Six weeks ago, Chairman Mao of XXL and Ego Trip fame, compiled a list of the 30 Greatest Hip-Hop Demos of all-time. Though the litany inspired the usual bickering about order and exclusions, the feature was as comprehensive as anyone could rightfully expect. Presumably, only a minor fraction of people reading this had heard demos from Organized Konfusion, DJ Shadow, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Common, Brand Nubian, DMX, Eminem, Souls of Mischief, and dozens of other legends in their Star Search phase. After all, aside from the occasional rarities comp or bootleg, few of these ever saw commercial release. Instead, they operated as rough drafts mailed into Matty C, slipped into the hands of friends and higher-ups, or dimly mailed into label offices.
You don’t need me to tell you that those days are dead. Demos have been replaced by the democracy of mixtapes. The sifting is done through a complex architecture of algorithms and blogs, and for every Mac Miller who rises to fame on the virtue of co-signs and anodyne personality, there is an Odd Future or a Danny Brown or a Freddie Gibbs, who turn glorified demos into careers — without any initial help from mountain climbers with electric guitars. Thanks to the mind squad on the Philaflava Message board, a Zip file has surfaced. Essential for both completists, neophytes, and anyone with a fraction of an interest in rap history. Listen to BIG vote against St. Ides before he voted for it. Everything guaranteed raw.