Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby and Nav have bulked up their track lists to super-serve fans during the pandemic -- and the strategy may be here to stay.
Lil Baby's album My Turn was never supposed to have a deluxe edition. "That wasn't in our plans," Pierre "Pee" Thomas, CEO of Quality Control Music, tells Billboard of the Atlanta rapper's first solo project in nearly two years.
Upon its Feb. 28 release, the 20-song album topped the Billboard 200 chart with 197,000 equivalent album units earned, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, and Lil Baby was gearing up for a summer headlining tour that would serve as a victory lap for his biggest album bow to date. That tour, of course, won't happen this summer, due to the coronavirus pandemic; Thomas says that the scrapped live run particularly stung, with Lil Baby at a pivotal moment in his upward trajectory.
"This was such a big project that came out -- this was supposed to be his year to go up another level in his career," says Thomas. "Once we realized that there wasn't gonna be any touring, we were just trying to figure out: How can we keep the momentum going?"
The conclusion they reached was to add six new songs that Lil Baby recorded after My Turn's release to the project, including the aptly titled "Social Distancing," and issue a deluxe edition of the album on May 1. The two-month turnaround between the unveiling of My Turn and its expanded edition helped solidify the "instant deluxe" -- quickly following a new album with more music, then billing it all under the same title -- as an increasingly common strategy in hip-hop, as a means of conjuring new interest in an existing project. And the strategy proved successful for Lil Baby, whose My Turn surged on the Billboard 200 following the deluxe release with 100,000 equivalent album units, up 147% from its previous week (41,000 units) on the chart.
Deluxe editions are nothing new in popular music -- for decades, artists have been reissuing albums with bonus content to extend the life of a project or to celebrate a milestone anniversary of an album. Everyone from Usher to Lady Gaga to Imagine Dragons to Sam Smith have dropped a deluxe edition of an album well after the initial album's release. Lizzo recently used a deluxe edition of her 2019 album Cuz I Love You to add the smash hit "Truth Hurts" to the track list, and Shawn Mendes did the same when he added the Camila Cabello duet "Senorita" to a deluxe version of his 2018 self-titled album.
Yet recent deluxe editions have challenged the idea that listeners need an extended time period before being served more music -- especially in a streaming world, in which new songs can be added to a project almost instantly. In March, Lil Uzi Vert released his long-awaited, 18-song album, Eternal Atake... and exactly one week later, he unveiled 14 more songs and added them to the album, under the new adjusted title Eternal Atake (Deluxe): Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World 2, instead of a standalone album. The result: Eternal Atake spent two consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart, its second week numbers boosted by the 14 newly added bonus tracks.
The trend is growing: hip-hop artists like Moneybagg Yo and G Herbo have announced deluxe editions of recent albums just weeks after their respective releases. And earlier this month, Nav pushed the concept of a "deluxe edition" even further, releasing his 18-song Good Intentions album on May 8 and adding 14 more songs to the project three days later. The result was the second career No. 1 album for the Canadian rapper, earning a career-best 135,000 equivalent album units.
As the coronavirus pandemic has essentially shut down the live industry, the quick-turn deluxe edition has proven to be an effective stand-in marketing tool. "I think it's just everyone figuring out the best way to release music for their particular audience, their genre, and with the [pandemic], because no one knows the time frame of when this situation is going to end," says Britney Davis, vp artist relations, marketing and special projects at Capitol Music Group, who worked on Lil Baby's My Turn release. Artists want to "just connect with fans, to bring a moment of joy or excitement during this time," Davis points out, and releasing more music than originally planned has filled that fan-service role.
Yet Carl Chery, head of urban music at Spotify, believes that the strategy will outlast the pandemic and become a new norm in hip-hop. With the sheer volume of rap releases each week, he says, deluxe editions help overcome short attention spans and breathe new life into existing projects -- the album equivalent of remixing a single to push it up the charts.
"I think that they stumbled upon a new formula," Chery says. "Staying top of mind is a thing that is increasingly hard to do, especially in hip-hop. You come out with an album, there's new music, and then we move on to the next one. ... It makes sense that artists like Uzi and Lil Baby are feeding their fans more because of the pandemic, but I also don't think it's going anywhere after we go back to normal."
Some hip-hop stars have chosen to forgo the instant-deluxe route during the pandemic and instead just drop entirely new albums; both DaBaby and YoungBoy Never Broke Again, for instance, recently collected new No. 1s on the Billboard 200 just a few months after previously doing so with different projects. Yet part of the appeal of the deluxe edition strategy -- adding songs to one album instead of dividing them across full-lengths -- is a more focused promotional effort. If an artist like Lil Baby wants to treat My Turn as a defining album, Thomas argues, then saving six new songs for an upcoming project would ultimately drive attention away from that album.
"You want to be able to capitalize and get the full potential of everything that a new project has to offer to you, as far as touring, merch -- just leveling up as an artist," says Thomas. "We weren't planning on putting out another album anytime soon, because he never had a chance to reap the full benefits off My Turn."
If the instant-deluxe does outlast the pandemic, will it fully cross over into other genres? While the strategy has mostly been utilized by hip-hop stars thus far, artists like Dua Lipa, who has teased a deluxe edition of her Future Nostalgia album, and The Weeknd, who added three songs to his After Hours LP soon after its release, suggest that the formula could become a pop mainstay too.
Yet Chery is skeptical, based on how much more prolific most modern hip-hop artists have become relative to other genres. If rappers record music "at the speed of streaming," as he puts it, then they'll generally have more content with which to bulk up their albums and feed their fans.
"Hip-hop has started so many trends, if we look at the last 10 years -- and they don't all translate into other genres," Chery says. "[Hip-hop output] is just constant. You would think that pop music would take cues from it, or other genres would take cues from it, but they're just not built like that. The audience behavior is completely different as well -- I don't know if a pop audience is trained to take in so much content."
Regardless of where the trend goes next, the instant-deluxe has turned into a burgeoning strategy with little downside. Fans of Lil Uzi Vert who had been waiting since 2017 for a new solo project now have 32 new tracks instead of 18; Nav delighted his supporters earlier this month by releasing the equivalent of two albums instead of one. As long as the deluxe-edition material is on par with that of the standard edition, Davis argues, there's no reason not to super-serve fans.
"I mean, why not?" she says. "More is more in this situation."