A Look at Kanye West’s Most Unique Album Rollouts
With nearly two decades of evidence as proof, one thing is certain: Kanye West gon’ Kanye. That you can count on. When everybody is going right, ’Ye goes left. When everyone is being moderately humble, the Chicago rapper is having fits of self-glorification. When everyone is standing on the ledge, Kanye is willing to jump, even if the end result of the plummet could mean killing off scores of fans. ’Ye moves to beat of his own 808 drum pattern. His refusal to conform to standard practices—or keep release dates, but more on that later—has made for some interesting career moments and, more specifically, album rollouts over the years.
Kanye West doesn’t do normal, especially when it comes to releasing albums. Only three of Kanye’s 10 solo LPs—counting the upcoming Donda album—have arrived on their original release date. He’s left fans hanging at midnight, punching their keyboards for being foolish enough to believe Kanye “this time.”
At the same time, despite his lapses in time management, ’Ye has created some of most memorable album rollouts to date. Listening parties at "The World’s Most Famous Arena," head-to-head matchups with the biggest name in the game and a star-studded album debut in the mountains of Wyoming livestreamed for the masses. There’s never a dull moment.
With his 10th album Donda—possibly, maybe, supposedly—arriving on Aug. 13 following multiple pump fakes, and several listening sessions, XXL highlights Kanye West’s most unique album rollouts over the years.
The College Dropout
Kanye West's rollout for his classic 2004 debut album The College Dropout was a complete accident—literally.
On Oct. 23, 2002, Kanye was involved in a near-fatal car accident after leaving a late-night session at a Los Angeles studio in California. The Chicago producer fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car into an oncoming vehicle. Kanye suffered a broken jaw while the other driver had two of his legs broken.
’Ye was rushed to the hospital and had to undergo reconstructive surgery to have his mouth wired shut. Interestingly, despite his severe injuries, the accident inspired Kanye to switch gears from producer to being a full-fledged rapper.
"The accident gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do," he told Interview magazine in 2014. "I was a music producer, and everyone was telling me that I had no business becoming a rapper, so it gave me the opportunity to tell everyone, 'Hey, I need some time to recover.'"
"But during that recovery period, I just spent all my time honing my craft and making The College Dropout," he continued. "It gave me perspective on life—that it was really now or 100 percent never."
Two weeks after the accident, Kanye was back in the studio recording what would be his debut single, "Through the Wire," the title of which refers to ’Ye rapping his lyrics through his wired jaw. On the song, he details the night of his horrific accident so the world could feel his pain, as well as determination to become the best rapper ever.
On Sept. 30, 2003, Kanye released "Through the Wire" as the album's rollout single. But why?
"Because he wanted it first. I don't get involved in none of that shit. My genius is you let an artist be an artist," former Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash told XXL in 2014. "Of course there has to be a rollout. But I wanted him to do more creative things. I was happy about it as long as he wasn't being disrespectful to me. My thing is this; at Roc-A-Fella, my job was to always make each other rich, that's all I was concerned about. That is the art that I liked to see."
On Nov. 20, 2018, 15 years after its release, "Through the Wire" reached platinum status for 1 million copies sold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Meanwhile, The College Dropout became a four-time platinum seller and won Best Rap Album at the 2005 Grammy Awards.—Trent Fitzgerald
The Late Registration album was subject to the standard singles releases and music video debuts before one famous TV moment brought even more fanfare ’Ye's way.
Four months before the LP arrived in 2005, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" received the premiere treatment on Hot 97, which, as any rapper knows at the time, was the crème de la crème destination to get music to the masses. Then Kanye got the TRL spotlight, premiering the song's video on the MTV program for the world to see in June. He also moved the album by a month the same day the visual arrived. Instead of a July release, Late Registration would drop on Aug. 30.
A month after the announcement of delaying the album, he unleashed "Gold Digger," an ode to materialistic women with a sweet spot for cash and the second single to come from the LP. The song climbed up the Billboard Hot 100 chart quicker than "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," ultimately earning Kanye the second No. 1 single of his career six days after his album's official release.
With the two songs and accompanying visuals well-received by the time Late Registration arrived on Aug. 30, 2005, Kanye West continued to capture headlines even outside of the music. Three days after his album dropped, the rapper appeared on A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a televised, celebrity-driven benefit concert to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Once Kanye said the words, "George Bush doesn't care about Black people," following his off-script comments about disliking the way the media portrays Black families," he cemented himself as an artist who clearly had no filter and would take a stand, anytime, any place. The surprising TV moment wasn't part of his official album rollout, but it undoubtedly had mainstream America paying attention to his name, and Late Registration benefitted from it.
It was a battle for the ages. In the summer of 2007, Def Jam moved back the release date of Kanye West's Graduation album to Sept. 11, 2007, the same day as the release of 50 Cent's third album, Curtis, and set the stage for a showdown for first-week sales.
For three months, both rappers built up anticipation, with 50 Cent at one point even saying he would retire from rap if ’Ye outsold him on the first week—50 later retracted that statement. Kanye spent a lot of time promoting the album overseas in the U.K., and even held a secret album listening party at Westminster Central Hall in London. At the event, staff members reportedly wore graduation cap and gowns and attendees were showered with confetti upon the commencement of the concert.
Kanye and 50 also appeared on a special episode of BET's 106 & Park titled "Kanye West vs. 50 Cent: The Clash of the Titans," which aired the day the albums were released on Sept. 11, 2007. Kanye ended up outselling Fif in the first week by almost 300,000 copies. Kanye sold over 957,000 copies in the first week of sales while 50 sold 691,000 copies.—C.V.C. II
808s & Heartbreak
No risk, no reward. In 2008, a year after the death of his mother, Dr. Donda West, and the dissolution of his relationship with then-fiancée Alexis Phifer, Kanye West was in a state of loneliness and despair, which influenced how he would create his fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak.
The LP was a big risk for ’Ye because it was sonically different from his three stellar efforts prior: The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. The Chicago rapper-producer abandoned the soul-sampling production work that he created on his previous works and opted for a moodier sound, using melody and singing most of his songs using Auto-Tune.
To see how fans would react to his new musical direction, Kanye debuted the single "Love Lockdown" during the closing of the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards in September of 2008, two months before the album officially arrived.
Rocking mullet-style haircut, a grey suit with a flashing heart pendant on the lapel, Kanye dazzled the crowd with an emotionally-drawn performance, which kick-started the rollout for his album. Following his performance, Kanye released the song on his now-defunct blog, kanyeuniversecity, as a free download.
A month later, he premiered "Coldest Winter" on Los Angeles radio station Power 106. He also held a listening session that same month at an art gallery in L.A. Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft assisted in Kanye's vision, which consisted of nude women, some wearing wool masks, who stood in silence in the room as the album played.
The MC's sonic risk-taking worked. "Love Lockdown" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became his fourth platinum single moving over 3 million copies. His second single, "Heartless," which had even more singing and Auto-Tune, sold over 5.5 million copies.
After its release on Nov. 24, 2008, 808s & Heartbreak would debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 450,000 copies in its first week of release.—T.F.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Formerly known as Good Ass Job and Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West's 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy underwent multiple name changes and cover art releases during the rollout process and featured ’Ye bringing a cinematic touch.
The album was recorded in Oahu, Hawaii, with Kanye flying in a who's who of artists to contribute to the project. ’Ye got things in motion by launching G.O.O.D. Fridays, delivering a new free track every week leading up to the album's release, including songs that would appear on the album like "Monster," "Devil in a New Dress" and "So Appalled." West debuted "Runaway" during a memorable live performance at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards and later premiered a 35-minute video for the song starring Selita Ebanks the month before its release in November of 2010.
West commissioned famed artist George Condo to do the cover art, with Condo later saying the rapper wanted something provocative enough to be banned from stores. Condo came out with several alternatives for the cover art, with one featuring a monster being straddled by a naked phoenix, which was censored in some stores.
MBDTF is one of the few West albums that actually dropped on the first release date given, Nov. 22, 2010.—C.V.C. II
Watch the Throne
The rollout for Watch the Throne was pretty tame for Kanye West standards. In October of 2010, Yeezy first announced he and Jay-Z would be dropping a joint LP via Twitter. West later told MTV the project had been expanded from what would've been an EP to a full-length LP.
The lead single "H•A•M" was released in January of 2011, which reflected the earlier direction of the album. Hov confirmed after that song was released, the final album's direction was less dramatic and calculated. After kicking off the year with a Watch the Throne single, the two rappers went back in the lab and didn't drop another record until June.
The rollout for the album featured two listening sessions; one for a select few tastemakers at the Mercer Hotel in New York City in July and the other taking place at NYC's American Museum of Natural History in August. The Mercer Hotel is where much of the album was recorded.
A viral moment in the lead-up to the release came when Hot 97 DJ Funkmaster Flex debuted the single "Otis" on the radio in July and played the nearly three-minute song for nearly half an hour.
After somehow avoiding being leaked, the highly anticipated album was released on Aug. 8, 2011.—C.V.C. II
Kanye West's Yeezus album was another step in a different direction for Kanye. Formerly known as Thank God for Drugs, West announced the release of the album in May of 2013 with a single cryptic tweet that read: "June Eighteen."
A couple weeks later, he started debuting the song "New Slaves" via video projections in over 60 cites around the world. The day after his mass stunt, on May 18, he performed "New Slaves" and debuted "Black Skinheads" on Saturday Night Live, both serving as a deviation of his earlier soul-sampling work and a microcosm of the full album.
Kanye later revealed the title and the minimalist cover art, a clear jewel box with a strip of red tape on his website. Yeezus leaked onto the internet less than a week before it was set to be released causing a mania online.
Yeezus arrived on June 18, 2013, selling 327,000 copies in its first week of release. The sales were a career low for the Chicago rapper, but enough to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album spawned the Yeezus Tour, which was the highest-grossing hip-hop tour of 2013.—C.V.C. II
The Life of Pablo
Lucky album No. 7 served as one of the most unique rollouts of Kanye's career. In late 2013, three years prior to the release of The Life of Pablo, Kanye began working on the album. Initially, the project had the title So Help Me God, and was set for a 2014 release. However, the album would ultimately go through four total title changes—SHMG, Swish, Waves—before Kanye settled on The Life of Pablo, just five days before the album arrived.
With every title change came new songs. "Only One" featuring Paul McCartney, "All Day" with Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London and McCartney, and the McCartney and Rihanna-assisted "FourFiveSeconds" all came during the SHMG time, with the first track being released in late 2014 and the latter two in 2015. The next year, he changed the LP to Swish, dropping "Real Friends" and "No More Parties in L.A." Just weeks after the Swish change in early January of 2016, he went with the title Waves later that month before TLOP was chosen. He also revealed handwritten tracklists for the album via Twitter.
Two days ahead of the official album release, Kanye unveiled his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line at Madison Square Garden during New York Fashion Week in 2016, and while doing so, previewed The Life of Pablo for everyone in attendance. The moment was an event like no other, with Kid Cudi, Pusha-T, 50 Cent, A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, the Kardashians and Jenners, Lil Yachty (one of the Yeezy models) and many more witnessing the massive fashion show and listening session, a first of its kind at MSG.
On Feb. 14, 2016, a Saturday and not recognized as the usual date albums are released, Kanye unleashed The Life of Pablo to the world after performing "Ultralight Beam" with Chance The Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price and The-Dream and Chance The Rapper, land the Young Thug-supported "Highlights" on Saturday Night Live. He was also updating the project on streaming services in real time.
The infamous track "Famous," brought further attention to the album with the lyrics aimed at Taylor Swift: "For all my Southside niggas that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous (Goddamn)/I made that bitch famous."
Following its release, TLOP went No. 1 and also received further updates to several tracks already released on DSPs a month later in March.
Ye and Kids See Ghosts
When it comes to Kanye West albums, good things take time. The Chi-town rapper spent two years cooking up Ye, his eighth solo studio album. Within that time span, he changed the title—no surprise—and also worked on four other albums along the way.
In early 2016, Yeezy revealed he was working on the new project, which had the title of Turbo Grafx 16. Photos from recording sessions during that time included ’Ye in the studio with Kid Cudi, Quavo, Lil Yachty, Big Sean and Tyler, The Creator. While working on the effort, he had also been on the Saint Pabo Tour, for which he made headlines for going on a rant. He also suffered a breakdown that left him hospitalized. The new LP didn't come out that year, he cut his tour short and focused on his mental health.
The next year he was in Wyoming working on the project, bringing along with him many familiar faces in rap. While the LP didn't drop that year, Kanye managed to be a hot topic of conversation for his support of Donald Trump, his Yeezy fashion show and relationship with then-wife Kim Kardashian. Jackson Hole, Wy. seemed to be the rhymer's safe space, creating music on a ranch, including his own tracks and those for Pusha-T's forthcoming album.
The "Wyoming sessions" resulted in Kanye working into 2018 on the album that would ultimately be titled Ye, as well as producing or providing guest vocals for Pusha's Daytona, Nas' Nasir, Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E. and Kids See Ghosts, Kanye's joint effort with Kid Cudi.
Ahead of Ye arriving in June of 2018, Kanye visited TMZ in May of that year, which resulted in a controversial discussion in the media outlet's newsroom, in which he said slavery "sounds like a choice" and continued his support of Trump, referring to the former president as his "boy." Kanye admitted he changed his entire Ye album following that TMZ visit, removing several controversial statements and focused more on the music.
Weeks later and six days after Pusha dropped the Daytona LP Kanye helped craft, Kanye invited celebrity friends and the media to Jackson Hole for a two-hour listening session for Ye that was livestreamed on May 31, 2018. Cudi, Nas, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Ty Dolla $ign, among others were in attendance. Ye officially arrived on June 1, 2018, with an album cover that read "I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome," a nod to Kanye's mental health. The Kids See Ghosts project followed on June 8, Nas' Nasir on June 15 and Taylor's K.T.S.E. on June 22, proving that Kanye's work ethic was truly unmatched at that time. All the wild antics and prolonged studio sessions resulted in Ye achieving No. 1 status on the Billboard 200.
Jesus Is King
Kanye's pivot to more religious music was the basis of Jesus Is King, his ninth solo album. However, before that LP was brought to the world, the MC announced he had another new album in the works three months after Ye dropped in 2018. Yandhi was the title, and previews of music, tracklists and leaks featured songs like "I Love It" with Lil Pump and "New Body" with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign.
A Sept. 29, 2018 release date was set, and never met. That date was also the moment Kanye hit the Saturday Night Live as the musical guest, which ended in a political rant. He rocked a “Make America Great Again” hat, spoke on his support of Trump once again and his promise to run for president in 2020. A new date for Yandhi was given in November, which came and went with no drop since the rhymer was in Uganda still recording.
At the top of the next year, he debuted his Sunday Service choir, leaning into more Christian themes in his music. Throughout the year, the gospel choir would perform with ’Ye on Sundays, including a public performance at Coachella in 2019. That summer, Kim Kardashian revealed the LP he would eventually debut had a new name, fittingly titled Jesus Is King, and would arrive in September.
While that month didn't produce the LP, Kanye did give a preview of the album and an accompanying film following a Sunday Service performance in Detroit. Weeks later on Oct. 25, 2019, Jesus Is King finally arrived. The project scored a No. 1 chart position and earned a Grammy Award in 2021 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
It wouldn't be a Kanye rollout if it didn't involve a title change, delays and a whole lot of extra. If there's one thing Yeezy is it's consistent. Last year, LP10 was set to arrive. Initially titled God's Country, the effort was surpringly announced by cinematographer Arthur Jafa, who said in an Instagram Live conversation in May that he was working with the rapper on visuals for the album. "Wash Us in the Blood" was the first to debut.
That summer, Kanye released the song "Donda," named after his late mother. He dropped the track on what would have been her 71st birthday. About a week later, ’Ye revealed the album title would be changed to Donda in honor of his mom. A July 24 release date was given, but never followed through on. Some might blame the global pandemic while others just consider it typical Kanye behavior. Later that year, "Nah Nah Nah" arrived, which he dubbed a presidential campaign theme song, and its accompanying remix with DaBaby and 2 Chainz. The track was another expected to be on the final LP.
Longtime friends Consequence and CyHi The Prynce both gave separate updates on the album, the former describing it as "fire" late last year while the latter said in an interview in March of this year that ’Ye was crafting the opus amid his divorce from Kim K. This summer, the Donda engine revved back up. Kanye was back outside, seen at Paris Fashion Week wearing a full face mask. On July 18, the MC had a listening session in Las Vegas, where the NBA playoffs were being held—he even showed up at one of the games. Photographer Nigel Degraff and internet personality Justin Laboy became the unofficial Kanye spokespeople, sharing what to expect on the album, from Lil Baby guest appearances to a commercial with his music that would feature track star Sha'Carri Richardson.
On July 20, Kanye officially announced the Donda album once more as part of the commercial for Apple's Beats by Dre, which featured the new song "No Child Left Behind." A July 23 release date was set and news that Kanye would hold an album listening session at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on July 22 was confirmed. The event was livestreamed on Apple Music, featured a reunion with Jay-Z on a track, Vory on guest vocals, music that seemed to be unfinished and Kanye donning a red ’fit with a face mask once again. ’Ye never spoke and stood in the middle of the stadium by himself, walking around at times.
Donda didn't drop that night to fans' dissapointment. Instead, Kanye began living on the stadium premises, working to finish the LP. A second listening session that would also be livestreamed was scheduled for Aug. 5, and a new release date of Aug. 6. This time, Kanye rocked an all-black wardrobe and a signature face mask, and showcased a more polished version of the Donda album, which featured even more guest appearances from the likes of Kid Cudi, Westside Gunn, Jadakiss, Lil Yachty and more. He also put on an immersive performance while never speaking a word, having men and women surround him by walking around as he switched between lying on a mattress and moving across the center of the stadium.
There's still no Donda album, but there is a new release date. Expect the effort to drop on Aug. 13 if you believe the pre-order info on Apple Music. The anticipation and pump fakes are real with this rollout.