Remember album rollouts? Since the popularisation of the surprise drop, everyone from pop stars and R&B singers to hip-hop's elite have started eschewing the traditional, calculated release cycle that hinged on drip-feeding fans singles until the big release. Today, that process feels decidedly outdated.
What started as a countermeasure against leaks, has perfectly paired with the proliferation of music streaming. And now, albums are ready to be released at any moment, and hackers have lost their power.
Most recently, Jamaican dancehall singer, Popcaan surprised everyone when he dropped, Fixtape without any notice. The 19-song mixtape dropped on August 7th is packed with features from OVO stalwarts including Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Other features like French Montana, Preme, Jada Kingdom and Masicka round out the reggae record.
What makes Popcaan's release so exciting though, is that it arrived unannounced during a time we need distractions more than ever before. And it's none other than TWIST & TURN which features Drake and Party that has us feeling like its 2016 again.
It was just four years ago that Popcaan and Drake teamed up for Controlla, spurring a dancehall obsession. TWIST & TURN feels like the perfect continuation of Controlla, with the island-tinged rhythms and mellifluous melody. Drake sounds refreshed and at his best, as the three OVO labelmates twist and turn together on the beat.
The thing that makes surprise drops especially exciting, is that the breakout single from the record is decided by the fans. Without lead singles, favourites are chosen by which songs racks up the most listens, turning a label-led practice into making a democratic community project.
Popcaan might have the most recent surprise album, but there's a long history of unexpected drops. Here are five records that we need to talk about.
Beyoncé - Lemonade
Beyoncé is the reigning queen of surprise albums. It all started with her eponymously titled opus, Beyoncé in 2013, which featured iconic moments like Drunk In Love, Pretty Hurts, Partition and the Drake-assisted, Mine. "Ever since Beyoncé's self-titled visual album appeared like a Christmas miracle on the iTunes store at midnight on a Thursday in December of 2013, the rules for how to release a record were rewritten literally overnight," Harley Brown wrote for Vulture.
Then in 2016, the Houston star unleashed Lemonade, a painful diaristic ode to her unfaithful husband that was paired with stunning visuals. If you weren't a Beyoncé fan already, this likely was the record to change your mind. It was her second visual album, but it was clear that her creative output had unlocked a new level.
Rich colours, as well as powerful and unabashed political sloganeering, underscored this deeply personal album. And the surprises didn't end with its release. It was the most vulnerable we've ever seen Beyoncé and for that reason alone, make it one of the best albums of all time.
Frank Ocean - Blonde
You may have heard of the "sophomore slump," but Frank Ocean escaped that curse with the double-release of Endless and Blonde. On August 1 in 2016, many woke up to an Apple Music promo featuring a picture of Ocean in a building structure playing a song on loop. That was just a snapshot of Endless, an album the singer released just to fulfill his contract with Def Jam. But the real treat came when he dropped his actual album, Blonde, on his new label Boys Don't Cry the following day.
Drake - If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
If there's one thing we love about Drake, it's how much the Canadian rapper loves making music. His output is unmatched, with a constant stream of new releases. But despite setting trends, there's nothing Drizzy loves more than a big, braggadocious album roll-out. So when he dropped If You're Reading This It's Too Late, everyone was shocked. In among his illustrious discography, IYRTITL might not have the most charting hits, but its influence is undeniable.
Kanye West - Yeezus
There are few artists that compare to Kanye West when it comes to his chaotic album release style. While it's become more clear recently that the rapper tends to leave things to the last minute, the same could be said for his critically-acclaimed record, Yeezus. In 2013, he cryptically tweeted out "June 18." Some thought it was a reference to the fact that it's a day before Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Others were hoping it was a release date.
And while in some ways, Kanye gave us an album roll-out, the fact is that there were no cover, no singles and no confirmed date by the time June 18th rolled around. Turns out, he was still putting the finishing touches on the album right up until the deadline, but the mystery sure helped.
Missy Elliott - Iconology
In 2019, Missy Elliott surprised everyone when she dropped Iconology, her first project since 2005. Co-produced by Missy, Timbaland and Wili Hendrix, the hip-hop pioneer tweeted out the surprise. “At midnight tonight, I’m dropping a collection of new songs! Let’s #ThrowItBack to a time when music just felt good and made us want to dance.”
The record was filled with glossy productions and flagrantly fun moments from the joy of Throw It Back to Cool Off and our personal favourite, DripDemeanour.