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Most people have looked to their favorite artists and wondered how such illustrious success was achieved. Hit songs, sold-out shows, non-stop travelling, interviews, millions of fans and non-stop publicity are all seemingly far-fetched dreams and impractical wishes rather than something achievable in our forseeable future. Feeling this type of way is absolutely normal as most of the time, a lot of these artists do seem to blow up out of nowhere as a large percentage of behind-the-scenes work required to build up and maintain them are usually hidden from the public eye. Now, with “industry plants” being a current hot topic, fans (and haters) are more curious than ever to find out exactly how an artist goes from being nameless to famous.
Thanks to the Internet, an artist’s every public (and sometimes private) move is well-documented and archived, so with a little bit of research, it’s not too difficult to trace back to an artist’s humble beginnings. And that’s exactly what we’ve done: we took ten successful artists and unearthed their first publicly released work — whether or not they are proud of it. We are very aware that excavating an artist’s first known song won’t exactly reveal a straight up answer as to how their success was achieved, but it will definitely give you some new perspective. By shining light on their early creations, you can get a glimpse into a time of when they were imperfect and unrefined from an industry perspective.
Although his career has only spanned under five years, A$AP Rocky — being the experimental individual he is — has already transitioned through several musical phases. The release of At.Long.Last.A$AP back in May confirmed that Pretty Flacko had finally diverted away from the radio-friendly direction that he had pursued in his debut album, Long.Live.A$AP. Instead, he is continuing to expand on the “wavy” and “purple” aesthetic that he had cultivated back in his first mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP. However, if we rewind back to November 27, 2010 — 11 months before the release of Live.Love.A$AP and six months before “Purple Swag,” — a music video from Rocky and A$AP Ferg (known back then as Dee Ferg) titled “Get High” depicts a style completely different from what we are used to seeing. Although Max B inspirations and drug references are clearly present, the music video generally sounds and looks like it is completely free of any SpaceGhostPurrp and Raider Klan’s all-black, dark southern rap influence that Rocky and the Mob had adopted during the Live.Love.A$AP era. Compare it with his most recent A.L.L.A. single, “L$D,” and check out a clip of Rocky’s pre-fame freestyle.
Drake needs no introduction. We’re certain you’ve been following Champagne Papi for at least the past six years, and — at least from all the “Wheelchair Drake” memes — you should also be well aware of his Degrassi beginnings since he was 15. Outside of the occasional rapping his character Jimmy Brooks performed in the show, Drake has always had deep affinity for music. Born into a musical family, Drake self-released his first mixtape, Room For Improvement, in 2006 when he was just 19-years-old. Hosted by DJ Smallz as part of the Southern Smoke series, it containes 23 tracks, and includes features by developed musicians like Pharrell, Slakah The Beatchild, Lupe Fiasco, and more. A little after his mixtape was released, Drake dropped a song and music video featuring Trey Songz called “Replacement Girl,” which eventually made him first unsigned Canadian rapper to have his music video featured on BET. It wasn’t until 2008 when he was introduced to Lil Wayne by Jas Prince, the son of Rap-A-Lot co-founder J. Prince, and 2009 when he released his award-winning So Far Gone EP. And from then on…you know how that sh*t go. Listen to Room For Improvement below and compare it to “Energy,” one of the highlight tracks from his most recent project If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and check out this throwback interview of a Degrassi-aged Drake.
Only two albums deep, Ed Sheeran has already become a household name in both the mainstream and underground communities. Regardless of how talented he is, such recognition was not gained overnight. Before impressing Elton John and Jamie Foxx in 2011 and releasing his highly acclaimed debut album +, and even before moving to London from Framlingham to pursue his music career in 2008, the singer-songwriter developed an interest in recording music earlier. In 2005, he released a compilation project of songs into a project titled The Orange EP. Although his songwriting skills back then were much less refined and the production value was also much lower, we can already hear the extraordinary potential that Sheeran had possessed as a teenager. Listen to his Orange Room EP below and compare it with his most recent single from his sophomore album x, “Photograph.”
When Flume, born Harley Edward Streten, first found interest in music production, he was 13-years-old and used a very basic software that came with a box of cereal. Things started building up from there, and in 2009 at the ripe age of 17, the Australian multi-instrumentalist, producer and DJ began uploading his material online under the moniker HEDS. It was already apparent then that he had developed a good grasp on production and mixing. However, his HEDS tracks showcased a relatively more generic sound compared to his later work as Flume; they seem more like practice tracks due to a lack of the strong sonic identity most Flume tracks exemplify. While “Boxxy (Shut The F*ck Up Hardcore Techno Remix)” is definitely not our favorite HEDS creation, it is the earliest one uploaded to YouTube, dating back to February 2009. Have a listen to it and compare it to his most recent music video “Some Minds” featuring Andrew Wyatt.
The formation of Jack Ü was officially announced back in September 2013 right after their debut performance took place at a Mad Decent Block Party stop. At the time, most fans were already aware of who the members Skrillex and Diplo were, as well as the impact that they had on the electronic music world in the last few years. Prior to the announcement, the two have frequently helped each other out on their respective projects. However, neither started out as the electronic music gods that they’re recognized as today. In 2004, Sonny Moore contacted Matt Good of From First to Last, a Florida-based rock band, about playing guitar on their debut album. Instead, he was recruited to be their lead singer for the next three years. Diplo met DJ Low Budget in Philadelphia while studying in Temple University, and in 2003, performed under the Hooked on Hollertronix moniker. Check out Moore in From First to Last’s debut album Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count from June 2004 and Diplo’s Hollertronix 2003 project Never Scared below, and compare it with Jack Ü’s recently-released self-titled debut album.
The Kendrick Lamar we know today is the Section.80 one, and although he’s gone through some stylistic changes since then, few realize that the Compton rapper was on his music grind for more than eight years before he was able to release his debut album in 2011. Even when fellow TDE member Jay Rock released the video for his debut single back in 2008 “All My Life (In The Ghetto),” nobody really recognized Kendrick even though he had frequent cameo appearances. Those who mistake Section.80 as his first release will be surprised to find out that he’s had five mixtapes and one EP released before that, with four of them under his K-Dot moniker. The first was a project titled Youngest Head N*gga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year) which was released in 2003 – when he was just 16 years of age. The mixtape had helped him accumulate enough local attention to secure a recording contract with TDE — then a freshly founded indie record label. Listen to the tape below, and compare it with “Alright,” his latest single/music video from To Pimp A Butterfly.
Despite breaking into mainstream recognition in late 2013, PARTYNEXTDOOR has only participated in a total of two interviews: one with The FADER and one with MTV News. Outside of the information revealed from these two conversations, not much else is known about this rather private individual. Seemingly out of nowhere, the 22-year-old rapper-singer-songwriter-producer and OVO signee released his breakout self-titled EP in July 2013, and since, he has been one of the most sought-for artists out there. Before his signing to the label was announced with the release of “Make A Mil” through Drake’s OVO blog, PND had been making R&B-inflused electronic music under his government name, Jahron Brathwaite. A few months after the release of his PARTYNEXTDOOR EP, the kind folks at KanyeToThe leaked 75 unreleased songs compiled as The Jahron B. Collection. Listen to it below, and compare it with his most recent project PND Colours, which dropped late 2014.
In this list, Post Malone’s rise to fame is inarguably the most recent and sudden one of all. In February, “White Iverson” was exploded onto the web with virtually nobody knowing who exactly this Austin native was. Before the song’s release, he only had a few hundred followers on Twitter and one other release on his SoundCloud. To this day, we’re still not entirely sure as to how his career just blew up the way it did and how exactly he got connected with Atlanta production duo FKi, but as of now, we are aware that he can sing very well, and he used to (and still may be) very tight with his YouTube-famous Minecraft-playing friends, TeamCrafted. Watch a hilarious video of a pre-fame Malone in his track “Why Don’t You Love Me” below and compare it with his most up to date single “What’s Up.”
When The Weeknd’s released his free House of Balloons mixtape back in 2011, it marked a legendary moment for the music (and Tumblr) world — the standardization of PBR&B music. Right after HOB dropped, The Weeknd claimed in a tweet that a few “salty producers” leaked the compilation called The Noise EP, describing it to be “demos written as a teen to get recognition.” Thus, it technically is not his official release, but we included it in this feature as it contains some of Abel’s earliest known works. Give The Noise EP a listen, and compare it with his most recent single “Can’t Feel My Face” from his upcoming album Chapter III, and also make sure to check out this clip of pre-fame The Weeknd singing.
Unless you’re part of, or are a devoted follower of the Atlanta trap scene, “Loaded,” “Stoner” and/or “Danny Glover” were likely the first songs you’ve heard from Young Thug. If you think that this 22-year-old enigma had spawned out of nowhere, you’re mistaken. Don’t be misguided by your perception of Thugger’s carefree personality, he has been deep and diligent in his grind since the beginning of the decade. Before deals with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad Records, Future’s Freebandz, or his affiliation with Birdman’s Rich Gang, Thug put out a self-released mixtape titled I Came From Nothing back in June of 2011, when he was just 18. Presented by Archive Entertainment and hosted by DJ Swamp Izzo, the tape showcased what sounded more like a Lil Wayne impersonator than the Young Thug we know today. It wasn’t until three mixtapes after in 1017 Thug – released on February 20 — when he finally debuted his current sound. Listen to I Came From Nothing below and compare it with ”First Up,” a track from his upcoming mixtape Slime Season, and make sure to watch this video of “Young Thug aka Jeffrey” from his ICFN days.
EDIT: His track “This Is My Life” predates his I Came From Nothing mixtape.