By September 1997, pop-culture phenom Kanye West was just 20 years old and already a rising producer in the hip-hop world, but his renown was still largely confined to the Chicago music scene. His breakthrough work on Jay Z’s The Blueprint was three years away, virtually a lifetime in popular music, and his own emergence as a rapper was even further down the road. But West’s personal musical exploration and experimentation continued all the while, as evidenced by an unreleased demo tape from September 1997 that has emerged on SoundCloud. Posted to the account of one Trilly Madison, this untitled “beat tape” consists of eight lo-fi, mid-tempo instrumentals, ranging from about a minute-and-a-half to just over three minutes in length. Were it not for their connection to West’s formative years, these somewhat primitive recordings would be of middling interest. They’re catchy and well-constructed, but they lack the diverse, genre-spanning ambition of West’s mature work.
The authenticity of these tracks have neither been confirmed nor denied as of this writing, and West himself has yet to weigh in in their veracity. For now, they’re historical curiosities, artifacts from a time before West had established himself as an artist in his own right. These are beats that are meant to be rapped over by others, not complete songs to be savored on their own, so there is a certain level of monotony here. As backing tracks, however, they’re more than adequate. Arguably, the best and most complex of the tracks is also the longest. Though apparently mastered from a fuzzy-sounding cassette, it could serve as the basis for some interesting freestyles.