Platinum View Counts and Radio Demo Gold: Digging Through OGDonNinja's YouTube Archives

A look at some highlight moments from the digital preservationists' vast collection.

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Four years ago I wrote an article on Medium (Micro-Chop’s former home) titled “1 Million Views And Counting: How Obscure Rap Records Are Finding A Second Life On YouTube.” At the time I was fascinated by something—I used YouTube for listening to CD, tape, and vinyl rips of obscure recordings more than I used it for watching actual videos.

As I made this realization I noticed there was a growing collection of independent releases from all over the world that had small, niche followings at the time of their releases were now accruing hundreds of thousands or millions of views. For example, The Beatminerz-produced Shadez of Brooklyn single “Change” recently broke 7 million plays on YouTube. When I first wrote about the track in 2017 it had less than half that many.

In the four years since I published that article I’ve spent far too many hours going down various rap record rabbit holes on YouTube. One name I keep stumbling upon during these journeys is OGDonNinja. From rare rap 12” rips to pristine quality recordings of unreleased radio demos, his YouTube page is an essential destination for any music fanatic.

He first started uploading videos and 2009 and some of these early uploads have since found scores of enthusiastic listeners. His oldest video to break 1,000,000 views is the instrumental version of Demastas’ 1999 single “Feel No Guilt,” which features the gruff vocal stylings of well-regarded ‘90s rapper Nine. Frequent Nine collaborator Rob Lewis handled production duties by blending some nice hard drums, a somber string sample, and some beautifully laced piano hits.

The record rip with the highest play count is “Take Your Time” by Square One—an English-speaking German rap group who released their lone LP Walk of Life in 2001. “Take Your Time” actually comes from Showdown Records’ 2001 compilation Soundcheck EP, which features a variety of artists like KC Da Rookie and DJ Swift. Square One’s introspective lyrics and group member/producer Iman Shahidi’s gorgeous piano key-laced beat make the track one of the definite highlights from OGDonNinja’s entire collection. First uploaded in March of 2015, it currently has 3,413,733 views views.

Though it is more of an exception than a rule for OGDonNinja upload to break one million views, many songs in his collection break 100,000 plays or are well on their way there. The Skavengaz’ sparse, somber “10 Mill Stash” b-side “Watch Them” currently sits right below 200,000 plays. This 12” is their only listed release on Discogs—like several artists OGDonNinja introduces to modern listeners they had a one and done career. One can’t help but wonder what some of these artists could have accomplished if they had more exposure and support.

OGDonNinja also has a nice selection of demo and tape rips to compliment his 12” collection. The crown jewel of these gems is “Do or Die” by Shabaam Sahdeeq, who is credited here by his alias Sinistar Voices. WhoSampled lists frequent Sahdeeq collaborator Nick Wiz as the producer here and his production is masterful, as he filters and flips the deeply moving “Salaam” from Catalyst’s self-titled debut LP to craft an unforgettable listening experience.

Nick Wiz took the brief but beautiful opening and stretched into a remarkable instrumental that sounds like it was custom designed for Shabaam Sahdeeq. Sahdeeq is in prime form here, spitting effortless verses about two friends who decide to rob a toll both on the George Washington bridge. He shows off remarkable storytelling skills throughout, cramming a breathtaking robbery narrative and unforgettable hook into a mere three minutes.

For reasons beyond my understanding, this song was only recorded as a demo and, to my knowledge, never saw official release despite featuring on Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito’s hugely influential radio show. Without people like people like OGDonNinja (and Chris, Aleph, Verge, and Steve from the TROY forum, who he thanks in the comments) this perfect track would likely languish in obscurity in a few old show boxes of cassette tapes. Now, people from all over the world can appreciate the artistry of Nick Wiz and better understand why Shabaam Sahdeeq had the entire underground rap community buzzing in the late-‘90s.

People like OGDonNinja flipping the intended use of YouTube on its head falls right in line with the long history of rappers and producers reimagining the capabilities of existing technology. From DJs using turntables and two copies of a record to extend breakbeats to producers using cassette decks to repeat samples and create beats, rap music and hip-hop culture have always pushed the limits of possibility. Now people are using a video uploading platform to preserve rare recordings that might otherwise be lost to history—giving them unprecedented levels of new exposure in the process.

Though I would like to see some of the original recording artists benefit from the resurgence of these songs at some point, OGDonNinja and company have at least injected new interest into their work and increased the likelihood of that happening.

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