The Afterword: Artists who delay music releases tap into Gen-Z craving for clout
Just over a week ago, Playboi Carti posted a selfie to his Instagram with an elusive caption: “<48 hours! locked in.” His fanbase quickly took this as a sign — Carti was finally dropping his long-awaited album, “Whole Lotta Red,” after months of teasing its release. As usual, we were wrong. Forty-eight hours came and went, and there was no album in sight. While his followers may have been disappointed, they showed no sign of giving up. In fact, it seems they are now more impatient than ever for the project to drop.
Carti’s not the only rapper notorious for painfully delaying a release. Fans have been waiting more than two years for Lil Uzi’s follow-up to “Luv is Rage 2,” “Eternal Atake,” and Ye has promised several dates for his gospel album, “Jesus is King, which dropped Friday after a year’s wait. Frank Ocean has only dropped two albums to date, and the vague, mysterious content he posts always leaves fans wondering, “Where the hell is this man’s music?” Yet we are still loyally awaiting these projects with more anticipation and excitement than we had to begin with.
There is a pattern at work here, and I want to address it: Some prolific hip-hop artists are infamous for not dropping their music on time, and it is only making them bigger and bigger. Isn’t that weird? A musician is supposed to make musical content, right? So why is refraining from doing the main thing that their career depends on making them more popular?
If you ask me, I think it has a lot to do with the way my generation — Gen Z — operates. I don’t mean to be harsh, but a lot of us love, even actively seek out, clout and exclusivity. Whether it’s the most limited-edition fashion — think Warren Lotas and other high-profile, small-scale brands — or the most elite food and nightlife spots, people love to be in on the gimmick, especially when not just anyone can be. And what’s more exclusive, more unattainable and limited, than something that quite literally doesn’t exist yet?
Imagine how big those albums will be: “Whole Lotta Red,” “Eternal Atake,” “Jesus is King” and Frank Ocean’s unnamed third project. When they ultimately do drop, they will produce seismic waves in the hip-hop and social media worlds. These artists are generating hype in ridiculous amounts, easily gaining more fans than they are losing during the wait, and I think it’s a cool trick.
I’m not sure whether what’s going on is simply due to laziness on the artists’ part, issues with their label or a calculated marketing ploy, but the gag is that it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s working, and it’s working perfectly.
In fact, it is becoming a common trope — one that serves to distinguish these artists from their timely counterparts. Sure, fans get annoyed, sure, when their favorite rapper fails to come through on yet another promised release date, but at the same time, it builds the allure of “the project that simply won’t drop.” The longer the wait, the more the perceived significance and quality of the music grows. I have no idea what Uzi’s “Eternal Atake” will look or sound like, yet I’m convinced it’ll be his best album yet and for no good reason at all, really.
At its crux, I see this as a testament to the evolution of art into stranger and more obscure forms.
Postmodern art is about the contradictory — that which strays from what art is meant to look like. Intentionally screwing with one’s album release is more than just a publicity stunt. These artists are generating fame, exposure and buzz with the help of a gimmick that is not traditionally defined as an artistic technique but is slowly becoming one.
The impact of a musical project now goes beyond its content; it is largely about the process of the buildup, too. It is the most counterintuitive, effective music marketing I’ve ever witnessed: the art of not dropping music.
Rachel McKenzie is a junior writing about pop culture. Her column, “The Afterword,” runs every other Friday.