Changed the game with that digital drop

CODINUNDRUM: A column about random pop-culture stuff, mostly Beyonce.

There’s not much comparable to the overwhelming feeling of seeing a beloved artist release new tunes out of the blue and trying to consume them as quickly as possible. In the past five years, the surprise album drop has become a frequent and welcome twist on typical music industry marketing tactics.

Here are 10 of the best and most unexpected:

Beyoncé | Beyoncé

The Queen released her self-titled fifth album in December, complete with a music video for each track. The exclusive iTunes release sold 1.3 million copies in its first 17 days and became the fastest selling album in the history of the iTunes Store. She gave absolutely no warning of its release, causing a social media uproar. Beyoncé made her own rules, and changed the game with that digital drop.

Drake | If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

If you’re reading this, you already know about Drake’s 17-song commercial mix tape. Fans can expect the tracks to supplement the rapper’s festival headline performances. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after only three days of sales, moving 535,000 units, all of which can be attributed partly to the overall shock of the drop.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard | Black Messiah

After 12 years of silence, D’Angelo finally released his follow-up album to the classic R&B “Voodoo” in response to the Ferguson and Eric Garner controversies in 2014. Never intended to have a traditional rollout, “Black Messiah” instantly became one of the best-reviewed albums of 2014.

Frank Ocean | channel orange

Frank Ocean’s Def Jam debut dropped a week before its intended release date to keep it from leaking online. The moved up date with less than 24 hour’s notice still managed to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys.

Jay Z | Magna Carta… Holy Grail

Just five months before the iconic “Beyoncé” drop, Jay Z preceded his wife’s album release with his own 12th studio album. Jay announced “Magna Carta… Holy Grail” during a commercial in the NBA Finals in June 2014, promoting a Samsung sponsorship with 1 million free downloads to the first customers. Less than three weeks later the album was released for sale, managing to avoid leaks entirely.   

Skrillex and Diplo | Skrillex and Diplo present Jack Ü

EDM duo Skrillex and Diplo premiered a much anticipated project, “Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü,” last week during an 18-hour DJ set. The album features appearances by Kiesza, Missy Elliot, Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, AlunaGeorge and more. What better way to release an EDM album than with an insane 18 hours (intended to be 24 hours) of remixes and drops, livestream it online and surprise watchers with 10 brand new collaborative tracks?

Compared to the huge, drawn out, strategic release—Taylor Swift’s “1989,” for example—the surprise drop seems like the more artistic option. Not to discount Swift’s art—the album was one of, if not the best album of 2014. But in not depending on the drawn out, massive publicity of a promotional tour, surprise albums provide instant worldwide recognition through social media.

Leaks become less likely, the music becomes the top topic of conversation and near hysterical (at least in my experience) necessity to consume the new product leads listeners to rave to their friends and followers and buy rather than stream. 

On the current path, the surprise drop is more likely than not to become the standard for big name album releases. And even though it may cause a few heart attacks, the shock and the universal excitement make the surprise album my preference.

Sometime, hopefully in the very near future, Kanye West is going to drop his “Yeezus” follow-up, “So Help Me God.” West told hip-hop station Power 105 the album is 80 percent complete, and that release dates are “100 percent… played out.” So in the meantime you can find me attached like a leech to Twitter until that day…

Codi Mohr can be contacted at [email protected]