The year's all but done. The Big Fall Album seats have more or less been filled. Adele's 25 is coming; so are records from Justin Bieber, Coldplay and One Direction. And yet, as 2015 sews up its final seams, we're still seeing albums teased by four of music's biggest personalities.
Rihanna cancels a performance so she can finish her Unapologetic follow-up. Frank Ocean bails on a festival for the same reason. Kanye West comrades say he played his record on loop at a club and that it's perfect and coming any day. In a Drake cover story, his team says his album, which he titled a year and a half ago, is arriving "imminently."
None of these have been weeks-long teases; this has been going on all year. Will any of the droughts end before the calendar flips? January's a bleak time to send a big album into the world; if we reach New Year's Day without any of these projects, we're likely back at square one. With seven weeks left in the year, we're left to wonder, for nowhere near the first time, when Kanye, Rihanna, Drake and Frank are actually planning to make moves.
And really, it could happen: after all, Beyoncé clinched 2013 with 18 days left on the clock, dropping a self-titled "visual album" on iTunes with zero warning and effectively hoisting a buzzer beater we didn't even know had been shot until it swished through the net. That's the sort of shock-and-awe these four horsemen of the albumocalpyse have the power to recreate—and they shouldn't do it individually.
The way to win this outrageously competitive moment in music, to change the entire fourth-quarter conversation, is to team up, Avengers-style. The easy solution to conquer the expectations these artists have both constructed and fallen victim to is this: Innovate. Make history. Four albums, one day.
The planets may never align this way again; no one in this foursome has ever kept us waiting so long. Ocean has been MIA the longest, and while his young career offers less precedent for turnaround time, he's been virtually silent for two years save the occasional guest spot. This past April he posted a photo on Tumblr that, with four hashtags, told us Boys Don't Cry, an album/zine combo, was coming in July. The month came and went, but rowdy Twitterers desperately tried to keep it going, hoping if they only made it to July 40th, or 60th, the sequel to channel ORANGE would materialize.
In 2015, Kanye West has shared "Only One," a lovely, Paul McCartney–assisted torch song; "FourFiveSeconds," a country-tinted curveball with McCartney and Rihanna; "Wolves," a Sia and Vic Mensa collaboration that has yet to receive a studio version (ditto for "Fade"); and "All Day," a riotous rap single that fizzled on the Top 40. Meanwhile, Rihanna's album cold war, following seven discs released from 2005 to 2012, has continued, only briefly punctuated by tiny one-offs and the short-lived singles "Bitch Better Have My Money" and "American Oxygen."
And then there's Drake. He announced Views from the 6 in July 2014, teasing a spring 2015 due date on "0 to 100 / The Catch Up." When the commercially distributed mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late came without notice in February, it seemed like Views could still be around the corner. It wasn't. Since then, he's done a second mixtape, with Future, and four standalone singles, one of which is "Hotline Bling," the biggest hit he's ever had.
Title changes, cover art without tracklists, songs trickling out with no similarity to the ones before—to break down every hint floated out by these four artists over the course of 2015, and the past few months in particular, would be painful and pointless. Musicians are free to wait as long as they like between releases—they owe us nothing, but these four titans owe themselves the best. We're still looking for a clear picture of what the blatantly brilliant Frank Ocean is really like as an artist. Rihanna has been lionized as the coolest, most bulletproof woman in the world in the time since Unapologetic. Kanye has for years been tasked with re-sculpting the hip hop landscape every time he drops a solo album, a standard he holds as strongly as anyone. And Drake is rap's current king, with his subjects waiting to see if his castle can expand yet again. The heat coming off these magnifying glasses would kill ants in a millisecond. Each LP will be a culmination of years of work and will get devoured by the immediate thinkpiece-ing and memeification our culture has become expertly fluent in.
So picture this. You wake up, and ANTI, Swish, Boys Don't Cry and Views from the 6 all exist in the human realm. Blam. Maybe a joint release date was announced ahead of that morning, maybe (probably) it wasn't. You listen to whichever artist you love best, or the album you've been anticipating most feverishly. You try one of the others, then the other, and eventually the last. You're sucked into a whole galaxy of sound that's been created in a single moment. After roughly 4,000 collective days of tinkering, it's all at your fingertips. Suddenly there's a dam in the fast-flowing content river.
Sales aren't a barrier to this wonderful scheme; after the Nov. 20 release of 25, Adele's all-but-guaranteed album chart dominance makes it silly to play that losing game. It's nice to debut at No. 1, but nothing will look impressive in 25's wake. And it's not like any of these people have problems selling out tours and moving pricey merchandise. They could further guarantee the quad-release's success by pledging (some of?) the proceeds to charity, showing they really just want to return, to get this wide wave of music out there, to have fun with it.
Streaming service affiliation doesn't have to be an issue, either. Sure, Drake's going steady with Apple Music, while Rihanna has dropped exclusives with Tidal. But they've got a long history, and Kanye's part of the story, too—plus he's worked with Frank since day one. The Venn diagram between these four looks like a kid went crazy with a Spirograph. They shouldn't have trouble working out the logistics and smashing the idea of brands getting in the way of major moves.
Nobody loses. The fretting over how "FourFiveSeconds" and "Bitch Better Have My Money" coexist together, or how "Hotline Bling" and "Back to Back" do, or "All Day" and "Only One," is erased. Kanye and Drake celebrate each other rather than battling; Frank doesn't have to endure the same instant intensity of chatter Kendrick did, and he gets to walk among the superstar collective he deserves to join. Rihanna doesn't have to be flawless; she gets to just be. Albums are statements, and while singles and touring stats are still the name of the game, an instance like Beyoncé's surprise release proves that full-lengths can still cause a tsunami when there's enough momentum involved. Kanye, Rihanna, Drake and even Frank have secured their places as long-haul top-level artists; this is no risk, all reward.
Four albums, one perfect day. We get a quartet of potential classics, everyone has a blast. And then we get back to wondering when the hell that Jay Z and Beyoncé record's coming.