Ranking 8 of the Most Surprising Album Releases

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly © Aftermath : Interscope

Risk sometimes equals reward. In the music business though, risk can also be career suicide. For these eight artists and their respective albums, the artists/labels took the gargantuan risk of the non-standard album release. Some of these efforts arrived sans single, meaning that support and sales came by way of name, word of mouth, and most notably the Internet. Here are 8 of the most surprising album releases!

1) Beyoncé, Beyoncé (2013)

Beyoncé, Beyoncé © Sony

The whole world sort of stopped when Beyoncé surprised everyone and dropped a new studio album. One reason it was so surprising was that you don’t expect such a big name artist like Beyoncé to take such a risk – no singles, nothing but her name and the Internet to fuel support. The marketing strategy worked exceptionally, as Beyoncé easily smoked the R&B diva’s previous album, 4. Maybe the one detraction was the fact that Target wouldn’t sell it because it was initially released digitally, but the sales speak for themselves, Target or not.

2) D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah (2015)

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah © RCA

Yes, Beyoncé did it before D’Angelo, but D’Angelo had been on an extended hiatus – nearly 15 years! When Black Messiah dropped, at least for those who loved the neo-soul era, it was “kind of a big deal.” Add in the fact that Black Messiah is a contemporary R&B masterpiece, and the whole rollout was genius.

3) Drake, If You’re Reading This, Its Too Late (2015)

Drake, If You're Reading This You're Too Late © Cash Money

Is it really a new album or a mixtape? Doesn’t matter as Drake surprising us all with new music is definitely big. Like Beyoncé, Drake is B-I-G, so anything he drops is going to generate sales. No different with a surprise album lacking any pre-release singles.

4) Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (2012)

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange © Def Jam

We knew it was coming, but we didn’t expect it a week early. Frank Ocean had been building buzz, but he may have grown even hotter when Channel Orange arrived early. Sure, Target wouldn’t stock it since the digital version was available ahead of the physical, but who can deny Frank did well for himself? Can you say Grammys?

5) Kanye West, Yeezus (2013)

Kanye West, Yeezus © Def Jam

Yeezus was expected, but the rollout was bizarre. West didn’t issue any singles, and while everyone knew Yeezus would debut at number one with robust numbers, J. Cole nearly caught West the first week, eventually outselling him. You could argue the success of Yeezus, but still, it sold much better than many albums issued in 2013. Arguably, had West pulled a full-on Beyoncé, Yeezus may have had a larger impact.

6) J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)

J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive © Columbia

What’s notable about 2014 Forest Hills Drive is the short turnaround J. Cole allowed himself after announcing his third studio album. He, like West’s Yeezus, didn’t release any singles and little was known about the album. Unlike Yeezus, 2014 Forest Hills Drive was more successful from the start.

7) Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly © Aftermath : Interscope


The mystery of Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album To Pimp A Butterfly makes it one of the more surprising releases of late.   At one point, the album was untitled, until Lamar decided upon its ear-catching title. “i” was a question mark – would it even be an album cut? What about “The Blacker The Berry” – how did it speak to the tone of To Pimp A Butterfly? Then to continue to keep things interesting, To Pimp A Butterfly dropped a week ahead of an already quick release date. Go figure!


8) Björk, Vulnicura (2015)

Björk, Vulnicura © One Little Indian


One could argue when Björk drops a new album, it’s a bigger deal to her cult following. Even if the new Björk album isn’t necessarily considered the ‘second coming’ like Beyoncé or Drake, Vulnicura was very much an unexpected surprise. Throw in the high quality and a notable finger pointing number entitled “Black Lake” and Vulnicura is one of 2015 most unique releases and overall rollouts.

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