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The Demos of 2016: Six Songs That Never Made The Cut

When Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye reject you.


For every hit single, B-side, and "deep cut" off an album, there's a slew of bypassed tracks that didn't make the team. But, these days, instead of disposing or burying them way down deep in a secret arsenal where no one can see, find, or hear them—for reasons that could range from sheer embarrassment to industry legalities and technicalities—artists are showing surprising strides in humility and releasing these demos to the public, allowing us to see that, hey, Stars, They’re Just Like Us! Apparently, they can be imperfect too because not all these put-outs are profitable ones.

Here, we review the demos that have surfaced over the last six months, and their potential.


Song: "Work"

For: Rihanna

Shady social media antics aside, no one can deny that PARTYNEXTDOOR had a hit in Rihanna's "Work." The OVO Sound singer not only co-wrote the song but sang the reference track, which surfaced in April, and his version is, uh, not without its challenges. To be fair, his patois is on-point and, save for a few lyrics, it's near identical to the version that topped Billboard's Hot 100 chart and remained there for nine weeks. But it just feels like homeboy's voice has its, uh, limitations. Yeah, limitations, that's the politically-correct word! His rendition did make us realize how much better the song would be as a duet though. But with, like, Popcaan.

Artist: Azealia Banks

Song: Untitled

For: Rihanna

Back in April, Azealia Banks took to Periscope to preview some unreleased tracks and prefaced this Rihanna reject with: "You wanna hear one of the songs I did for, what's this bitch, Antioxidant?"—which, to be fair, isn't the way to get into anyone's good graces, Azealia. Name-calling and mockery? Try harder. But Banks can be heard saying she produced the track with Hit-Boy and, unfortunately for her (and us), it sounds like it could've been a banger. The beat is pingy, the verses syncopated, and if there's one thing the two girls share in common, it's a seemingly elevated level of comfort with vulgarity; like, "pop that p—y" isn't necessarily something RiRi hasn't said before. But you can imagine her spitting this with that signature snarl: "I pull up/ I shop up/ All my whips colossal/ Mrs. Sexy/ Persuasive/ My house on 40 acres/ I wake up/ Count paper/ That's million dollar pesos/ Bunch of lawyers/ And bankers/ Email me my statements/ Rubberbands, silver Lam', hundred-grand in my Jacobs." Too bad Azealia's such a troll.

Artist: Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend

Song: "Hold Up"

For: Beyoncé

When Beyoncé's Lemonade dropped, many wondered why its "Hold Up" track name-checked Ezra Koenig as a co-writer. We wanted a simple answer, but got a long one that ultimately made me feel like, well, damn, maybe I too am only one funny tweet away from being mentioned in Bey's liner notes as her bestie. Too much? Anyway, it went a little something like this: In 2003, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released the always-awesome "Maps" which—sing along now—features the line: "Wait, they don't love you like I love you." Eight long years later, Koenig thought to himself, what if the line started with "hold up" instead? And he tweeted the revelation as such. Three years after that, he was in the studio with Diplo working on a song (that he assumed would go to his own band Vampire Weekend) and wrote a hook based on the aforementioned tweet. He even added some new lines, like, "There's no other God above you/ What a wicked way to treat the man who loves you" which, as we all know—because Bey has been ingrained into our brains (our beyrains?)—are lyrics that, with a few edits and "lots of other stuff," made it onto her Diplo-produced official version. Fin. And now we know what "Hold Up" would sound like a little less angry, and a little more sweet.

Artist: Chance the Rapper

Song: "Waves"

For: Kanye West

[20:45 mark] Back in Febraury, Kanye West publicly, but probably playfully, blamed Chance the Rapper for the delay of his The Life of Pablo album, claiming the younger Chicagoan "really wanted [the song] 'Waves' on that bitch." And, luckily for us, 'Ye, who we can rightfully assume is stubborn beyond belief, listened. Because "Waves" is a stand-out. It's got a beat like a strobe light, rowdy yelps in the background, and is largely carried by the divisive Chris Brown, who delivers the kind of uplifting chorus you wanna sing at the top of your lungs. But that's the official version. Chance, who wrote and arranged the track, shared its demo during his interview with Beats 1's Zane Lowe and the original features a choir's chant, repeatedly contracted like it's been gut-punched, and sounds way more tribal than what ended up on the album—in a very good way. But true to Kanye's nature, he decided, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes," took out the choirs, kept Chance's verses, and "changed everything else."

Artist: Chance the Rapper

Song: "Famous"

For: Kanye West

[22:35 mark] At this point, it's anyone's guess why West keeps fighting Chance on artistic decisions, but my net worth isn't $145 million, so maybe I'm not privy to that kind of information. Still, it's inarguable that the verse Chance originally recorded for 'Ye's "Famous" that, for whatever reason, never made The Life of Pablo cut deserves a spot somewhere, on some mixtape, or Soundcloud page or, I don't care, commercial jingle. You'll hear Chano refer to it as "Nina Chop" during the interview, due to its sample of Nina Simone's "Do What You Gotta Do," and then you'll hear him deliver the kind of "guerrilla gospel" that populated his Coloring Book LP: "I'm a free agent, go and do the math/ Underdog of underground, Tubman with the path/ They ask about the help and all I do is laugh/ I say God my only boss, even Moses had a staff." What gives, 'Ye? What gives?

Artist: Madonna

Song: "Highlights"

For: Kanye West

We know, we know, more 'Ye demos. But these shouldn't come as a surprise since, in his own words, The Life of Pablo is a "living breathing changing creative expression." (Man, 'Ye really thinks he's an artisté, huh?) Anyway, for what we hope was a very brief moment, it seems Kanye possibly considered having Madonna sing the chorus on "Highlights" instead of Young Thug. We're not sure though because, honestly, this demo is so Auto-Tuned that it's very possible that the voice that allegedly belongs to Madge is just a cartoon mouse. It sounds like a cartoon mouse. Update: It is, indeed, a cartoon mouse.

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