Hard as it may be to imagine nowadays, there was a time when you needed more than just an Internet connection and a liberal dose of self-delusion to launch your career as a professional rapper*. You needed the skill to concisely channel your talent into a few choice songs, the resourcefulness to get that material into the hands of the record label gatekeeper who possessed the key to your hip-hop dreams, and a liberal dose of self-delusion. You needed a demo.

True, dropping a noise-making independent single, adding a hot guest verse on yourmansnthem’s record, or being the beneficiary of some good ol’ fashioned show biz nepotism could be more direct routes to getting on. But the traditional demo tape—an industry calling card in the form of a TDK60; that romantic relic G Rap and Erick Sermon once devoted crisp-lisped verses to—was still key to sealing the deal with any potential A&R suitor, and provided the unconnected masses perpetual hope of a seat on the express from ashy to classy.

They don’t make demos like they used to because, well, they don’t make demos anymore period. Blame the Interwebz for saturating cyberspace with more rap “projects” than New York City public housing. Yet as the Web taketh away so doth it giveth, regularly gifting us beaucoup vintage demos and lost OG versions of tracks from the classic hip-hop era like every day is rap nerd Xmas (or at least Kwanzaa). Here are the best in circulation, rap rarity bliss laced with crazy tape hiss.**

* Actually, feel free to replace “rapper” in this sentence with any other vocation (save for maybe doctor or astronaut) and the sentiment still basically applies.
** Pre-debut LP material only. (Well, almost.)

Written by Chairman Mao (@chairmanmaonyc).