing down his rhyming words.
5. “Good Thang (Remix)”
An early foray into the realm of R&B remix cameos, Jay snagged a guest rap on a version of crooner Glenn Jones’s 1992 “Good Thang” single. Key line: Mr. Carter’s description of himself as “your neighborhood Care Bear.”
High-pitched and sounding more than a little flimsy, Jay-Z finds himself ensconced between Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane on this vintage freestyle spar session, reputedly from some nether region of the ’80s. One time Tommy Boy recording artist Fresh Gordon is the man behind the music.
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3. “Can I Get Open”/”Many Styles”
1993 vintage from Original Flavor, the crew helmed by the talented Ski (who would go on to craft Jay’s crowning glory, “Dead Presidents”). “Can I Get Open” is the perky club-centric track (complete with a flick showcasing Jay’s legendary array of bandanas), while album track “Many Styles” airs out a darker style.
2. “Big Daddy Kane Birthday Freestyle”
Further freestyle antics, this time in honor of Big Daddy Kane’s 1991 birthday bash. Flip to the 4:20 mark to hear a hyper Jay rap like he’s just injected himself with a dose of uncut caffeine extracted from a batch of Sant’Eustachio arabica coffee beans. Bonus points for the Kool G Rap name-check.
1. “H. P. Get Busy”
Likely Jay-Z’s first ever recording to wax, here he’s in cahoots with Jaz and his Marcy projects pals on a 1986 curio. The track’s based around a drum machine beat embellished with cheesy synths, while the High Potent rappers go back-and-forth with a series of brag raps. “Go Jay! Go Jay! Go, go, go Jay!” prompt his pals, to which a young Shawn confidently predicts, “Jay-Z is my name and forever I’ll obtain it.”