Foreign Gists

Hear Biggie Smalls’ first-ever recording from 19


Hip-hop publication The Source was the biggest hip-hop publication in the 1990s, and if you wanted to read about hot new artists on the come up, that was the magazine to buy. Published in 1992, in issue 30 of The Source, a writer named Matty C shone a light on someone who was about to become a star when he chose to highlight a young man Biggie Smalls in his, ‘Unsigned Hype’ column.

Still an unknown Brooklyn MC, Matty C had heard Biggie’s demo tape, the same one that got him signed to Bad Boy Entertainment. However, there are hardcore fans of Biggie who have yet to hear the demo, recorded in the basement of a Brooklyn house. To find out more about the demo tape, we have to go back to 1991.

Biggie’s first radio appearance was on The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Show in 1991. An underground hip-hop radio show broadcast on the student radio station 89.9 WKCR-FM. Recorded in the basement of Columbia University, the station encouraged unsigned acts to send in demos and the best of the best they would invite to perform on the radio and give an interview.

However, prior to his positive feedback, the Brooklyn rapper (real name Christopher Wallace) had already set out to make a demo and asked for the help of his best friend, DJ 50 Grand from Bedford-Stuyvesant, speaking with music magazine The Fader, the DJ recalled, “I went to the basement at my crib, we made about four demos, and it went from there. After we finished making money, we’d go get beer, weed, some movies and just get in the basement and make tapes for the rest of the day and night. That’s where it went down after the money was made. He taught me a whole lot. He changed me. Breaking down songs, he knew what he wanted, how he wanted it.”

According to DJ 50 Grand, when they made the demo in 1987 his basement, Biggie was only 15 years old and was just a local youth in the area. The DJ was 21 and highlighted how the two had grown up in the same place and been around each other for years. Commenting on Biggie’s studio process, Biggie’s former co-manager Wayne Barrow (alongside DJ 50 Grand) told The Fader, “The first time I was in the studio with him, I realized he didn’t write. I’d never seen anyone do that before. It amazed the heck out of me. No pen, no pad. Getting in the booth and just laying it down in damn near one take.”

The demos Biggie made alongside 50 Grand featured Biggie rapping over familiar 1980s beats like Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Ain’t No Half-Steppin’, later known as his ‘Microphone Murderer’ freestyle. It was that freestyle that got Biggie Notice by Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, and the rest is history. However, those basement recordings did not just disappear. They still exist, and you can listen to all of the freestyles Biggie included on his demo in the video below.