Few rap moments are as exhilarating as witnessing a new artist burst onto the scene, delivering verses that instantly cement their names into the rap history books. These debut appearances often serve as a rapper’s introduction to the world, a raw and unfiltered display of their talent, passion, and potential.
From the young Brooklynite, Jay-Z, hinting at his future empire on High Potent’s “H.P. Gets Busy” to Lil Wayne’s early declaration of prowess on B.G.’z “From tha 13th to tha 17th,” these moments become timestamps of raw talent and potential. Delve into the likes of MF Doom’s origins on 3rd Bass’s “Gas Face” or the unparalleled charisma of 2Pac on Digital Underground’s “Same Song.”
From nascent MCs flexing their lyrical prowess alongside established giants to surprise guest verses that steal the show, these initial outings can make an indelible mark, setting the tone for legendary careers.
So let’s get into it. From The Notorious B.I.G. jumping on “A Buncha Ni**as” to Nas’ monumental appearance on “Live at the Barbecue,” here are the top 10 greatest rapper debut appearances of all time.
12. will.i.am on Eazy-E — “Merry Muthaphuckkin’ Xmas”
It might sound odd now, but long before will.i.am was crafting pop hits with the Black Eyed Peas, he was kicking raw rhymes alongside one of the West Coast’s most iconic figures – Eazy-E. On “Merry Muthaphuckkin’ Xmas,” will.i.am, known then as Will 1X, spun the jolliest time of the year on its head, injecting it with a dose of the streets. It’s the flip side of the coin for will.i.am; a gritty narrative painted over Eazy-E’s menacing soundscape. Before the world tours and chart-topping singles, there was a lyricist with an appetite for raw expression, and “Merry Muthaphuckkin’ Xmas” was a perfect playground.
11. Prodigy on Hi-Five — “Too Young”
Prodigy’s first dip into the rap game wasn’t solo or even with his iconic partner in rhyme, Havoc. It was an unexpected blend, where the gritty ethos of Queensbridge met the polished sounds of R&B. The track “Too Young” by Hi-Five was already a smooth number, but when the young Bandana P stepped to the mic, it was the christening of a rap legend.
10. Jay-Z on High Potent — “H.P. Gets Busy”
Before the glitz of Reasonable Doubt and the empire that would become Roc Nation, Jay-Z made an understated but impactful appearance on High Potent’s “H.P. Gets Busy”. Even in this early feature, the makings of a mogul were evident. Jay’s wordplay, flow, and unmistakable confidence shone brightly, hinting at the meteoric rise that awaited him. While the track itself might not have garnered mainstream acclaim, those with an ear to the underground recognized the promise in the young Brooklynite’s verse. It was a humble start for the man who would go on to brand himself as J-Hova, but it was clear, even then, that Jay-Z had the lyrical prowess and ambition to change the game.
9. Lil Wayne on B.G.’z — “From tha 13th to tha 17th”
Long before he became the self-proclaimed “Best Rapper Alive”, Lil Wayne was a young talent emerging from the hotbed of New Orleans hip-hop. His appearance on B.G.’z track, “From tha 13th to tha 17th”, serves as a testament to his raw, precocious talent. Even at a young age, Wayne’s distinctive voice and confident flow hinted at the greatness he would achieve in the years to come. While he was surrounded by seasoned veterans, Wayne’s verse stood out, laying down the foundation for what would become one of hip-hop’s most illustrious careers. It was a debut that not only solidified his place in the Hot Boys collective but also forecasted his eventual rise to hip-hop royalty.
8. MF Doom on 3rd Bass — “Gas Face”
Before the metal mask and the mythological status, MF Doom made waves as Zev Love X, providing a standout verse on 3rd Bass’s “Gas Face.” His unique voice, intricate wordplay, and undeniable charisma were evident, signaling the emergence of a talent that was set to shape the landscape of underground hip-hop. While the larger hip-hop community wouldn’t fully understand the depths of his genius until his transformation into MF Doom, this feature gave an early glance into the enigmatic mind of one of rap’s most revered figures. In “Gas Face,” the seeds of a legend were sown, hinting at the labyrinthine narratives and intricate rhyme schemes that would become his signature.
7. 2Pac on Digital Underground — “Same Song”
2Pac introduced himself to the world on Digital Underground’s “Same Song.” While primarily known as a dancer and hype man for the group at that time, ‘Pac’s verse was a revelation. Bursting onto the scene with a fierce confidence, fluid delivery, and charisma to spare, his appearance on the track was a glimpse of the greatness to come. Although the world hadn’t yet fully experienced the depth, vulnerability, and passion that would define 2Pac’s solo work, “Same Song” offered a tantalizing preview of a burgeoning talent on the cusp of hip-hop immortality.
6. The Notorious B.I.G. on Heavy D. and the Boyz — “A Buncha Ni**as”
A couple of years preceding Biggie’s King of New York reign, he made a guest appearance on Heavy D. and the Boyz’s track “A Buncha N****s.” While surrounded by other talented emcees on this posse cut, Biggie’s verse stood out. His distinctive deep voice, intricate wordplay, and uncanny storytelling ability were all on display, hinting at the monumental impact he’d soon have on the rap scene. Even in these early bars, listeners could detect the raw, unfiltered style that would make The Notorious B.I.G. one of hip-hop’s greatest narrators. It was a brief but compelling introduction to a rapper who’d soon change the game.
5. Cappadonna on Raekwon — “Ice Cream”
When it comes to classic Wu-Tang Clan moments, Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” stands out not just for its catchy hook and stellar production, but also for the memorable debut of Cappadonna. Entering the scene alongside some of the most revered emcees of the era, Cappadonna’s unique flow and vivid imagery seamlessly fit into the Wu’s intricate tapestry of sounds and styles. His verse on “Ice Cream” is a barrage of street tales and clever wordplay that added a fresh flavor to the track, ensuring it remained a timeless hit in hip-hop circles. For many, this was the first taste of Cappadonna’s lyrical prowess, which he’d continue to showcase in subsequent Wu projects and his solo career. It was a debut that not only solidified his spot within the Wu-Tang family but also in the broader hip-hop landscape.
4. Redman on EPMD — “Hardcore”
Before becoming a household name in hip-hop, Redman marked his entry with a standout verse on EPMD’s “Hardcore.” His raspy voice and off-kilter flow were a stark contrast to the more polished rappers of the era, immediately setting him apart. The energy and rawness he brought to the track signaled the arrival of a new, dynamic force in the rap world. Redman’s unapologetic style and vivid lyrical imagery on “Hardcore” hinted at the future legend he would become. This guest appearance wasn’t just a feature; it was a bold declaration of what Redman represented and a preview of the innovation he would bring to the genre in the years to come. It was the perfect introduction for a rapper who would soon redefine the boundaries of hip-hop with his distinctive voice and style.
3. AZ on Nas —”Life’s a Bitch”
When Nas dropped Illmatic, his seminal debut album, every track was a testament to his prodigious talent. But on “Life’s a Bitch,” it wasn’t just Nas who made waves. Enter AZ, a then-lesser-known rapper who delivered a guest verse that still stands as one of the greatest in hip-hop history. With a smooth, effortless flow, the Brooklyn MC’s introspective lines about the harsh realities of life and the fleeting nature of youth perfectly complemented the track’s melancholic trumpet backdrop. His vivid storytelling and intricate rhyme schemes held their own against Nas, which is no small feat. This debut appearance was a powerful statement from AZ, establishing him as a force to be reckoned with and setting the stage for his own successful career in the hip-hop arena.
2. Snoop Dogg on Dr. Dre — “Deep Cover”
Snoop Dogg’s introduction to the hip-hop world on Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover” was nothing short of monumental. The track’s gritty, street-oriented narrative was elevated by the Long Beach MC’s smooth yet chilling delivery. The combination of Dre’s ominous production with Snoop’s laid-back, melodic flow created an iconic West Coast sound that would influence a generation. As the West Coast artist rapped about the perils of undercover work, listeners everywhere were introduced to his unique style and flair. The collaboration marked the beginning of a legendary partnership between Dre and Snoop, setting the stage for future classics.
1. Nas on Main Source — “Live at the Barbecue”
In what is considered one of the most iconic introductions in hip-hop history, Nas’s verse on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbecue” gave the world a taste of a lyrical prodigy. With lines like “When I was 12, I went to Hell for snuffing Jesus,” Nas showcased his audacious wordplay and sharp storytelling ability. The young MC from Queensbridge held his own alongside established artists, leaving an indelible mark with just one verse. His raw talent and complex lyricism generated a buzz that would eventually lead to his classic debut, Illmatic. On “Live at the Barbecue,” Nas set the stage for a career that would shape and redefine hip-hop for years to come.