By: Connor Lenahan
In the past couple of years there has been a move away from the traditional build up to releases by major artists. In years past there would be advertisements, multiple singles, interviews, guest spots on TRL, and then the album date would become something scheduled on a calendar. For example, when Frank Ocean was going to release Channel Orange in 2012 I was patiently waiting for the day. That’s basically where this began for me.
Channel Orange was supposed to come out on July 17, 2012. But a week before the CD was originally going to land in my lap Frank Ocean went on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He debuted “Bad Religion” from the album and announced that, surprise, it was available a week early on iTunes.
I was asleep. I have never forgiven myself. When I woke up the next morning and started flipping through my Twitter I saw different messages announcing that Ocean has released the album ahead of schedule. I downloaded it faster than I would have run out of my house had their been a fire. I listened to the album twice in a row that morning. Then again that afternoon. Then again and again. I knew that this album was going to happen, but I didn’t see it coming early. Out of nowhere, without warning, it took over that week before my senior year of high school. It ended up taking over my year.
Fast forward to Spring 2013. The last that anyone had heard from Kanye West was Watch the Throne and the singles he released in 2012 (“Clique” and “Mercy”). There were rumors abound that Kanye was going to do something in 2013. Nothing was all that confirmed.
Then “New Slaves” happened. Kanye projected a music video – of his face rapping the minimalist track – on buildings worldwide. Sadly, Scranton, PA was not a recipient of this gift. But I spent the next few weeks watching clips from NYC and beyond.
Kanye went on Saturday Night Live a few days later and premiered “Black Skinhead.”
About a month later, on the day I graduated high school, Yeezus arrived in my iTunes. It was all a whirlwind. From no confirmed album to the best album of 2013 in a matter of days. My head was spinning.
And this wouldn’t be the last time Kanye dropped music without warning. I wrote about him releasing “Only One” for the first post of 2015 on Unbreakable.
I’m not even sure that I need to go into detail about Beyonce. Everyone I know remembers the night that Bey shut down the internet. 12/13/13. At least with Frank Ocean and Kanye West there was a little time to get adjusted to the news. We knew for at least some amount of time that an album was coming. Beyonce? Not a word. Recorded totally in silent. Outside of the personnel on the album no one knew that the album would be coming.
And it was great too. Beyonce decided to take control of the world and did so by releasing some of the strongest work of her career thus far. She was gigantic before, but since this album she’s been the Queen of the Universe and it’s become impossible to argue that. Well, unless you’re the Grammys.
Almost a year to the day, 12/15/14, D’Angelo released his first album in fourteen years. Black Messiah was only announced days before. But it was impossible to confirm that it would actually come out. After all, there were 14 years of delays. It’s tough to build trust when the last time he actually dropped music was when I was in kindergarten.
Then it came. Just days after reports from Pitchfork said the album was completed it was in our hands. To say that this dominated my iTunes for the winter would be an understatement. I listened to the album in full every day for the first two weeks it came out. I wrote about it upon it’s release a few months ago.
Earlier this week Kendrick Lamar released the most intense, and possibly the best, track of his career thus far – “The Blacker The Berry.” I’ve been trying to properly process it for days now and I can’t. It’s mind-blowing in composition and lyrical content. Kendrick was taking no prisoners and pulling zero punches. It’s tough to write about the song when my only reaction I can muster is “That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Chances are that you have just learned in the past few hours of the news regarding Drake. Drake, in the middle of the night, with no warning, released new music. This is pretty normal for Drake actually. He dropped “Hold On We’re Going Home” and his “Versace” remix one night in 2013. But this wasn’t just a few songs. This was a mixtape/album with 17 songs. Seventeen.
And it’s incredible. I’ve been playing it on loop since the millisecond I got the word. I’ve been alerting everyone I can to go and check out If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Drake, true to reputation, does not come out with bad stuff. Anyone who argues the opposite is wrong. This new mixtape is Drake’s decision that the first three months of 2015 will now belong to him. That’s right, he just retroactively won January too. It’s that good.
What’s the point you ask? It’s a look back on the recent history of these releases out of nowhere. The game has changed if you are a heavy hitter. Sure, I’ve probably left some people off this list – Run The Jewels 2 and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive are recent examples. But the name of the game is no longer the build up. It’s to take stealth as an advantage. Kanye will not give any release date until he’s dropping the album. Ditto to Kendrick. Ditto to Frank Ocean. Ditto to Beyonce.
Actually, it’s fairly possible that everyone, excluding D’Angelo, will come out with new music this year. Half of them already have. But it’s when gifts are given out of nowhere that excitement builds. No other albums have built up as much excitement in the past few years than the ones that no one knew would happen. In an age where we know just about everything about our favorite artists it’s the ability to surprise us that is valued most.
So what happens now? Drake actually has another album he’s going to drop. Kendrick has been working for months on his follow up to good kid, m.A.A.d city. Kanye premiered a new song along with his new shoes yesterday, but it’s near impossible to find a full version. Beyonce is the ultimate wild card – There might me a Mr. & Mrs. Carter album this year with Jay Z. Frank Ocean is anyone’s guess, but it’s coming.
What happens now is more surprises. What happens now is the most entertaining year in music in a long, long time.