From Dr Dre's Detox to Drake's It's Never Enough, there are countless albums that have never left the studio. Although fans will never get the chance to hear some of these bodies of work, that's not the case for all records. In this article, we dive into some of the unreleased music available online and exploring why it ended up in the digital archives.
From the archives: mixtapes you should check out
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, ULTRA (2012)
Despite his impressive discography, Frank Ocean also has several unreleased mixtapes in his locker. This includes his 66-track project, The Lonny Breaux Collection. According to the reports, Nostalgia, ULTRA also ended up in the archives because of uncleared samples, a common roadblock for artists.
After Ocean used a sample from the Eagles' record "Hotel California" on his track "American Wedding", the band's founding member Don Henley threatened legal action. In response, Ocean clarified that he put the record out for free "if anything, I'm paying homage." But Henley didn't appreciate it as he said, "I thought he was a talentless little prick. And I still do", during an interview in the Guardian in 2015.
Listen to Nostalgia, ULTRA here.
Kanye West - unreleased demo (2016)
2016, the year fans saw several tracks from Kanye West's masterpiece Yeezus leaked. Three years after the 10-track album dropped, two artefacts, "Good Things Don't Last" and "One I Love", emerged on SoundCloud. According to reports, Kanye showed up at Rick Rubin's house just 15 days before the album dropped to sort through a host of unfinished songs. Kanye whittled down the tracklist, so there are likely several more tracks that didn't make it out.
Today, the two records have been removed from SoundCloud but can be found on YouTube. 2016 was also the year SoundCloud user Trilly Madison shared eight unreleased Kanye beats.
Listen to Kanye's unreleased demo here.
Aaliyah - One in a Million (1996)
Following her passing in 2001, much of Aaliyah's discography is nowhere to be found on streaming services. Her One in a Million album is no exception. Much of the iconic R&B's singers catalogue has never appeared on streaming services due to legal issues with her estate, according to Essence.
In 2020, Aaliyah's estate announced via her posthumous Twitter account that her music catalogue would soon become available on streaming services.
Earlier this month, an update came as her estate shared another statement on social media. They expressed “protecting Aaliyah’s legacy is, and will always be our focus. For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorized projects targeted to tarnish.”
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Following the update, there has been speculation that Aaliyah’s music will be available to stream from 20 August, as One in a Million will be the first release. While we await Aaliyah's entire discography, you can listen to some of her music here.
Eminem – Infinite (1996)
The Slim Shady LP is often considered Eminem's debut album. However, Infinite is the rapper's neglected debut. While the lead track of Eminem's first studio album (Infinite) is available to stream, the other 10 tracks aren't available on streaming services. According to reports, the album was a commercial failure, selling around 1,000 copies. Despite the numbers, Infinite showcases Eminem's lyrical ability and trademark delivery. It's well worth a listen for diehard fans and curious listeners.
Listen to Infinite in its entirety here.
De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
Along with their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul's follow-up De La Soul is Dead is also unavailable online. As explained in a 2016 interview with The Independent, their early contracts specify the samples they used can only be used on 'vinyl and cassette'.
As their early work includes samples from Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Johnny Cash, a new cut deal would be needed in order for these songs to stream.
If you're willing to do some digging, you'll find several of De La Soul's early records on YouTube.
A round-up of unreleased music wouldn't be complete without an honourable mention to Biz Markie. On June 2, 1993, the hitmaker released his fourth studio album, (All Samples Cleared!) marking his first release after losing a legal battle over clearance of samples in his music. In a 2018 article, The BoomBox explored how "All Samples Cleared! may be recognised more for marking a new era of production techniques in rap."
Discovering unreleased music from the archives
While leading platforms may choose not to stream albums based on commercial value, licensing seems a key factor, particularly with records from the pre-streaming era. Of course, many records remain unreleased due to artist and label discretion, which is the case with Dr Dre's Detox as perfectionism has prevented the album's release for two decades and counting. Here’s hoping Kayne West doesn’t follow suit with his highly anticipated album Donda.
Although the streaming giants don't play home to unreleased music, savvy fans have discovered a whole load of places to unearth hidden gems. Here are just some of the places you can look...
Reddit is a gold mine for discovering unreleased music. Whether you're searching for a particular track like this unreleased Nipsey Hussle record, or a compilation of discoveries from like-minded fans. You won't be disappointed with what you find on Reddit.
DatPiff is another go-to destination for hip-hop and rap fans, playing home to plenty of unreleased tracks. Since launching in 2005, DatPiff is now the 'largest digital archive of mixtapes in the world'. So, if you're looking for something specific, chances are, you'll find it on DatPiff.
With over 265 million tracks, SoundCloud is the 'world's largest online community of artists, bands, DJs and audio creators'. SoundCloud allows anyone to upload music whenever they want, from wherever they want. So, thanks to the lack of gatekeeping, the streaming platform plays home to plenty of unreleased music. If you're not sure where to start, you'll find lots of playlists like this one.
While there are plenty of social media pages sharing news/updates for unreleased music, Rare Trackz is one of the best of the bunch. So if you follow just one account today, let it be Rare Trackz.
If you've lucked out in your search for unreleased tracks from your favourite artists, Google is your best friend. It may take some rabbit holes and some questionable quality, but you'll likely stumble across something if you look hard enough.
When writing this article, The Independent reported that unreleased music by the late rapper XXXTentacion will be sold as NFTs (non-fungible tokens). According to reports: "In partnership with New York crypto-collectable company YellowHeart, XXXTentacion's estate is releasing five NFTs featuring material that has not been officially released before."
They added: "The collection will contain previously unseen concert footage, as well as five songs from XXXTentacion's back catalogue, which were originally shared unofficially on SoundCloud." As the popularity of NFT's grow, perhaps we'll see other musicians follow suit. Whatever the reason for unreleased records, it's undoubtedly arguable that we should hear the hidden gems from our favourite artists. So, whether it's coming from a teenage hacker looking to make money or an unwavering fan unveiling artefacts, hearing unreleased music almost feels like discovering an artist for the very first time. More time, unreleased tracks, EP's, and albums are somewhat unpolished, offering insight into artists’ early days or raw material, which in turn, give fans an alternative listening experience. In short, the digital archives can quickly become a music lover's heaven.