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25 Astonishing First Appearances By Famous Rappers

Hear some of the earliest recorded rhymes from Jay Z, Eminem, Beastie Boys and more

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Beyoncé may have “woke up like this” but her husband spent the Eighties rapping in a Hawaiian shirt. Not every rapper can be Run-D.M.C., changing the world the first time they hit wax. In that spirit, here are 25 recording debuts from successful rappers, ranging from the legendary to the forgotten to the completely regrettable. By Christopher R. Weingarten

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2Pac

Digital Underground, "Same Song" (1991)

Tupac did an admirable job graduating from Digital Underground's back-up dancer to a guest MC – dropping the most complex seven bars in a song that pits him against Shock G, Humpty Hump and Money B: "Gas me and when they pass me they used to diss me/Harrass me, but now they ask me if they can kiss me." It’s a total shame that one of hip-hop's most influential voices was debuted on a promotional song for Razzie-nominated Dan Aykroyd creep-comedy Nothing But Trouble.

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will.i.am

Eazy-E, "Merry Muthaphuckkin' Xmas (1991)

Years before they were asking "Where is the Love," two of the Black Eyed Peas got their start on a dirty Christmas record, spitting swears alongside Eazy-E and Dolemite. Both will.i.am and apl.de.ap were L.A. high schoolers in conscious hip-hop group called Tribal Nation, who got the attention of the decidedly less conscious Eazy. They got a record deal on Ruthless: "To a 17-year old, $10,000…" marveled will. "Granted, it was, like, for life. Eazy-E had me signed like forever"). They dropped their first verses on Eazy's first post-N.W.A. EP, 5150 – Home 4 tha Sick, but their 1992 record was ultimately shelved. Three multi-platinum records for Interscope is a perfectly acceptable rebound, though.

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Prodigy of Mobb Deep

Hi-Five, "Too Young" (1991)

With the help of his mother (who was in the Crystals, of "Da Doo Ron Ron" fame), a Queens high-schooler then going by the name Lord-T (the Golden Child) was out shopping for labels before getting a demo deal at Jive. As Prodigy wrote in his autobiography, "I flirted with the women at Jive and one of them, Kim, a good-looking heavyset black woman, got me on the soundtrack for a movie coming out that summer called Boyz N the Hood. They let me open the song "Too Young" by R&B group Hi-Five with 16 bars. After that first big break, Jive wanted to sign me up for a real contract." Soon after, he met his future partner, Havoc, and demanded that Jive sign them both as a duo — which they didn't agree to. "So I turned down the deal and never came back."

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Notorious B.I.G.

Heavy D. and the Boyz, "A Buncha Niggas" (1992)

Nothing illuminates the importance of The Source's Unsigned Hype column in the early Nineties than Notorious B.I.G.'s demo. After the column elevated his profile, his music fell into the hands of Uptown Records A&R Sean "Puffy" Combs and — well, "now we sip champagne when we thirsty." The first track that Combs hooked Biggie up with was this posse cut that closed Heavy D & the Boyz' fourth album, Blue Funk. With all the makings of a future rap hero, B.I.G. holds his own against hall-of-famers like Heavy D, Busta Rhymes and Guru.

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Juicy J

"Don't Be Scared" (appx. 1992)

It's pretty amazing to think that Katy Perry's gunning for cool points recruiting a rapper who was making records when she was in elementary school, but that's just what happened. Although Juicy J is just experiencing his first round of solo success, he spent the early Nineties releasing muddy, moody, off-color cassettes into the streets of Memphis. From Vol. 5, the earliest tape that the internet has been able to unearth, "Don't be Scared" is one of the filthiest safe-sex songs you'll ever hear.

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Outkast

"Player's Ball" (A LaFace Family Christmas version) (1993)

A perennial piece of hip-hop trivia after appearing (with an exclamation point!) in ego trip's Book of Rap Lists: Outkast's breakthrough single was originally intended as a piece of holiday cheer. Originally written for A LaFace Family Christmas — appearing alongside Toni Braxton, TLC and Usher — the O.G. version has references to "Deck the Halls" "Silent Night" and even a chorus that name-checks "Christmas day" itself. They excised all that stuff for the 12-inch version, but still kept the some egg nog, a ho-ho-ho, a New Years Eve countdown and even the sleigh bells. Remixed but still jingling.

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DMX

"Born Loser" (1993)

Written in a jail cell and self-released in a 500-copy run, DMX's "Born Loser" has none of the boasting style of future Ruff Ryders anthems, instead opting for a self-deprecating sadsack approach later perfected by Fatlip and Eminem. He raps: "They kicked me out the shelter because they said I smelt-a/Little like the living dead, and looked like Helter Skelter." Ruffhouse didn't think he was a total loser, because they picked it up and officially released it — though the single didn't exactly take off. "I felt that Ruffhouse didn't put enough marketing power behind it, so not enough people heard the song in the first place," X wrote in his autobiography. "Around the way in [Yonkers], I was my own hype, but I couldn't help get myself on the radio in Chicago or L.A… Within a few months of me having my own major-label single and a song on the radio, my professional recording career was over."

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The Roots

"Pass the Popcorn" (1993)

Before they were America's house band, the Square Roots were Philly kids setting up on South Street and annoying club owners — for every show they would bring 20 bags of popcorn and throw them at the audience. To build buzz during a European tour, they recorded Organix, featuring "Pass the Popcorn" loading the front. The verses are by Black Thought, ?uestlove and the briefly Root-ed Kid Crumbs. The buzz worked and soon the alterna-crew were labelmates with Beck and Nirvana.

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Lil Wayne

B.G.'z, "From tha 13th to tha 17th" (1995)

Then a foul-mouthed 12-year-old named Baby D, Lil Wayne made his recording debut alongside a "Lil Doogie" on 1995 Cash Money EP as the B.G.'z, rapping about "smoking beaucoup spliffs and clockin' much, much dollars. Writes Andrew Noz, "Legend has it that Wayne's mom pulled him from the project after hearing the profanity, leaving the album – and by default the name – in the hands of Doogie, the man they now call B.G."

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Eminem

Soul Intent, "Fuckin' Backstabber" (1995)

Whether it's technically a "demo," or a very limited run cassette single, there's no question that the "M&M" rapping on Soul Intent's "Fuckin' Backstabber" is the Marshall we know today. Though he's since lost the the fast Das EFX-ian flow and the breathy jazz-rap voice. Bonus: This track features D-12's Proof on the chorus.

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Tech N9ne

"Cloudy-Eyed Stroll" (1996)

Kansas City is in the middle of the country so it makes sense that the debut single from veteran Tech N9ne has the slow-rolling thump of California and the hyper-kinetic flows of New York – plus some spastic rhythms all his own.

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Kanye West

Grav, "Line For Line" (1996)

Remembers Chicago rapper Grav: "I was either going to or coming out of a Fugees concert and this young kid runs up to me like, 'Yo, I heard you got a record deal. Yo, you should let me get some beats on your album. You should just come to the car and let me play some beats for you.'" Luckily Grav listened to the eager youngster, Kanye West, because, "The boy was a child prodigy way back then." West did a handful of beats on Grav's one and only album, Down to Earth and spit some gnashing bars on "Line for Line."

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Nelly

St. Lunatics, "Gimme What U Got" (1997)

Although he would later elevate his bandmates – Ali, Murphy Lee, Kyjuan, Slo Down and City Spud — Nelly really did steal the spotlight on the early St. Lunatics single "Gimme What U Got," a Number One hit at St. Louis radio station KATZ. The melodies hint back at Eighties hip-hop standards like Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further" and Tom-Tom Club's "Genius of Love" and the flows look forward to the sing-songy flow that would put St. Louis on the hip-hop map.

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Nicki Minaj

Hood$tars, "Don't Mess With" (2004)

Then known as Nicki Maraj, young Nicki was part of a quartet called Hood$tars, a group associated with Brooklyn rap pioneers Full Force – and featuring the son of Force's Bowlegged Lou. Lou remembers, "After a while we just focused on doing a solo project on Nicki. I took it to like every record company but record companies at the time wasn't really interested in any female rappers." Before that, Hood$tars got out a track called "Don't Mess With" which was used as entrance music for wrestler Victoria, and appears on ThemeAddict: WWE The Music, Vol. 6.

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