Over the past half-decade, artists have dropped full-lengths with zero, or very little, advance notice, shocking their fans and setting forth some unexpected listening delights. Check out 15 instances of unexpected album releases, from Beyonce to Skrillex to Frank Ocean:
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
Drake’s music career began with a best-selling mixtape, 2009’s So Far Gone, and nearly six years later, the rapper took the music world by surprise when he dropped a 17-song project, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, on iTunes without warning. The intense tape precedes Drake’s fourth official full-length, Views From the 6, but gives Drizzy fans an injection of new music (featuring artists like Lil Wayne, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Travi$ Scott) prior to his headlining sets at Coachella, Governors Ball and Wireless Festival.
D’Angelo & The Vanguard
Black Messiah (2014)
The long-delayed follow-up to D’Angelo’s classic R&B album Voodoo was never going to arrive with a traditional album rollout, and although the reclusive star wanted to end his decade-plus hiatus in 2015, he pushed up the release of Black Messiah following the controversial non-indictments in the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases in 2014. Black Messiah was released digitally hours after an exclusive listening session in New York City, and instantly became one of the best-reviewed albums of 2014.
Songs of Innocence (2014)
The long-delayed follow-up to U2’s 2009 album No Line on the Horizon surfaced in stunning fashion: for free, with little warning, exclusively on iTunes across the globe. The surprise launch of Songs of Innocence coincided with Apple’s unveiling of its iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch; a keynote address by Apple CEO Tim Cook ended with a surprise performance by U2 and the announcement that its new album would be hitting iTunes within a few minutes. Songs of Innocence, led by the single “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” features production from Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, among others.
True That (2014)
In August, a 18-song album of lo-fi material from actor Michael Cera surfaced on Bandcamp, leading many around the Internet to ask, “Michael Cera was making an album?” Indeed, the “Superbad” actor and occasional bassist for Mister Heavenly shocked the world (or, at least, the blogosphere) with his humble debut album. “I didn’t really think of it as releasing something. It was just something that you post online,” he later told Billboard.
Skrillex’s long-awaited debut album, Recess arrived in the middle of the evening of March 10, when the dubstep king began rolling out one song after another until all 11 Recess tracks were available on a smartphone app as well as through an iTunes stream. With collaborators like Diplo, Niki & The Dove and Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, Recess gave Skrillex an unexpected batch of material to trot out during 2014 performances at Coachella and Bonnaroo, among other festivals.
Beyonce has shocked fans before: remember her baby-bump rub at the 2011 MTV VMAs, or the Destiny’s Child reunion at the Super Bowl halftime show last year? But the out-of-nowhere release of Beyonce, the superstar singer’s fifth studio album, just before midnight on Dec. 13 represented a whole different type of sneak attack. With an “exclusive visual album” — 14 songs, all with music videos, magically appearing on iTunes — arriving after months of gestation but nary a release date, Beyonce created some “new rules” of her own, to borrow a phrase from Jay Z.
In Rainbows/The King of Limbs (2007/2011)
In a world where Spotify had yet to exist, Radiohead’s “pay-what-you-want” option for seventh studio album In Rainbows was seen as a radical move by one of the world’s most beloved rock artists. However, that business model should not overshadow the ingeniousness of announcing the follow-up to 2003’s Hail To the Thief just 10 days before its October 2007 online release, immediately stoking fan anticipation for the 10-song release. Four years later, Radiohead gave fans even less notice: The King of Limbs was announced just five days before its February 2011 release, and was packaged with a special “newspaper” edition.
Street Halo, Rival Dealer EPs (2011/2013)
U.K. dubstep king Burial is one of the most secretive artists on the planet, so it’s no surprise that his singles and EPs tend to drop from out of the blue. After a long absence as a solo artist following the release of his acclaimed 2007 album Untrue, Burial returned with little forewarning in 2011 with his Street Halo EP, which was announced on March 22 and released on March 28. Similarly, Burial returned last December with the Rival Dealer EP, which began streaming online on Dec. 11 after being announced 10 days earlier.
channel orange (2012)
It’s true that Frank Ocean’s Def Jam debut was pegged with a July 2012 release date long before it was made available, but the original date was July 17 — one week after it actually arrived. To prevent Channel Orange from leaking online, the R&B renaissance man posted his album for sale on iTunes on July 10, and announced the revised release date after debuting “Bad Religion” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on July 9. The misdirection certainly didn’t hurt the album, as Channel Orange debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart and eventually was nominated for album of the year at the Grammy Awards.
Unreleased Demos (2013)
Jai Paul, the mysterious U.K. singer-songwriter responsible for blogosphere-beloved singles “BTSTU” and “Jasmine,” apparently uploaded his entire debut full-length on Bandcamp in April 2013. Or did he? Soon after the release, Paul cautioned fans against buying it, claiming that the album was a fake. Eventually, Paul’s label, XL Recordings, stepped in, clarifying that the songs were Jai Paul, but “not his debut album – it is a collection of various unfinished recordings from Jai’s past.” The unauthorized release of the sketches was unfortunate, but further whet appetites for Paul’s still-in-the-works first album.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE
The 21 years between the landmark release of My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album Loveless and last year’s mbv was filled with a decade of inactivity, various reunions and long-unfulfilled promises of a studio return. When frontman Kevin Shields told the audience at a My Bloody Valentine show in London in January 2013 that the follow-up would be out “in two or three days,” one couldn’t be blamed for some skepticism. Fortunately, MBV finally delivered, posting mbv on its website on Feb. 2, and that website proceeded to crash due to heavy traffic.
The Next Day (2013)
Like Beyonce, a new David Bowie album had been prodded at by the music world for years, but when Bowie announced The Next Day on his 66th birthday last year, only his closest collaborators saw it coming. The Next Day was recorded in secrecy over a two-year period, even requiring non-disclosure agreements to make sure the cat never left the bag. Two months after the announcement, Bowie’s first album since 2003’s Reality was in stores.
Magna Carta… Holy Grail (2013)
Five months before his wife pulled off the surprise of 2013, Jay Z delivered a pretty explosive one himself by revealing his twelfth studio album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, via a commercial during the NBA Finals last June, with no prior warning that a new solo album was imminent. The commercial was actually a spot for Samsung, which released the album as a free download to the first one million users of a new Magna Carta app on its phones. On July 4 — less than three weeks after the album was announced on June 16 — Magna Carta was released, with no music leaking to the public ahead of time. “Holy Grail,” featuring Justin Timberlake, was eventually selected as the disc’s lead single, and became a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100 chart.
Government Plates (2013)
The ever-controversial hip-hop group followed its self-released 2012 album No Love Deep Web with Government Plates, which was posted online last November as a free download with zero advance notice. No Love Deep Web, of course, was self-released due to complications between Death Grips and its former label, Epic Records.
Satellite Flight: The Journey To Mother Moon (2014)
The rapper’s follow-up to his 2013 album Indicud was supposed to be hitting retailers in early 2014, but few expected a full album release when Cudi tweeted out on Feb. 24 that “Tickets to Copernicus Landing will be available for purchase via iTunes in the next 2 hours.” At midnight, Satellite Flight arrived in full, and the sneak-attack tactic certainly didn’t hurt sales: the album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart a week later.