March 2, 2010

Reader Review / Not Available In Stores! Nas - Demo Tape (1991?)

(For today's Reader Review, we're trying something different. Kid Chaos presents his views on the demo tape Nas recorded in order to secure his record deal. I have no idea how official this tape actually is (since this was the tape that connected Nas with MC Serch, I don't know why an MC Serch song recorded after the fact would have been tacked on to here, but it's not as if Kid Chaos put this album together), but I do know that you can't buy it anywhere, hence the 'Not Available In Stores' tag. Anyway, be sure to leave your comments below for Kid Chaos and check out his blog whenever you get the chance.)

I can’t remember at all how I heard about this or how I found this, but for some reason I found myself scouring the Internet today searching for the pre-Illmatic Demo Tape (not an official title, but we'll italicize it just the same) from Nas. For those of you who have no idea how hip hop works (I don't even want to know how you found this site), this would be the reel of rhymes that Nasir Jones put together in an attempt to convince a record label to sign him. Clearly, it worked, as Nas is still recording music to this day.

I found that some of the lyrics on here were later utilized on Illmatic, his eventual debut album. Some of the songs present even lay a recognizable foundation for tracks on Illmatic. But how does it stack up to the hip hop Bible itself?

With an absolutely sick drum loop (seriously, the mix between boom bap and random drum hits that smack you in the face from every direction at random with their awesomeness is incredible), and a crazy ass piano loop in place of the hook, Nasty Nas kicks some ill stories in both of his verses over a faster paced instrumental. This has me ridiculously pumped for the rest of this mixtape. However, as much I love this instrumental, the fact simply remains that the much grimier instrumental provided by DJ Premier for Illmatic's “New York State Of Mind” (which reuses some of the lyrics used on here) fits the storytelling lyrics Nas kicks better. Oddly enough, though, I like the lyrics on this song better than parts of “New York State Of Mind” and feel like that track could actually be…dare I say it…a little better with more of the lyrics taken from here. How that would even be possible I have no clue, as that track is already great.

Nasir’s infamous first verse to be heard by a widespread audience, famous for his line, “When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin' Jesus”, which everyone still goes crazy for. The beat is simplistic, with a heavy focus on the lyrics, but after a while (and you will be listening to it for a while, as it’s over four and a half minutes long), it does have a tendency to get boring. I realize people may call this blasphemy, but the fact is that the beat is a little too simplistic and repetitive to maintain interest for that long. Besides, this isn't even a Nas song: this is a Main Source track (from their album Breaking Atoms) featuring Nas, and was included on this demo solely to showcase the man's prowess behind the mic.

An MC Serch song, on which Nas is surrounded by his host (who was later responsible for getting him a deal, thank you very much), Red Hot Lover Tone, and Chubb Rock. Nas sounds good on here as well, but whether you believe me or not, its actually Red Hot Lover Tone who steals the show with a verse that’s completely out of left field; Nas sounds slightly out of place compared to the others on the track because his claims of being a serial killer who works by the phone book don’t exactly mesh with Chubb Rock screaming that you’re a blabbermouth.

I guess I’m just being greedy, but this is the most bothered I’ve ever been after listening to a song this good. Why? Because this would have sounded perfect on Reasonable Doubt; why the HELL did Nas turn Jay-Z down for that? And why the hell haven't these two ever made an album together? (My theory? Egos.) I’ll even plot it out for them: Jay-Z and Nas together on every song, with the entire album produced by DJ Premier and Pete Rock. I even have a tentative title: The Greatest Hip Hop Album Of All Time. What do you think? Anyway, “Everything Is Real”, which does not feature Jay-Z (I have to make that clear), has a similar feel to “Memory Lane” from Illmatic, as both delve into the development of the city as a stand-in for Nasir’s life. The rhymes aren’t as complex as “Memory Lane”, though, and while the instrumental is a little more modern than the previous songs, this is a slightly darker take on the same subject matter, and it just doesn’t click as well. That just shows you how nasty Illmatic is.

This is the first track I’ve been disappointed in. The beat is boring, and it doesn’t match the topic at all; Once Nas gets through the good lines that actually made the cut on Illmatic's “Represent”, the rest of the rhymes on here don’t match up. Also, the hook is ass.

This track, to put it simply, is nasty. What separates this from the top tier songs that made it onto Illmatic, then? The answer is disappointing: we’re shocked back into the cold hard reality that this is a demo track, and as such, some of these songs are incomplete. This track only lasts for one verse. Now don’t get me wrong, that lone verse is pretty sick, the rhymes on here are complex enough that they would sound perfectly in place on Illmatic, and the instrumental is great, but if there were more than one verse here this could have made the album. Easily.

AZ makes an appearance here, immediately begging for comparisons to “Life’s A Bitch”, but this song tackles completely different subject matter, and it contains completely different verses. AZ doesn’t shine nearly as much: if you’re gonna have AZ on your album, I’d much rather use his verse from “Life’s A Bitch”, which is easily the better song.

Kool G Rap appears along with Whiteboy (a really original name: little wonder you don't hear from this guy anymore) to spit some lines alongside Nas about shooting up entire city blocks. Although both G Rap and Nas comes across as technically proficient, for a song this gangsta this track is pretty boring. This may or may not have something to do with the uselessly old school instrumental, or the fact that this track is slow as shit and still manages to last over 4 minutes, but I don’t see myself listening to this often, which is sad considering Nas and Kool G Rap is a combo a lot of people would go crazy over.

The Michael Jackson “Human Nature” sample, which made the final cut on Illmatic on a different track altogether, is even more pronounced on this track, and although a few people I’ve showed this to find the horn in the background annoying, it doesn’t bother me. Also, the MJ vocal sample (its just him yelling “Whoo!”) is pretty kick ass, mainly because it’s from when he was still black and still made great music. This is the most complete song out of any on this Demo Tape (it has three full verses and a hook), and probably made a strong case for him to be signed. For Illmatic, they upped the ante and improved upon this instrumental for what would become “It Ain't Hard To Tell”, and Nas boosted his lyrical complexity, although the rhymes on here are still pretty sick.

A completely spaced out and abstract instrumental to go with some serious kicking of knowledge, a cool hook, and three full verses. What more can you ask for? With a little updating of sound quality, this could have slid right into Illmatic: imagine if it had replaced “One Time 4 Your Mind”, the one weak spot on the album? Then Illmatic would be sickeningly perfect. Nasir's first verse on here is the one he spit on Raekwon's “Verbal Intercourse”, winning a Hip Hop Quotable in The Source, which is pretty damn impressive, considering that he wrote it before he had any experience crafting an album.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? With very few exceptions, Nas’ Demo Tape is better than your favorite rapper’s best album. The beats on here are slightly older than the ones on the album (1991 instead of 1994), but in a good way. Since this was clearly recorded on lower quality equipment they’re a little grainier, but all of the instrumentals are still more developed than “Halftime”. The lyrics are a little simpler as far as rhyme scheme goes, but are still as nasty as ever. Unfortunately, you can’t buy this – I would have were it possible – since it was his demo tape, after all. Fortunately, you can just search the far reaches of the Internet and download it for free (legally, I assume, since nobody is actually selling it).

-Kid Chaos

(Be sure to leave some comments below. I haven't listened to this myself yet, so I'm not sure about the tracklisting, but if you have any notes, let us know.  And if you have something that you wish to review yourself, hit me up at the e-mail address in the top right, and we'll talk.)


  1. Good review, Chaos and a much welcomed edition as far as I'm concerned. Jay-z & Nas collabo album? Given Nas' recent money problems, it sounds like a good idea but other than that...........HELL NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nas embodies hip hop to a much higher degree than Hova but a Nas album that's produced exclusively by Premo and Pete Rock would set the world on fire. Again, very good review.

  2. (after Illmatic) this is my favourite Nas work

  3. live at the bbq beat boring - it is one of the greatest breaks of all time

  4. finding out this demo exists is more interesting than the review itself

  5. Dope write up...Deja Vu was actually made after Illmatic, but before verbal intercourse..the full story and an interview with the producer available here:

  6. I suggest downloading it from my YouTube Channel (Exkimo64) as I have a CDQ and untagged Nas Will Prevail, Also the Original Represent and I provided artwork that uses the street that is used on Nas's albums (but my work doesn't have Nas's face on it)

    Download is to the RIGHT of the video, click "MORE INFO"

  7. Thanks for the shine, Max, and thanks for the comments everyone...hope you check out the site

    Also, protoman can continue to suck on it as he mindlessly bitches about me on your site and mine

  8. I've heard this demo tape. And I have to say that Nas spits hot fire on every bar. This is the reason why hip hop is still alive. Let's face it. The west coast at the time with the exception of NWA represented all that was bad with hip hop with the low riding cars, money, drugs and the appalling treatment of women as sexual playthings coming into play. Sure, they sold more, made more radio hits and won more awards and sadly more critical acclaim as well. They had Snoop and the gang crushing everyone on the horizon with unforgiving vengeance.

    But Nas is a thug poet, a street philosopher and dare I say, at par with Wordsworth, Blake, and Stevenson as an acute chronicler of our times. His flow, his dexterous employment of similes and idioms, his husky voice that gives an impression of a man wise beyond his years, his unflinching stance in unabashedly voicing ghetto sentiments, his unflailing and unfailing ability to deliver, almost consistently, little gems, his legendary procreating of pithy street vernaculars which are employed in the lexicon of the school of hard knocks. And most importantly, his conjuring of vivid images on the abstract canvas of our imagination.

    Thomas Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. He, needless to say, had not taken cognizance of Nasir Jones.

    Genius is 1% inspiration, 1 % perspiration, 3% carbohydrates, 6% fat, and 89% Nasir Jones.

    Although the figures for Big Pun will be considerably skewed in favor of fat. Ditto with Biggie.

    DeShaun Simmons

  9. <--- you can download the whole mixtape there

  10. I'm pretty sure only "Just Another Day in the Projects" and "I'm a Villain are from the time before Nas' signing and could be part of an actual demo tape that made the label signing him.
    "Nas Will Prevail" is clearly a demo version of "It Ain't Hard to Tell", and likely stems from the Illmatic recording sessions, 1992 to 93, way after the signing. "Understanding" is probably from the same sessions.
    "Life is Like a Dice Game" sounds like coming from post-Illmatic time.
    In regards to "Deja Vu" check out Broke's comment above and the link he posted.
    Can somebody confirm my assumptions?
    This "demo tape" here is a product of the internets, somebody compiled these songs from various sources, claiming it to be the tape that got Nas signed.

  11. and if somebody knows from what time or even album sessions (if so) KGR's No. 1 With a Bullet stems - please let me know.
    Perhaps it's from the Live and Let Die era? There's a song on that album with the same title, but it's completely different and features Big Daddy Kane.

  12. Last remark or rather question: Can somebody^confirm the existence of an original tape, that him and Large Professor used while shopping for a deal?
    Which songs did it consist of?

  13. sorry kid but your reviews are bad

  14. Nice review, but I must disagree with your idea of the imaginary Greatest Hip Hop Album.

  15. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMarch 03, 2010

    This type of guest review is permitted? Word? Can I review The Nastiness That You Missed Vol.1 by The Most Felonious Turntablist In The Wide World Of Showbusiness? Spoiler Alert: It's a classic.

    You're a fool if you believe this is Nasir's demo but there are some essential songs on here. Deja Vu is definitely a masterpiece but I think you're underselling Understanding, where Nas is completely lethal throughout. Just Another Day In The Projects is dope but New York State Of Mind is not be fucked with.

    As for Number One With A Bullet, there are two much better Nas and G Rap collabos. Fast Life from 4,5,6 is fairly well known but there's another song (I think from the days of The Giancana Story) where Nas talks about smoking Shakespeare's corpse that I like even better. Also, I've seen Whiteboy listed as Johnny Blanco on several occasions. For whatever that's worth.

  16. Thanks for letting me know about this. Some of these songs are not to be fucked with. A review of Queensbridge's Finest would be appreciated, back when Prodigy was still awesome.
    Good to see some of the older commenter's returning.


  17. Great review.
    I rapped over a Nas oldie. Oldie, yes, outdated? Hell no!