When you hear of bootlegging, you probably have in mind the transportation or sale of illegal liquor. The term also can refer to the sale of illegal versions of copyrighted products.
Well, for the music industry, record labels hated bootleggers. Fans, on the other hand absolutely loved them. These “illegal” contraptions played quite an essential role in the music industry.
Hip-hop bootleggers at first did not look like a big deal, but some of them have come out to have a profound influence on hip-hop.
In this article, we will consider some of the greatest hip-hop bootleggers of all time.
Freddie Foxxx – Crazy Like A Foxxx
This Hip-hop record might not be the best that we have heard, but it certainly is one of the greatest hip-hop bootleggers. It was supposed to be released in 1993 by Epic records. However, for some reason or the other, it was shelved and released at a much later date. Bootleggers got their hands on some copies, though, and this ensured circulation all around.
Crazy may, in our opinion, though, be one of the best hip-hop bootlegs of all time. The album itself might not be exactly mindblowing, but there are several tracks that are excellent. As a hip-hop lover, getting the retail and original shelved version or demo is the height of coolness and is simply incredible.
The record was supposed to be released by Epic Records but was eventually released in 2008 by Fat Beats Records. And it was even released as by Bumpy Knuckles.
Bumpy Knuckles eventually left MCA Records for Epic. He left as a member of Flavor Unit.
This version features some impressive production from Buckwild and Showbiz. However, at the time, it was not approved. This discarded version features the 8 Bars To Catch A Body jam, which was later remixed into another song – Sound of Da Police.
Listening to the records is an exciting experience and you cannot but be bewildered that Epic Records passed on releasing it. Thankfully, bootleggers made it available.
I.N.I. – Center of Attention
Up next is another bootleg hip-hop record. This time, it is I.N.I's Center of Attention. During the research, we found that this is hands down one of the most circulated bootlegs of the time. The record was originally set to be released in 1996 by Elektra Records, but it was shelved. This record is one of the best shelved work that we have come across. Listening to it now makes it easy to see why it is a legend among the shelved records that you can think of. I.N.I
, which was composed of some really talented artists who wrote and recorded the jam. The Mount Vernon group, composed of Rob-O and Pete Rock's brother Luva , broke up after the record label eliminated the release of Pete's Soul Brother imprint. Therefore, it is the only project that you will ever hear from the group. Although it was eventually released in 2003 by BBE and Rapster Records, bootleggers had already got their hands on it and were selling it from the back of their vehicles.
One thing to note about the album is that it was later released at the aforementioned date, along with The Original Baby Pa, and was even listed as a Pete Rock work – all without the express knowledge of Pete.
Nevertheless, both versions (bootleg and retail) sound pretty great and is one of the greatest hip-hop bootleggers of our time.
Cormega – The Testament
Def Jam Recordings is a relatively popular outfit and was supposed to release The Testament in 1998. Cormega's album was one of the most-anticipated of the late 1990s. Therefore, it was quite a shock when the project was shelved and scrapped. Fans of Queensbridge Hip-hop were certainly incensed when this occurred. Up till that time, Cormega was an upcoming artist who didn't have any particular jams under his belt, but those that had listened to his songs knew that this was something special. All he had done had the listener pining for more.
A contemporary of Method Man, we recall getting the sampler of the ‘The Testament' project along with MM's LP Tical 2000. All through that time, Cormega's was the more played of both.
Although it was scrapped and shelved, bootleg copies abounded at the time, which makes this one of the greatest hip-hop bootleggers that we know. Cormega eventually won his battle to get his hits away from the record label. Fortunately for him, at the time of his victory, he had already become a big deal among indie listeners. Therefore, when the official version was released, fans were so thrilled and in awe of his craft.
Wu-Tang Clan — Live at Montreux 2007
Out of the hip-hop hits and records that we have discussed so far, this is the most recent option, Back in 2007, everyone in the Wu Tang Clan, apart from OBDF who had died at the time, had enjoyed touring around the country and select destinations. Of course this touring was on and off, and also in celebration of the clan. The clan had been touring together infrequently after the celebration of the 10th year of the clan and had enjoyed a tour of the globe three years before 2007. Therefore, they had certainly not gone rusty. The clans' musical prowess had not dulled and was as impressive as it had ever been at the Montreux Jazz festival. Though not everyone was gathered (ODB was deceased), the chemistry was obvious. The Clan sang through up to 32 tracks of their greatest songs from solo and group records without missing one beat.
The bootleg version is great, although the ones available were recorded in Optima Forma. If you are not very familiar with the Wu Tang Clan's classic catalog, you might find the bootleg version a hard sell. However, if you have supported them for a long time or just love their music, then you will have an ecstatic time with the bootleg version.
This debut solo album is one of the greatest hip-hop bootlegs of all time. The album, like most of those on this list, was shelved and released at a later date than was originally planned. This album was supposed to be released in 1996 by Geffen Records. However, in 2002, it was eventually released as a Promo version and then in 2009, the full version was released by Paul Sea production.
Allusion was made to the album by Extra P in his A Tribe Called Guest appearance back in 1993. Therefore, many of his fans and other interested parties were hotly anticipating the album. Little did he know though, that it would be many years later that the album would officially see the light of day.
At first, things were looking pretty good, with a solo debut from the Mad Scientist seeing plenty of promotion. However, in 1995, the recording label decided to shelve the project. This was met with the expected consternation from fans. Thankfully (we guess), bootleg versions were released and sold, making Large Professor one of the best hip-hop bootlegs.
After years of intense bootlegging, the singer finally had the rights to his album and eventually released it in 2002.
M.O.P. – Ghetto Warfare
Ghetto Warfare is a compilation album created by the rap group M.O.P. This album had been recorded about 5 years earlier, though, and was originally billed for release in 2003 by Roc-A-Fella Records. The group was still signed to the record label, so it was only logical to assume that the label would release it after promotion and all that. However, it was shelved for later release. That didn't stop bootleggers, though, as they got their hands on it even before the official release of the album.
The thing about this album is that some of the songs actually appeared on some other records and soundtracks. Therefore, it is much more a compilation of tracks rather than a brand new thing. However, most of the songs were actually for their record label and were recorded with the hope of being released by the label.
The album was later released by Coppertop Records. Listening to the records is an exciting experience and you cannot but be bewildered that Roc-A-Fella Records passed on releasing it. Thankfully, bootleggers made it available.
2nd II None – The Shit
DJ Quik was never an official musician under the Death Row record label. However, he was always close to Suge Knight, the mid-90's co-manager of the record label. He and Suge Knight had collaborated to create and release one of his more popular projects Safe + Sound. Suge also played a part in managing 2nd II None. Therefore, it was generally believed that this connection would help his DJ Quik's friends 2nd II None have Death Row release their debut album, The Shit. However, that did not come to pass. The album was ready for release in 1994 but was not released at the time. The duo moved from their original record label, Priority Records in 1991 after their 2ND
II None album and many people felt that they had made a wise move.
However, the duo was relegated to the background with the emergence of Snoop, Tha Dogg Pound, and Dr. Dre. The emergence of these heavy hitters resulted in the shelving of The Shit. The duo shuttled back to Profile, but they couldn't take their album with them. To date, the album has not been officially released by Death Row. However, it was leaked in 2008 by bootleggers, and the Rap industry is certainly better for the unauthorized release.
King T – Thy Kingdom Come
The next on this list of the greatest hip-hop bootleggers is the Thy Kingdom come album by King T. This album today sounds impressive, but at the time of the initial release, it wasn't a commercial hit, which likely made the record label shelve any plans for promotion and sales. It was supposed to be released in 1998 by Aftermath Entertainment but was shelved until 2002.
Hindsight certainly is 20/20, and now people better understand why the album was pulled at the time. Fresh off Death Row (which has made an appearance on this list), and trying to build his record label Aftermath Entertainment, Dr. Dre signed King T. King T wasn't a stranger to album releases or Dr. Dre (both are Compton boys). Therefore, everything seemed smooth sailing for the album. However, Dre sent advanced copies to critics who absolutely ripped into the album. Dre lost his manhood and shelved the album.
The album was finally released in 2002 by Moe Beatz Records, and listening to it right now, it is quite surprising that the critics hated it. It enjoys some impressive production and beats from some of the best in the game at the time. It is an incredible album that sounds pretty dope even now.
Del The Funky Homosapien – Future Development
Most of the albums and projects here were shelved for commercial reasons. However, this particular entry was delayed because Del was fired from the record. Despite his sacking, his album wasn't released for quite a time and his fans had to wait for almost six years before the official release of the album.
Del didn't wait for that long, though, and he sold the cassette in 1997. Unsurprisingly, bootleg versions cropped up fairly rapidly and were easy to acquire. For many of his fans, this album is the best project from Del.
Best Hip Hop Bootleggers Ever, Final Thoughts
Choosing the greatest hip-hop bootlegs was not an easy job. But we have managed to narrow it down to the ten best options. Why don't you have a listen to all of the albums and projects we have listed? You can easily find them through the links.