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In 2016, surprise album drops became more the norm than the exception. With a number of music’s biggest artists debuting their albums only days or sometimes hours after teasing the work on social media, fans are constantly on the lookout for hints about new music from their favourites artists.
From Queen Bey to Frank Ocean’s long-awaited second album, here are the biggest surprise album drops of 2016.
It’s virtually impossible to talk about the year in pop culture without mentioning Beyonce’s hugely influential Lemonade. As we saw in 2013 with her self-titled Beyoncé, the former Destiny’s Child member loves a surprise album drop. On February 6, Bey surprised fans with a new single and video for “Formation,” taking the stage at the Super Bowl the following day to perform the song alongside Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Following the performance, Beyoncé went radio silent again until she began posting images with the words ‘Lemonade’ written across them on her Instagram page. The images were used to promote the artist’s upcoming HBO premiere of the visual album Lemonade, which would also become Bey’s sixth solo studio album. Working with James Blake, The Weeknd, Jack White and Kendrick Lamar, the album debuted at number one, with Beyoncé embarking on a world tour and rightfully earning the top spot on many ‘Best of 2016’ lists.
In May, Radiohead fans became alarmed when the band’s website and social media went dark. Thankfully, this was not the mark of an end to the prolific British band’s career. Instead, Radiohead posted two teasers on their social media pages before dropping “Burn The Witch,” the lead single from their ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool. Radiohead went on to release a video for “Daydreaming” and spent the summer making the music festival rounds.
He met Beyoncé, he visited the White House and he changed the music game—therefore it’s safe to say that in 2016, Chance The Rapper was definitely living his best life. After performing “Blessings” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on May 6, Chance The Rapper gave the late night host his blessing to announce the Chicago MC’s upcoming mixtape. Coloring Book was released less than a week later on May 12 and became the first release to appear on the Billboard 200 based on streams alone.
Kanye West’s surprise seventh studio album was a long time coming. Taking three years to record and announcing numerous title changes, West finally premiered The Life Of Pablo at his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Gardens on February 11. The album was available to stream on TIDAL the next day, but West continued to make adjustments to The Life Of Pablo until April, when the album officially debuted at number one after being released exclusively from TIDAL. West released the singles “Fade” and the highly controversial “Famous” before ending his tour prematurely after acting erratically in concert.
While recording his Grammy-winning 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly, rapper Kendrick Lamar wrote a number of impressive songs that didn’t make the final cut. Rather than scrap the tracks completely, Lamar quietly uploaded eight previously unreleased songs to his Spotify page on March 4. Later that day, Lamar made the compilation album Untitled Unmastered available for purchase on iTunes, earning rave reviews and debuting at number one on Billboard. In addition to his own surprise album, Lamar also appeared on Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Blonde – Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated follow up to 2012’s Channel Orange was beginning to feel like it would would never arrive. Initially anticipated for a July 2015 release under the name Boys Don’t Cry, the date was pushed to July 2016. The date came and went with no new album, and instead, Ocean uploaded a video of himself working in the studio on his website. The visual album Endless made its unannounced debut on August 19, with Ocean’s second studio album Blonde arriving the next day.