Four New York Rappers Before They Were Famous


Nothing ever truly disappears from the internet–or so we’re told. It’s a rule that applies for a bunch of currently-feted New York rappers whose prior songs, images and MC monikers can still be found online in the nooks of outlets like SoundClick and YouTube. Here’s a trek through the ages of the early career attempts of Joey Bada$$, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, the Doppelgangaz and the late Capital STEEZ.

See also: The 10 Best New York City Rap Albums of 2013

4. Capital STEEZ (as JaY STeeZ)
The sadly-deceased Pro Era rapper and founder Capital Steez used to plump for the rap handle of JaY STeeZ (all formatting the artist’s own). You can trace the Flatbush kid’s development from a chubby child rapping into a webcam to the conspiracy theory-obsessed STEEZ through a trail of YouTube clips. The “Word Play Cipher” (above) was uploaded under the slightly haunting handle of JaYSTeezMuSTDie in 2007 and features him sitting in what’s presumably his bedroom and dropping cocksure boasts like, “I’m at a loss for words/ My thoughts reserved for an awesome verse.” He also hadn’t made his bed that day.

A literal playground cipher video dated 2009 showcases JaY STeeZ sparring with Phony PPL peeps Dyme-A-Duzin and Elbee Thrie as (again quite hauntingly) he confesses how “I’m living in my mind, get me out.” Two years later you can catch JaY “kickin’ it at the Entree office,” while a video for a song titled “Stars” from later that year has him attempting something of a smoother rap style, complete with a dash of crooning on the track. Watching the videos in order and following them up with STEEZ’s “Free The Robots” flick is an affecting and disturbing experience. RIP Steez.

3. The Doppelgangaz (as Fab Nickel)
The Doppelgangaz duo of Matter ov Fact and EP have hip-hop history that goes back to a spell in a five-member ensemble named Fab Nickel. A four-track SoundClick page documents songs from 2007: “Live From the 845” is a blast of upstate NY pride, “What It Is” includes a slightly eerie vibraphone loop, “All I Do” runs with a nagging vocal sample, while “Anyone, Anywhere, Anybody” is perhaps closest to the current Dopp Gang formula as they muster up a dusky, static-sodden groove.

The crew’s bio is decently self-deprecating, as it first bills them as a combination of Big, ‘Pac, Nas, Jigga, Big L and Big Pun before adding (“actually not at all”) and detailing how “After years of low quality songs and weak beats, Producer/MC E Pillz… decided to get serious with the production aspect.” (E Pillz is now simply EP.) Other factoids include the tracks being recorded with Pro Tools, Reason 3.0 and an Ozone MIDI keyboard, and that Fab Nickel view the internet’s affect on the music industry as something that both “hurts and helps it.”

2. Joey Bada$$ (as Jay Oh Vee)
These days, Joey Bada$$ is acclaimed for being at the forefront of a new wave of Brooklyn-based hip-hop kids, but before his incendiary “Survival Tactics” song and video went viral at the start of 2012 he was touting himself as Jay Oh Vee. A track titled “Feather” from a year prior has Joey airing out a sweeter style as he glides through the hallways of what is presumably Edward R. Murrow school and spits into a camera over a twinkling, piano-laden beat. Brags include the declaration, “Lil’ nigga, 15, came up, I snatched the microphone/ Better than these dudes that got twice my testosterone.”

The blurb for “Feather” includes the all-caps claim that, “THIS LIL LYRICAL RAPPER FROM NEW YORK IS HIP HOP AT ITS FINNEST WE GIVE YOU JAY OH VEE!” It also positions Jay Oh Vee as part of something called the America’s Most Talented School collective and teases an upcoming mixtape titled New Kid On The Block.

1. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire (as Tru-Gizzy Da Great)
Before he cast himself as the great Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, the man behind the “Huzzah” phenomenon attempted to etch out a rap career as the Wu-meets-Dipset-sounding Tru-Gizzy Da Great. A still archived SoundClick page throws up two accomplished tracks from this incarnation of eX, both dating from 2006. “Revolving Door” has him kicking a rhyme about his revolving rolodex of girls, complete with the revelation that “thick thighs and breasts turn me on, for sure.” It was apparently inspired by Tru-Gizzy hanging outside Macy’s on 34th Street and watching people going in and out of the revolving entrance while arguing with a girl on the phone.

The second song, “Salutations,” is hooked around a soulful fanfare of a production as eX drops something of an industry experience rhyme and casts himself as the rap H. Rap Brown. The notes to the song have Tru-Gizzy explaining, “This is probably one of my favorite songs, it was just one of those moments where everything just comes together. I wrote this basically as a letter to everyone who ever inspired… or doubted me. Just a wake up call. R.I.P. Jay Dee.” Both songs more than stand up to a listen today and eX’s talent is clear even back then.

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