We’ve come a long way from checking Limewire to see if an unheard demo from our favorite artists has hit the world wide web. Nowadays, a previously unheard song can go from being played in the background on a random third-party’s Snapchat to becoming a Soundcloud snippet with hundreds of thousands of plays. An Instagram Live session can be converted into a Twitter video which accumulates an unfathomable amount of retweets. No matter the form the fan excitement for unreleased music remains the same, and it’s inevitable that, until we get a 320 kbps version, we’ll play the hell out of those few seconds of unfinished glory.
In celebration of #LEAKWEEK on The FADER, we’ve shared the most memorable social media song leaks in the forms of true leaks, snippets, and teasers, and broken down exactly why they’re important to us, and to the ever-changing internet-music universe.
I nearly fainted when, in February of 2016, Keke Palmer posted a series of Snapchats soundtracked by what sounded like PartyNextDoor singing Rihanna’s “Work.” At this point, the general public was aware that the artist known as Jahron Brathwaite had written the song, but existence of a version sung by PartyNextDoor himself was unknown — that is, until, Palmer posted her Snaps. A few hours after one of the Snapchat videos had been ripped and posted on Twitter by an OVO fan account, it was confirmed that the recording heard in the original Snapstory was indeed sung by PartyNextDoor, and served as a reference track for the ANTI hit.
In the ensuing day or two, fans (including myself) played the life out of the available 10 second snippets, and perhaps by the grace of collective fan will-power, an MP3 of the full reference track, including an early version of Drake’s verse, began circulating on Twitter. Today, I can’t choose between the Rih and PND versions, but am happy I’m on Earth while the two can co-exist. #ThanksInternet—NK
Lil B, I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
http://www.mediafire.com/?o4z4ebht1gettlh CUZ I LOVE YOU IF YOU DONT HAVE 10 DOLLERS TO BUY MY NEW PROJECT HERE IT GOES FOR FREE- Lil B— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) July 1, 2011
The acceptance Lil B seems most eager for comes from sincere supporters who approach his music in the same good faith as they would any other piece of art. It was this kind of fanbase Lil B was hoping to encourage when he self-leaked I'm Gay (I'm Happy), the 2011 album that's all but disappeared from the internet. "CUZ I LOVE YOU IF YOU DONT HAVE 10 DOLLERS TO BUY MY NEW PROJECT HERE IT GOES FOR FREE," he tweeted along with a Mediafire link. Radiohead introduced "pay-what-you-can" albums to the mainstream with In Rainbows, but Lil B's generosity – which I and many others abused when he first shared the link – framed I'm Gay (I'm Happy) as something else: "pay if you have to."
Lil B was commanding at least $30,000 per show at this point in his career, so his decision to share the album came with a certain amount of privilege most rappers don't have. However, no other genre of music puts as much significance on first week sales as hip-hop and its various communities. The decision to leak the album, like so many other of Lil B's choices, placed him with at odds with hip-hop orthodoxy. And, presented us with something in a fashion that reflected art's noblest ideals.—JORDAN DARVILLE
Frank Ocean, Track Unknown
Jessica Alba leaked a Frank Ocean song and I think I'm the only person who knows about it. Last April, four months before Frank dropped his back to back projects, Jessica Alba posted a few Snapchats from the passenger seat of her car and I swear they were only to show off the fact that she had Frank Ocean music before anyone else in the world did. Her husband, Cash Warren, was behind the wheel and she put the camera on him and asked, "babe, what are we listening to?" In the background, there was a song playing with lyrics that I couldn't really make out but the music really caught my ear. She added a second Snap pointing at the car's radio screen which said "new frank" and then the camera switched around to Alba smiling like she just got away with doing something very, very bad.
I replayed the snaps a thousand times and it really did sound like Frank Ocean. I reached out to her publicist to ask about it but I never heard back from him. Maybe the two celebs are L.A. friends, maybe Frank races cars with Cash, or maybe Jessica Alba is just a hacker. I may never find out how this happened but I now I make sure I never miss any of her updates.—MYLES TANZER
Kendrick Lamar & J. Cole, “Temptation”
In 2011, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole played around with the idea of a releasing a joint album but it never happened. At the time, I was a major fan of both artists and was anxious to hear what a collaborative body of work would sound like. One of the moments that sparked my anticipation for the project was this video that a fan posted to YouTube. In it, a baby faced K. Dot, faces the crowd of fans as he sways to the beat of him and Cole's track, "Temptation." What made this leak even better was that it wasn't a faceless spill. It was a phone recording of Kendrick vibing to the track with some fans outside of a shop. After J. Cole's opening verse, Kendrick follows it up and recites his bars into a makeshift microphone that's an empty Corona bottle held by Schoolboy Q.—LAKIN STARLING
Kanye West, “Real Friends”
The leak/“promotional release” of Kanye West’s “Real Friends” on Soundcloud last year was a brilliant disaster. “Un momento,” West tweeted just minutes after deleting the newly-uploaded track off of his Soundcloud. “There was a slight distortion in the main loop within Real Friends.” He ended up posting and deleting the track two more times before getting it right, causing an abundance of “Kanye doesn’t know how to use the internet” memes and Zippyshare links to simultaneously seize the timeline before noon. The internet couldn’t wait a single minute to hear the new track, and thus illegal streaming and link-hunting ensued, prompting West to then tweet, “It will be back up shortly. When it’s back up all rippers please rip the new one instead.”
The “Real Friends” revisions were West’s first steps in making The Life Of Pablo the potentially forever-evolving project he imagined it to be, and it was exhilaratingly odd to witness the process in real-time, with millions of people tuned in. Maybe “Real Friends” wasn’t technically a “leak” because it was West himself releasing and un-releasing the record the entire time, but he made it hard for me not to remember it as one of the greatest leaks ever.—SAM BALABAN
Young Thug, “Danny Glover”
In 2013, Young Thug was on the cusp of national stardom: 1017 Thug had swept the internet and “Stoner,” fueled by Vine and a number of remixes, was making its way to radio stations across the country. But an in-studio video of Thug, flanked by Waka Flocka Flame, premiering another song, “Danny Glover,” proved that he had plenty more in the tank. Fans in Atlanta and online who had been championing the then 22-year-old were vindicated. Many others didn’t know what to make of the rapper who bragged about his $10,000 toe rings and probably still don’t.
“Danny Glover” first surfaced on Southside and TM88’s mixtape in November 2013. It was removed from the tape days later but audio rips spread quickly, reaching the ears of Drake and Kanye West. The song later appeared on Thug and Bloody Jay’s Black Portland and was repackaged as “2 Bitches” for a single release on iTunes in July 2014.
The song is a monument to both Thug’s vocal dexterity and technical rapping ability, hinting at the sort of polished weirdness that he would later perfect on Barter 6 and the Slime Season trilogy. Its bungled rollout signaled the beginning of the label limbo and career-altering leaks that would follow, but Thug has still persevered. As he yells out in a high-pitched scream on the song’s second verse: “I knew I was gonna run my money up when everybody didn’t.”—BEN DANDRIDGE-LEMCO
21 Savage & Young Thug, “Issa”
Now well-known for consistently teasing us with heat across every social media platform available, Thug's surprisingly high-production value teaser for the 21 Savage-featuring “Issa” is perhaps the biggest and well-executed nonchalant tease of a song he’s ever shared. The video teaser shot by Garfield Larmond (@whoisGLP), which originally appeared on Thug’s Instagram, is about a minute long and consists of Thug rapping 21’s verse and a little of his own, both heavily featuring the 21 Savage coined term “Issa,” while dancing around a private jet, which he later boards. The song — rumored to also feature Drake — goes, and despite having first been posted in December of last year, still gets mentioned and requested by fans on Twitter on an almost-daily basis. As with many Young Thug snippets, we may never hear the final version of this song, but here’s to hoping we get to hear the real thing soon.—NK
Cassie, “What She Don’t Know"
This after-dark banger leaked back to YouTube in ’09 but I found out about it a few years after, when a loyal fan compiled a 66-song Trilogy of her unreleased tracks, and uploaded it to a now-inactive Tumblr page. Like a bunch of other lurking, bass-driven songs in the .ZIP, it proves that Cassie sounds even better as R&B’s bad girl than she did as the genre’s sweetheart. If “Me & U” captured the sunny flutters of a new crush, “What She Don’t Know” is its grown up and jaded sibling. Over an after-dark beat by Emciay, Cassie plays the conniving siren who lures her guy away from a long-term relationship, whispering to keep their affair on the DL, and save her number under another name (YouTube commenters were shook). The production is kind of thin and it feels rough around the edges, but the bass hits just right. Still makes me wanna dance and get up to no good.—OWEN MYERS
(Sandy) Alex G, "Be Kind"
(Sandy) Alex G has a lot of songs. Some of them come out on albums and cassette tapes, and some of them are passed around like after-school secrets. If you're lucky, someone who knows someone you know might have some unreleased MP3s for you to nab. More than likely, though, if you want to dig deep into Alex's twisted pop psyche, you gotta poke around online. On Reddit and YouTube, his fans voraciously share B-sides and C-sides, like cigarettes between friends.
Arguably the most adored from his never-officially-released crop is “Be Kind,” a gorgeous midtempo acoustic ballad that first leaked on YouTube, via a live video, in 2012. In the clip, a boy-faced Alex sings the song on a nondescript staircase; maybe it’s a dorm, I don’t know. The song itself seems to be about the thin line between dreams and reality, and that shaky homemade video sort of feels like a dream, too. People shout out the song a lot at shows. He usually doesn’t play it, though.—PATRICK D. MCDERMOTT
Bobby Shmurda’s “Bobby Bitch” in-studio teaser is perhaps the definitive example of when a snippet is better than the final version of the song. Set to carry the momentum of his breakout summer 2014 hit, “Bobby Bitch” was first teased through a Twitter video of Bobby and friends collectively freaking out and turning up to the song in the studio. I remember replaying the short video with friends, and being stoked at how hard the beat knocked, at how live Bobby and his squad were, at how Rowdy Rebel held the neck of Bobby’s jacket as he thrashed to the song that was soon to reach the masses. The song snippet was only 20 seconds long, but was enough for us fans to know that there was an undeniable slapper on the way — or so we thought.
Fast forward to the song’s actual release in November 2014, in the form of a action-movie themed music video, and my friends and I were let down, to say the least. The final form of the song sounded like a watered down version of the original — no hard knocking drums, no searing strings, no automatic full team turn up. The “Bobby Bitch” snippet and song taught us an important lesson that day — never get too hype off of a snippet, as it will almost inevitably be more live than the final form of a song.—NK
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, “Drowning”
When A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie went on Hot 97 with a WWE wrestling belt hanging around his neck in 2016, I knew off-top that the young Bronx-laureate was destined for jewel-encrusted stardom. On the night of February 5, 2017, when the official spokesperson of Henny & Horchata Twitter tweeted out a 1:20 snippet of a then unreleased A Boogie track, that aforementioned jewel-encrusted stardom was solidified. Fronto being rolled in papers, sour diesel on deck, and the subject of the track — bedazzled chains "drowning" in diamonds glistening so crazy while A Boogie and the HBTL gang all rapped in unison in the backseat of what I only presume was a luxury SUV wrapped in 15K gold. Pure innocent fun.
Ask anybody at The FADER or any of my 300 twitter followers — I instantly declared the track the song of the summer. "Drowning" was officially released a month later, this time including a subpar verse from my privately problematic-fave, Kodak Black. And whilst the song could've and should've remained 80 seconds in length, and is better without the addition of Kodak, I hold steadfast to my initial declaration: A BOOGIE'S "DROWNING" IS THE SONG OF THE SUMMER 😤 💎 —ALI SULIMAN