As a child, few things were more fun than surfing through DVD menus and Flash cartoons looking for Easter eggs. Creators love to hide secrets for eager fans to sniff out, and for me, finding every single one was half the fun. That love eventually segued to album listening sessions while keeping an eye ear out for any and all hidden tracks.
Hidden tracks brought a different kind of adrenaline rush to the average listening experience. Maybe the tracks were deliberately left off of the tracklist, maybe they followed a long silence after another track faded out, or maybe someone had to piece together instrumental and vocal tracks after deciphering well-hidden code—no matter the method, the end result was almost always pleasing.
While the age of streaming and individual MP3s may have curtailed the practice of hidden tracks, we refuse to let some of rap’s best-kept secrets be forgotten.
Here are the 10 best, hidden hip-hop tracks, ranked.
10. Elzhi - Second verse from “Cloud” at the end of “Keep Dreaming” (Lead Poison)
Dark clouds plagued Detroit wordsmith Elzhi during the making of his hotly-anticipated sophomore album Lead Poison. The album—funded by a $37,000-plus Kickstarter campaign in 2013—saw enough delays that donors actually filed a class action lawsuit against the former Slum Village emcee before the album finally saw the light of day in March of 2016.
The Bombay-produced tenth track “Cloud” is an attempt to explain the lingering drains of his depression that seems to end abruptly at just over two minutes. The second verse didn’t go missing; it just comes in at the end of closing track “Keep Dreaming.” With the rain cloud momentarily gone, Elzhi literally steps through puddles to continue his story about how it “Even keep me up during bed hours / Always seeming to creep inside my dream when asleep to give me lead showers.”
On a project stuffed to the brim with high-end concepts (“Hello!!!!!” is about a song’s struggle to be heard, “Two 16’s” morbidly turns a request for 16 bars on its head), making listeners wait through six songs to drop the second verse might be the most ambitious hidden contribution of them all.
9. Childish Gambino - “3005 (Beach Picnic Version)” (Kauai EP)
Donald Glover’s sophomore album Because the Internet was a bold, experimental step in his career that also happened to feature the catchiest song in his entire discography. The 8-bit chimes and swelling synths of “3005” were undeniable back in 2014, but 2015’s Kauai EP proved that the song Gambino wasn’t yet finished with the track.
An instrumental track called “3005 (Beach Picnic Version)” closed out the EP, but where were the vocals? Glover had hidden the code of an a capella in the 72-page script that came with Because the Internet, which a Reddit user found, deciphered, and laid over the track to bring the song to life. Outside of a pitched-up version of the original hook, the song is a remix in the purest sense: new vocals and chillwave-inspired production that fit the more relaxed vibes of the Kauai EP.
This is what you’ll hear on the beach as day turns to night and a picnic turns to dessert.
8. Lauryn Hill - “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill)
Say what you will about Hill’s current public persona, the rap/R&B fusion of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was foundational for a generation of artists, not to mention the album’s historic GRAMMY sweep in 1999. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “To Zion” may have been the bait, but it was Hill’s cover of a Frankie Valli staple that caused an unexpected jaw drop. The shimmering chimes, subtle organ chords and beatboxed drum break were as ‘90s as leather sweatsuits and East Coast vs. West Coast feuds, but they set the backdrop for Lauryn’s vocals to completely steal the show.
Making a great cover is no easy task. Bob Dylan was reportedly so impressed with Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower” that he still interpolates it to this day.
I can only hope that Hill’s version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” gave Valli the same feeling it gave me, but since it wasn’t found on the tracklist, he would have had to find it first.
7. The Roots - “In Love With The Mic” (The Tipping Point)
Comedy giant Dave Chappelle united thousands in Brooklyn for a hip-hop block party and even engineered a surprise Black Star reunion in 2014; but before any of that, he helped make a song with The Roots.
Their sixth album The Tipping Point ended with this gem of a hidden track that featured Black Thought, Chappelle and MCs Truck North and Skillz bringing their all to one of The Roots’ signature jam sessions.
This track actually sounds like a leftover from their fifth album Phrenology, especially considering how fun and experimental it was compared to the consistent, yet flat Tipping Point. “In Love With The Mic” was the live jolt the album needed to end with a bang.
6. AZ - “Born Alone, Die Alone” (Doe or Die)
Doe Or Die ended on a moment of bleak reflection from AZ: “You never know, it might just be yo' time you take yo' ride / To them pearly white gates, watch that suicide.”
“Born Alone, Die Alone” kicks in with rain falling on AZ and his crew after facing down “guerilla’s mist.” It clocks in at barely over a minute after showing up at the tail end of his Nas-assisted single “Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide,” but as a reminder of the desperation of New York City from generations past, “Born Alone, Die Alone” is AZ’s return to sleeping with one eye open.
5. Q-Tip - “Do It, See It, Be It” (Amplified)
Amplified was Q-Tip’s first solo album following A Tribe Called Quest’s initial breakup in 1998, but he used this hidden track as a loving ode to the Native Tongues’ (and especially Phife’s) influence on his love for hip-hop.
Co-produced by Tip and J Dilla, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a smooth and soulful track with crisp drums and an airtight vocal pocket.
Preceded by a track with nu-metal gods Korn, this four-minute Tribe history lesson was just the palette cleanser you’ll need.
4. Jay Z - “People Talking” (Unplugged)
Jay Z and The Roots coming together for an MTV Unplugged album was a surprise. But you know what was even more surprising? Being treated to a long lost Blueprint cut the likes of “People Talking.”
Ski Beatz had created the beat for someone else, but Jay heard it and pulled a power move, flying Beatz to NYC so they could record ASAP.
With Hov dropping jewels and instilling fear in the hearts of Judases the world over, “People Talking” is a foreboding track that might not fit in with the rest of The Blueprint, but it’s a firecracker waiting at the end of a long, fulfilling tunnel on Unplugged.
3. Chance The Rapper - “Paranoia” (Acid Rap)
Back when Chano was still candy flipping in the Acid Rap days, he added thirty seconds of silence to the end of the CeeJ-produced “Pusha Man” that supposedly amplified acid users’ highs. My first time hearing this song, I thought my DatPiff files were corrupted, but it gave way to the bleak and gleaming “Paranoia,” a harsh reality check from the dead center of Chicago.
The bluntness of the second verse still cuts me to the bone in ways that few raps ever have. Chance and producer Nosaj Thing paint a picture that changes from hopeful (“Pray for a safer hood when my paper good, watch / Captain Save-a-Hood, hood savior, baby boy”) to angry (“Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? / Somebody get Katie Couric in here”) to downright terrified (“Cause everybody dies in the summer / Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it's spring”) over the course of its three verses. Some summers only bring sunshine and caskets.
2. JAY-Z - “Breathe Easy” (The Blueprint)
By the end of a classic record like The Blueprint, JAY-Z had little left to prove to the rap gods, but he used this bonus track produced by Just Blaze to squeeze in some extra lyrical chest pounds anyway.
It really is nothing more than alpha male boasts over piano keys (“With the weight of the world on my shoulder / That's why they call me "Hova" / I'm far from being God / But I work goddamn hard”), but it’s a breathless display that reaffirms the strength of Jay’s blueprint to success.
1. Kanye West - “Late” (Late Registration)
If The College Dropout endeared Kanye West to his peers and fans as more than just a hot beatmaker, then Late Registration was Kanye realizing that the party truly didn’t start until he arrived.
“Late” is that realization brought to life, along with an orchestra and a relaxed confidence. Stressing over student loans and Benzos led to the world waiting to spin on Ye’s command (“Been bullshittin but I finally arrived with it / I know it's late and I took all year but / You can stop complainin’ cause I'm finally here”), so what better way to end an album this ambitious?
Will Kanye ever find his way back to this road?