Everybody’s gotta start somewhere. As crazy as it is to believe, there was a time when iconic MCs were complete unknowns—literally unheard of by the populace at large. Here we take a look at how some of the greatest to ever enter the rap game began their storied careers.


1) Before Ice Cube was the first artist from Compton to get a multi-million dollar record deal, he got his first break when his friend, Dr. Dre, then an up-and-coming DJ, got Cube to co-write “Cabbage Patch” for the World Class Wreckin Cru.

2) P. Diddy started out as an intern  at Uptown Records and eventually worked his way up to Talent Director, helping develop artists such as Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. After he was fired, he launched his own label, Bad Boy Records.

3) After hours, Nas used to sneak into the studio where Rakim and Kool G recorded their material to lay down his own tracks. Though none of it was released, Nas (then going by "Nasty Nas") soon caught the attention of MC Serch of 3rd Bass, who started managing him and secured him a deal with Columbia Records.

4) Prior to meeting Ice Cube and forming NWA, Dr. Dre (then known as "Dr. J") got his start as a DJ, making mixes for local L.A. radio station KDAY.

5) Eminem entered the 1997 Rap Olympics, but came in second to a rapper named Otherwize. However, Interscope CEO Jimmy Iovine liked his performance and gave his demo tape to Dr. Dre.

6) The Notorious B.I.G., who attended high school with Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes, made a demo tape soon after spending nine months in prison. Though he never thought it would amount to anything, the music editor of The Source heard the tape and started promoting Biggie. Hearing of the hype, Sean Combs listened to the demo and signed Biggie to Uptown Records.

7) Calvin Broadus worked on homemade mixtapes that featured Warren G. and Calvin's cousins, Nate Dogg and Lil 1/2 Dead. One of his freestyles was later heard by Warren G.'s stepbrother, Dr. Dre, who called Calvin and offered him an audition. Calvin soon started going by a different name, Snoop Doggy Dogg.

8) Demonstrating his rapping prowess during his younger years at Harlem's 127th Street Repertory Ensemble, Tupac Shakur would make his pro debut lending his voice to tracks for Digital Underground.

9) Renouncing his scholarship, Kanye West dropped out of the American Academy of Art after one semester to pursue a career in music. Having produced for local artists from the time he was in high school, Kanye worked his way up to producing for artists like Jermaine Dupri and Harlem World, before landing the gig that would change his life: producing for Roc-A-Fella Records.