From K. Dot to Prof. Macklemore, Your Favorite Rapper’s First Tracks
I wont front, the origins of this article lie in the new XXL Freshmen list. I won't get into the the full cornucopia of reasons that list drives me insane, again, but yes, one of the big ones is that a lot of places - my site DJBooth, 2Dope, Smoking Section and many more - do the hard work of first posting a lot of rappers when they really are essentially unknown. And then, often years later, XXL swoops in and declares they're the ones putting rappers on.
So, honestly fueled by saltiness, for kicks I started to look up when we first posted a lot of rappers that went on to be deemed Freshmen. But along the way, I stopped caring about XXL at all and started to get purely obsessed with HOLY SHIT IT"S KIND OF CRAZY SEEING THESE GUYS YEARS AGO. So yeah, as long as I'm here let's take a little walk down memory lane.
First, some qualifiers. The first music post we ever did was T.I.'s "What You Know" in January, 2006, and that was back when the entire concept of a hip-hop blog/site was just beginning and DJBooth was just a digital baby - it was certainly before my time. So that's the time frame we're working with here. As much as I'd like to say we were posting Jay Z in the "Reasonable Doubt" days, no one was posting anything in the "Reasonable Doubt" days because the internet basically didn't exist. The same goes for Kanye's "College Dropout", obviously Outkast, etc.
Second, there is a difference between the first post we ever did, and the first song an artist ever put out. Especially now, when exactly 497 new rappers appear everyday, it's almost impossible to post anyone from literally the jump, and by no means are we claiming first. But a lot of the time we were close enough to the "beginning" to make a pretty interesting look into an artist's early days.
With that out of the way, let's go....
I just got into this on the last podcast, but as much as I dug "Family" the first time I heard it, and it prompted me to go listen to "10 Day", there's no way I thought just a couple years later Chance would literally be one of the most popular and respected emcees in the game. Who could have possibly seen this coming?
This was far from K.R.I.T.'s first music - you should hit up DJ Wally Sparks, who's got some great stories about working with Krizza on some of his first-first mixtapes - but this was still well before K.R.I.T. was well known, and before "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here". On the reverse from Chance, this is one I did see coming. He doesn't sound especially different then as he does now, which is to say dope as fuck.
I don't want to give struggle rappers a false sense of hope, but this is a great example of how much some basic repitition and time can do for you. Let's be real, "Hater Love" isn't very good. You can hear the skill of a guy who would one day become an elite lyricist, but back in '08 Kendrick still obviously hadn't developed his own style and was chasing trends (in this case, trying to sound like the T.I./DJ Toomp shit that was killing at the time).
I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who's changed more than Wiz. Before the weed and tattoos there was Wiz Khalifa the pop rapper, who was clearly just making whatever wack shit Warner Bros. told him to. Although it was his bad experience with Warner that taught him to start embracing what made him different; learn from your mistakes and what not, so everything clearly worked out. Also, the sample on this takes me back to my freshmen year of high school in the realest way possible.
He went as Professor Macklemore for years, but "Otherside" really marks the beginning of the modern Macklemore era, when he teamed up with Ryan Lewis. All credit due, from this first post until "Thrift Shop" the homie DJ Z was telling me he'd be huge, but I just didn't see it. I thought he'd be one of those artists who builds a relatively small but loyal fan base, kind of an Atmosphere type, but never really hits the mainstream. Goddamn was I all kinds of wrong.
Check out what we wrote at the time: "Although few have heard of Drake in the United States, he has built up a strong reputation in his native Canada." Yeah, I'd say he's now fairly well known in the U.S. now. A few months later Drake would drop "So Far Gone" and truly begin his ascent, sounding not a whole lot different than he did way back in '08. By the way, this was produced by Boi-1da, which makes me think I should do a producer version of this.
A double bonus. A year after our first Wale post, he teams up with a then unknown Cleveland emcee for "Is There Any Love". Then, about eight months later, "Day N' Nite" would drop and he'd really be on his way. For the record, Cudi doesn't sound completely difrerent here, it's still obviously him, but if I didn't know this was Cudi, it'd probably take me a minute to recognize his voice. Maybe it's because the production on this is more traditionally hip-hop than I'm used to hearing him on now.
I'm breaking the format a little bit for this one, but I had to. OH SHIT!!! I forgot this even happened. Z interviewed Ross way, way back in the day, before even "Port of Miami" dropped, and it's fucking fantastic. Choice quotes include, "I'm gonna bridge the North and the South. Kanye West production, Just Blaze production, Cool & Dre, I'm just trying to gumbo it all up" and him vowing to Z that he would never shave his beard, a vow he's kept. This interview is bananas. (For the record, Ross' first music post was Pop_n_Bulletz ft. Rick Ross, "Whip It", a song that hasn't exactly stood the test of time, although shout out to Pop n' Bulletz.)
Two months later his "Warm Up" mixtape would drop and he'd be on his way, although it's a little crazy to realize that when "Grown Simba" came out, Roc Nation didn't officially exist yet. Also, Cole definitely still sounds almost exactly like this, which makes sense considering how many people complain that they wish he would go back to his early mixtape sound.
Back in the day when B.o.B. was hoping a Rich Boy guest verse would help put him on. My, how times have changed. Interestingly, it'd be even another two years after this until Bobby Ray first really blew up. Doing this has been a great reminder that even when it may seem like it, there are actually very few overnight success stories. Also, at the risk of being ironic, "Haterz Everywhere" is kinda wack.
I'm going to have to pull the plug here before I spend the next six days of my life really digging through the archives, but I have to say, it was well worth it. Superstars really have emerged from these humble first posts, and as cliched as it may sound, it really makes you wonder who's next; although I could also do a much longer "what happened to that guy?" version of this.
Speaking of which....fuck, there goes the next six days of my life.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth, the proprietor of RefinedHype, and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]
This article originally appeared on RefinedHype.com, which has now merged with The DJBooth. For more info, click here.
Written by Nathan S. on 05/6/14
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