Stop, look and listen. Clues, jokes, bonuses and worlds might be right there in your favorite rap videos or on the hip-hop track you cherish, hiding in front of your eyes and ears.
The term “Easter eggs” as a means to slip subtle items into entertainment as a reward for those paying great attention stems from the 1975 cult-classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ever since, creative types have found ways to sneak these slick little goodies into video games, movies, TV shows, plays and music.
Playful hip-hop artists are no exception. As you’ll see in the 15 clever examples below, acts from the Beastie Boys to Eminem, from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to Kendrick Lamar have been known to embed tiny delights into the many aspects of their music, giving the fans who notice them a little rush in the process.
Eminem’s frenzied, cameo-enhanced video for his tongue-twisting track “Godzilla” tucks in a tribute that may fly past a viewer’s eyes upon first viewing. That Easter egg is strictly for the Juice Wrld fans. Several rap artists have subtly hidden messages or clues on album cover art. And some of today’s fun-having superstars like Logic and Childish Gambino have playfully planted incognito hints in their art.
A couch with a treasure trove of Cadbury Mini Eggs slipped under the cushions can be comfortably sat upon with no one the wiser. And so, too, can the music itself still be thoroughly enjoyed even by fans who can’t spot the secret eggs. But the experience is a little more interesting when you unlock the codes. There’s layers to this, player.
Album covers, liner notes, music videos, song lyrics and not-quite-accurate tracklistings all serve as sofa cushions and coffee tables for hip-hop Easter bunnies to stuff their eggs.
Just look a little closer. Check out 15 Hip-Hop Easter Eggs Worth Hunting For.
Floating Juice Wrld Albums
In one memorable scene from Eminem's recently released "Godzilla" video, Em stands rapping and middle finger-flipping atop a pile of his own compact discs. Floating above the musical mountain are copies of “Godzilla” hook master Juice Wrld's Death Race for Love and Goodbye and Good Riddance albums.
Although you might miss them if you blink (or watch the clip on a small smartphone screen), the ethereal inclusion of Juice Wrld’s music is a subtle reminder the 21-year-old rapper is still with us even if he’s not earthbound. Mr. Mathers, appropriately, concludes the engaging video with a dedication to his gone-too-soon collaborator.
Kendrick Lamar’s Backwards Lyrics on DAMN.
Two songs on Kendrick Lamar's 2017 masterpiece DAMN. are laden with hidden lyrics, spun backwards so only those with a vinyl copy or some fancy audio software can decode.
On “FEAR.,” Lamar reverses the following stanza: “Every stone thrown at you resting at my feet/Why, God, why, God, do I gotta suffer?/Pain in my heart carry burden for the struggle/Why, God, why, God, do I gotta bleed?/Every stone thrown at you restin' at my feet/Why, God, why, God, do I gotta suffer?/Earth is no more, won't you burn this mufucka?”
Later, on the album’s poignant and personal closing track, “DUCKWORTH.,” the following lyrics also get a garbled reverse treatment: “Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence/Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin' life/While I grew up without a father and die in a gun fight.”
That Kendrick is a heart-on-his-sleeve Christian and the reverse song lyric is so often associated with a sneaky way to slip Satanic messages past censors makes the artist’s use of the technique all the more intriguing.
Playboi Carti’s “Middle of the Summer” Beat
If you could've sworn Playboi Carti’s “Middle of the Summer” beat sounds eerily similar to one of his earlier highlights, “Let It Go,” no, your ears aren’t playing tricks on you.
The Atlanta rapper’s go-to producer, Pi’erre Bourne, simply repurposed his own beat from Carti’s breakout, self-titled mixtape in 2017. He slowed the pitch to create a banger for 2018’s Die Lit song “Middle of the Summer” featuring Red Coldhearted.
It’s not plagiarism if you’re stealing from yourself, right? Work smarter, not harder. YouTube mixer Sean Beats actually took time to blend the two tracks together, highlighting just how similar the tracks are.
Beastie Boys’ Secret Message on Licensed to Ill Album Cover
The cover art for the Beastie Boys’ classic debut album, Licensed to Ill, was designed by David Gambale and inspired by record producer Rick Rubin’s idea that the Boys should have their own private jet. Like full-on Led Zeppelin rock stars.
Cheekily, the crew’s emblem on tail of the jet is a direct rip-off of the Harley Davidson logo, and the plane is stamped with a seemingly random serial number: "3MTA3." Held up to a mirror, it reads: “EAT ME.” A message very much in keeping with the Beasties Boys’ frat boy humor circa 1986.
Jay-Z Buries Bonus Tracks on The Blueprint
Jay-Z went through quite the Easter egg phase. As with Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter and Unplugged, Hov embraced the hidden song for his 2001 classic, The Blueprint. Twenty-five seconds of silence follows the LP’s final listed track, “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” before the first bonus song, the Just Blaze–produced “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)” begins.
The surprises don’t end there. As a second treat, “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2),” follows, bringing the CD’s 13th track to a total run time of 12:07. The second “Girls” version also features an uncredited Michael Jackson on vocals. Easter eggs within Easter eggs.
Kanye West’s Surprise on The College Dropout Album Cover
Photographer Danny Clinch shot the artwork for Kanye West's fantastic debut album, The College Dropout. Although the final image of a cuddly, bummed-out bear sitting on school bleachers in a student’s garb wouldn’t require anyone special or familiar to be wearing the bear’s head, that is actually Mr. West inside the getup.
Originally both Clinch and Roc-A-Fella designer Eric Duvauchelle preferred a shot of Kanye holding the bear’s head and revealing his own face, but West wanted to break the rules and hide himself in plain sight.
Childish Gambino Slips Album Cover Into Atlanta Episode
Seldom one to play by the rules or draw in straight lines, always one to blur mediums and messages, Childish Gambino found a clever way to flash his album cover in an episode of his must-see TV creation Atlanta.
Amidst fans’ feverish anticipation for Childish Gambino’s follow-up to 2013’s Because the Internet, Glover dreamed up a fun way to tease the cover to 2016’s Awaken, My Love! In the ninth episode of Atlanta, titled “Juneteenth,” the album jacket on an office shelf.
Kool Moe Dee Runs Over LL Cool J’s Hat
Fueling one of New York City’s longest-running rap feuds, Kool Moe Dee titled his 1987 sophomore LP after his hit LL Cool J diss track, “How Ya Like Me Now.” If there was any doubt for the lyrical inspiration, the album jacket featured the pioneering emcee’s white Jeep Wrangler rolling over James Todd Smith’s trademark red Kangol hat.
In terms of violent visual metaphors, Moe Dee’s stunt may seem mild by today’s beef standards—anyone catch Remy Ma’s “Shether” art?—but in the late 1980s, How Ya Like Me Now’s threatening spin on "Where’s Waldo?” caused quite a stir.
J. Cole’s Hidden Gems in “Middle Child” Video
The Mez-directed music video for J. Cole’s 2019 banger “Middle Child” is loaded with visual clues to his unnamed lyrical targets. Since 2012, Cole has been nominated for 11 prestigious Grammy Awards and only walked away with one this year for his feature appearance on 21 Savage's song "I A Lot." The snubs appear to be getting to him as he is seen rapping amidst a red carpet full of corpses.
Another key scene features mounted heads above the fireplace in Cole’s hunting lodge. Plaques reading “Your Favorite Rapper,” “This Could Be You” and “Ask for a Feature” accompany the severed heads. The colorful hair on one of the noggins has led several fans to speculate a shot fired at Lil Pump.
Eazy-E in the Window on Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal
Who’s that peekin’ in the window? Well, it’s Eazy-E. Released just four months after the death of their mentor, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s classic 1995 sophomore release, E. 1999 Eternal, pays subtle tribute to the N.W.A cofounder and Ruthless Records icon on its cover art.
Not only is the LP’s biggest single, “Tha Crossroads,” dedicated to E, but the Cleveland crew made a point to feature a tiny Eazy popping out of apartment building window in the cover’s background. A map within the CD booklet also left breadcrumbs for devoted fans to follow to Eric Wright.
Talib Kweli Cleverly Responds to Jay-Z’s Compliment
Sure enough, the underground took note of one of the more quotable lines from Jay-Z’s The Black Album (2003). During the candid “Moment of Clarity,” Jay-Z the businessman gives listeners a peek into his approach to hit songwriting: “If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be lyrically Talib Kweli/Truthfully, I want to rhyme like Common Sense/But I did five mil—I ain't been rhyming like Common since.”
So, one year later, on a collaboration with Common, Kweli took the opportunity to respond to his more commercially successful contemporary. The Reflection Eternal emcee kicks off his “Ghetto Show” verse like this: ("If lyrics sold, then truth be told, I'd probably be just as rich and famous as Jay-Z/Truthfully, I want to rhyme like Common Sense/Next best thing, I do a record with Common Sense.”
AZ’s Secret Bonus Bangers on A.W.O.L.
AZ’s under-celebrated fifth album, 2005’s A.W.O.L., appears to conclude with the gunshot that caps of “Live Wire,” the album’s final listed song. But let him finish.
For an unwritten encore, No. 13 keeps rolling through two more essential joints. Produce Tone Mason laces AZ and C.L. Smooth with some sped-up soul for the upbeat “Magic Hour" and DJ Absolut samples a wail for "The Truth.” In truth, these hidden encores push the track to a total of 10:49. These gems were intended to appear on AZ’s lost 2004 studio album, Final Call, which was finally unearthed by Koch in 2008.
Logic Crams Nearly Everybody Onto His Album Cover
More than a few familiar faces pop up on the creative sleeve for Logic’s 2017 opus, Everybody. You just might need a magnifying glass and an hour or two to decipher them all.
Painted by Sam Spratt,the art for the Everybody album cover is a reworking of Paolo Veronese’s classic The Wedding at Cana and features images of everyone from Logic’s ex-wife and his puppies to Where's Waldo to Spratt himself. Ingeniously, Logic also held a contest to include a fan in the portrait. The wheelchair-bound Josh, who suffers from a rare disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, became immortalized in the crowd.
Public Enemy’s Hidden Track “Ferocious Soul”
As politically charged hip-hop began to fall out of favor in the mid-1990s and legendary group Public Enemy began to recede from the culture’s forefront, The New York Times journalist Neil Strauss wrote that critics accused 1994-era P.E. of “being out of touch, of launching a weak attack against the trend toward gangster rap of writing second-rate rhymes, of producing the album poorly, of using a bad pun for the title (music in our message) and of being too old.”
Well, Chuck D has never been one to bite his tongue, and the frontman fired back in a scathing rant against his critics on a secret freestyle titled “Ferocious Soul,” which appears on Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age. Unlike most hidden tracks of the CD age, this one wasn’t tacked on to the end of the album but rather in the disc’s pre-gap. A listener would need to immediately press rewind upon popping in the CD to hear the song before track No. 1 even begins.
Broadway Play Hamilton Adds in Hip-Hop Lyrical References
The seed that would grow into the stage force that is 2015’s Hamilton: An American Musical was a rap song Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote about the founding father.
Manuel—a hip-hop head who has freestyled for President Obama—scatters winks to today’s most popular musical genre throughout his 18th-centrury screenplay. Right from the jump of "My Shot," Alexander Hamilton spells out his name in the same cadence The Notorious B.I.G. does in “Going Back to Cali”: "A-L, E-X, A-N, D/E-R/We are/Meant to be…”
Biggie gets referenced more overtly in the number “10 Duel Commandments,” a twist on “Ten Crack Commandments,” while Grandmaster Flash, DMX, Jay-Z and Eminem influences also spring up in the script.
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