Debut albums are often an artist’s best work. From “Reasonable Doubt” to “Illmatic” classic introductions are plentiful in the history of hip-hop. But how many of us know about the albums that never were. The projects mega-stars worked on before they were embraced by the wider community. Here’s my pick for the top five rare gems:
Before there was a Grammy award-winning group called The Black Eyed Peas. There was the Atban Klann. Although B.E.P. achieved great success in the Naughties, they were largely shunned by hip-hop fans. Few, if any of us remember that in 1992 Will. I. Am was “Will X1”.
He was then joined by a.p.l de a.p and signed to Eazy-E’s label Ruthless Records. The short-lived group specialised in boom-bap hip-hop, similar in style to The Pharcyde and Lords Of The Underground. They formed a formidable collective that also included obscure artists such as “Mookie Mook” and “DJ Motiv8”. Many credit the latter as a mentor to will.i.am. After Eazy’s death the group was dropped and made many changes to it’s line up becoming their modern incarnation. The 16 track L.P. “Grass Roots” leaked onto the internet and remains the only window into the real hip-hop performed by a now commercial monster.
Mos Def made his name at Rawkus Records forming Black Star with Talib Kweli. He made some brief appearances with A Tribe Called Quest amongst other hip-hop acts. But his very first effort was Manifest Destiny with “Urban Thermo Dynamics”. A hardcore hip-hop group he formed with his sister DCQ, as well as New York emcee CES. Listening to this album, we can hear Mos trying out some pretty wild voice techniques that he would latter drop. The L.P. recorded in 1995, was his first learning curve in the music industry. Like many other projects of it’s kind, it never saw a full release, yet the music can now be found online. We would never again hear from the other members of the group, which seems a shame as DCQ sounds really solid on this debut. But as we all know, Mos went on to be one of the greatest ever emcees and is now working under Kanye West.
Alonzo Williams was a night club owner in L.A. heavily Influenced by the Electro scene of the time. He started a group with his friends “Shakespeare” and Cli-N-Tel. But the most noticeable artists to be introduced to his circle were Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. The two men would go on to form one of the most controverstial acts in history N.W.A. Ice Cube also wrote for the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, but it was from ’84 to ’88 that Dre and Yella displayed their talents in this flamboyant and hilariously wacky line-up of musicians. The gangster image that Dre would later portray was a big departure from his early days here and is often the subject of ridicule from rival artists. The album “Rapped In Romance” remains the group’s closest thing to success as the rest of their discography was (for the most part) filled with E.P.’s and compilation albums. These songs are unlikely to appear on any Dr. Dre “Greatest Hits” L.P. but there novel value makes for must-have music alone.
2. EMINEM – INFINITE
Eminem was a struggling independent artist in 1996. “Infinite” was his first attempt at success. He created the low-budget piece around the time he was on the battle scene in Detroit. The first thing you’ll notice listening to the album is the complete difference in style. His flow and content is alien to modern day Eminem. The release was met with luke warm reception from critics at the time who believed the young rapper was trying to copy Nas and Jay-Z. Certainly the sound here is closer to old school hip-hop than duets with Rihanna. The film “8 Mile” focus’s on the formative years of Em’s career and the LP “Infinite” is now the most authentic snapshot that can be compared to the movie. Production comes from Kon Artis and Proof.
1. TUPAC – BEGINNINGS THE LOST TAPES (1988-1991)
For many Tupac was the greatest emcee of all time. In his latter years he lost focus on his revolutionary goals becoming increaslingly violent in his lyrics at Death Row. From ’88 to ’91 Tupac was at his poetic best rapping about Panther Power and Lady Liberty. These songs first came to light around 2000 in bootleg form. Yet it wasn’t until 2007 that Afeni allowed the work to appear on the shelves in it’s current package. Pac performed these songs with his group “Strictly Dope” before grabbing the attention of The Digital Underground. This collection of tracks serve as an important part of hip-hop history. Just like the other albums in this list.