I sometimes get a few upset readers in the comments section everytime I post something by or about Jay-Z, but the fact is that I hold "Reasonable Doubt" and about half of "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1" in the highest regard as some of the most well crafted writing in hip-hop music of all time. Therefore I am always eager to hear other non album tracks, guest features and demos from this early peak of Jigg (who still to this day knows how to knock out a banger if you ask me). I myself put together a 16 track compilation of Hov's mid-'90s non-album joints called "The Pre-Trial" featuring his work with Original Flavor, DJ Clark Kent, Ski, Jaz-O, among other hard tunes a while back (unfortunately the link has been taken down, but I'm doing a re-up on it in the coming days, just need to get back a couple more songs that I've lost).
However, Mass Appeal very recently shared a new mixtape compilation of ten songs predating the release of "Reasonable Doubt", that I, at least for the bulk of it, never have heard before. This is an extreme treat for hip-hop heads and lyric gourmets, as this release contains a gold mine of classic, yet previously unheard, Jay-Z lyrics that calls out for extensive use of the rewind button all delivered over bass booming '90s New York bap. As you know Jay would later dumb down his content considerably, but in the early days his songs were made up of an extensive amount of lyrics with multiple meanings calling out for listeners to decipher. While a few of the songs on this tape, titled "Demo Tape - Before Reasonable Doubt" features songs in his pre-'95 hype style heard on jams like Big L's "Da Graveyard" (a style that never appealed to me tooo much), the majority of joints finds a Jay-Z whose lyrical delivery is somewhere in between the hyper and the calm mafioso persona finally heard on "R.D.". It's hard listing stand outs because this is most definitely something you can listen to from front to back many, many times if you're a fan of early Jigga Man but I was especially hyped for "Get Off My Dick", the Clark Kent produced "Understand Me" (very dope track where Jigga takes a trip down memory lane, recounting his growing up in the streets of Marcy, interspersed with a sampled 2Pac hook), and "Broken English & Drug Sellin'" - all songs that almost sound like they could have been considered for inclusion on the classic debut in 1996. The only song that I feel to likely have been recorded after the fact is the closing song. Called "Behind The Ropes" listening to the DJ shouts it's obvious this is in fact a Sauce Money record featuring Jay. Sauce's first 12" single on Roc wasn't released until 1997 and though this is definitely earlier than "Against the Grain", it was probably recorded between "R.D." and that. It's a sick cut at any rate.
Calling this a demo tape however, does sound a bit silly considering this is definitely nothing that was compiled as a demo nor does it consist of material recorded in a few sessions as a unit. Rather this is a compilation of rare material predating the release of the album, but recorded after songs like the Jaz-O collaborations. Big Jaz is suspiciously absent from all material (perhaps he did produce some of the music though as there's no production credits, though both Ski and Clark Kent's fingerprints undoubtedly are on some of these), though early Jay-Z / Roc-A-Fella affiliate Sauce Money kicks it with Hov on no less than five songs. I always felt these two had a great chemistry and would have loved to see Sauce been the next big artist being pushed by Roc-A-Fella but it is what it is.
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