Hip-hop has finally found a new way to release albums.
Words Sidney Madden
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don’t miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.
In a time of industry over-saturation and breakout Soundcloud stars, rappers have to do the most to get their music heard. If that means breaking the rules, so be it. That was the case this past November when, out of the blue, J. Cole announced on Twitter that his third album 2014 Forest Hills Drive would be coming out the next month. With no single and limited promo, Cole landed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week, thanks to the excitement of 371,000 hungry fans. Drake took a similar approach in February when he surprised fans with the immediate release of his If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape for sale on iTunes. This put Drizzy on top of the Billboard 200 chart with 535,000 records sold in three days.
Big Sean followed suit putting out his third album, Dark Sky Paradise, just 30 days after the announcement on Jan. 25 of its release. It then landed at No. 1 on Billboard 200 chart with 173,000 records moved in the first week. Sean’s approach was a bit different than Cole and Drake’s as he did allow for more promo on the LP, and the existence of his Dark Sky Paradise wasn’t a complete surprise like the other two projects.
The trend continued the following month when Kendrick Lamar put out his long-awaited second album, To Pimp a Butterfly, via iTunes a week before the release date. K.Dot’s album set a first-day streaming record, with Spotify reporting that tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly were streamed 9.6 million times in 24 hours. The album also came in at No. 1 in week one.
All four projects snagged No. 1 spots on Billboard 200 chart, each executing roll-out plans completely the opposite of what is traditional in hip-hop, in which pushed-back and tiredly-promoted albums tended to fill the landscape. How long were fans starting to wait for To Pimp a Butterfly? How long will they wait for Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V or even Dr. Dre’s Detox? “I think the trend of surprise album releases is slowly becoming the new music motto,” says Lenny S., SVP of A&R at Roc Nation. “[But] I feel it works more for established or known artists who have built a following.”
The trend really started in December 2013 when Beyoncé shocked fans with the sudden release of a self-titled surprise album. Relying solely on the loyalty of her fanbase, Bey dropped the 14-track album with its 17 accompanying music videos all in one link and landed at No. 1 in its first week with 617,000 copies sold. In doing so, the songstress broke download records and rewrote the rules of album roll-outs.
Leave it to rappers to find their own twist.
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