While the Deluxe Edition trend may seem innocent on the surface, the lingering side-effects may very well prove detrimental to an artist's longevity.
Trends are easy to spot. All it takes is a little bit of time for the patterns to manifest. They can be particularly easy to spot in the music industry. The surprise album release comes to mind. Some attribute the pioneers as Radiohead, who stunned the world with the short-noticed drop of In Rainbows. Others credit Beyonce’s eponymous album for starting it, though it took a while before her peers felt comfortable enough to follow suit. In the past, artists would rely on singles, released at strategically chosen times in order to build momentum; the process could be months-long, especially when music videos were part of the equation. These days, you’re more likely to hear a preview on Instagram, an indicator that the full song is only a week or two away.
And while the surprise album appears here to stay for the time being, there’s another more nefarious trend currently plaguing the industry. You might have noticed that every prominent hip-hop album seems to now come equipped with a Deluxe Edition, oftentimes packaged as a complete project separate from its predecessor. Gunna recently dropped off one for Wunna. Pop Smoke’s team recently got done releasing one for Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon. Trippie Redd went so far as to promise that the deluxe edition for his upcoming Pegasus would be a “rock album,” a different beast altogether. On the surface, there’s no reason to complain, is there? After all, more music should lead to happier fans -- at least in theory. Yet in reality, what we’re all too often receiving is a mixed bag, one that leaves us little reason to have faith in the visionaries calling the shots.
In an age where the integrity of the album has already been diluted by behind-the-scenes machinations like stream-trolling, it’s hard enough to immerse oneself in a cohesive album, designed to be consumed in a single sitting. And now, with Deluxe Editions arriving like clockwork, the decision-making process is even more confusing. Did the Deluxe tracks simply not jive with the original album’s tracklist? If that is the case, it stands to reason that they belonged on another project altogether -- not some convoluted attempt at prolonging an album’s shelf life. And that’s not even the worst-case scenario: consider the alternative, where the Deluxe Editions are made-up of b-sides deemed unworthy for the original album. In that unfortunate case, listeners are being served a heaping of new music fresh from the cutting room floor, albeit labeled in a familiar way.
Sometimes, the Deluxe Edition contains songs superior to those on the original. Look no further than Pop Smoke’s aforementioned drop, which left us wondering why the A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie-assisted “Hello” was left off the big release in the first place. The idea that labels are deliberately withholding highlights in the efforts of lending the Deluxe some credibility is alarming in itself, especially for those of us who enjoy the simple purity of the album experience. There were some who believed that Lil Uzi Vert’sEternal Atake Deluxe was actually superior to the original, though that album came complete with its own absurd conundrum; Uzi went on to name the Deluxe Luv Vs. The World, making it feel like its own body of work with little to do with Eternal Atake. But at the end of the day, guess where all the streaming numbers went?
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so irritating if it wasn’t so transparent. With a seemingly competitive desire to lock down the number one spot on the Billboard charts, we’ve seen artists and their teams pull out all of the stops to clinch the victory. And while bots and bundling have been hit with the appropriate red flags, the Deluxe Edition has continued to run rampant. It’s not all bad. As stated earlier, there are certainly gems to unpack on a given re-release, though it’s likely that some listeners have come to do so reluctantly; encouraging the process can feel slightly dirty. There is already a narrative slowly pervading the industry, in which society’s waning attention span seems to be not only acknowledged but rewarded. When you hear artists like J. Cole stress the importance of longevity, you can all but picture a label executive rebutting with a “yeah, but...”
Is this really the new normal? One in which albums are designed to be churned out at an expeditious rate, consumed for a few weeks until the next big release, only to be revitalized for a few more days come Deluxe time? If that is indeed the case, what does that say about the current cultural climate? That short term sales trump long-term gain, for one. And that’s not even factoring in another, possibly predatory practice going unidentified. For the artists serving up Deluxe Editions that run the length of an original album, does their contract count it as its own separate entity? If so, perhaps it can be argued that artists are facilitating their transition into independence -- should they so desire it. Yet by contributing to these Deluxe Editions, it ensures that the selected songs lack any semblance of identity. Regardless of whether they were b-sides or original compositions recorded specifically for the occasion, it’s hard to see them as anything more than a cash-grab. A shot of adrenaline reserved for an album in the dying state.
Deluxe Editions have been around for years; older hip-hop heads can likely recall the double-disc experience, where the Deluxe featured one or two new tracks. To be fair, they were rarely marketed with such fervor, but rather a treat for the fans dedicated enough to hit the pre-order button. With the way things are going now, it feels like eighty percent of hip-hop albums are destined for the back-to-back treatment. And look, that's not to say that a Deluxe Edition is an inherently negative thing, but rather to muse on the possibility that they're ultimately doing more harm than good -- diluting an artist's catalog, stripping songs of their identity, and contributing to oversaturation. There are clearly positives to having more music available, but the next time you witness a Deluxe Edition's announcement, ask yourself this -- do you think you'll be listening to the album, in either its original or Deluxe state, in the next three years?