A three-way showdown between Kanye West's "Yeezus," J. Cole's "Born Sinner," and Mac Miller's "Watching Movies With The Sound Off" has cemented June 18, 2013 in hip-hop history.
There have been countless unforgettable release date matchups throughout Hip-Hop history, from Outkast’s Stankonia and Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia going head-to-head on October 31, 2000, to 50 Cent and Kanye’s Curtis/Graduation commercial war on September 11, 2007, to G-Unit and JAY-Z’s Beg For Mercy Vs. The Black Album facing off on November 13th, 2003. With that said, June 18, 2013, was a completely different beast considering the lead-up to the release date and the narratives surrounding each artist.
On Thursday, May 2, 2013, Kanye West planted the seeds for one of the most memorable hip-hop release day matchups of all time. With the frustratingly minimal (and now-deleted) tweet “June Eighteen,” Ye put every music outlet on the lookout for new music from Mr. West, and later that day, Mac Miller formally announced that his sophomore album Watching Movies With The Sound Off would also arrive on that same date.
It wasn’t until two weeks later that Kanye would actually confirm June 18th to be the official release date for Yeezus, but almost immediately after he did so, things got even more interesting. J. Cole, whose sophomore album Born Sinner had been set for a June 25th release since mid-April that year, shockingly announced that he would be moving his album’s release up a week.
In a 2013 statement to Billboard’s “The Juice” column, J. Cole said, “Instantly the lightbulb [turned on]... it got real. The idea hit me instantly: 'You got to go to that date.' I worked too hard to come a week later after Kanye West drops an amazing album. It's a definite statement about how I feel about my album, which is confident.”
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And like that, June 18th was stacked beyond belief. Music journalists, bloggers, rappers, and fans didn’t seem to know how to approach the massive release date, either. The only clues as to what Yeezus would sound like was a less-than-CDQ recording from one of Ye’s various worldwide projections and a live performance on Saturday Night Live, so betting on who would sell the most copies was somewhat of a losing game.
Going into Kanye, Cole, and Mac’s showdown, each artist had an awe-inspiring narrative surrounding their releases. Ye — the obvious favorite due to his 5/5 track record — was releasing his first solo project since his lauded 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while still riding the success of 2011’s Watch The Throne and 2012’s Cruel Summer.
Building off his own chart-topping debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story, Cole had shocked fans with his self-produced and Miguel-assisted hit single “Power Trip” earlier in the year. The album seemed destined to showcase Cole’s artistic growth, and by publicly challenging one of rap’s titans and one of his mentor’s closest collaborators, Cole had raised the expectations for Born Sinner even higher.
Then there was Mac Miller, who — while unlikely to outsell both Kanye West and J. Cole — was two years removed from a #1 album of his own. 2011’s Blue Slide Park was the first independently-distributed debut album to top the Billboard 200 since 1995, and although the odds were against him, he had a unique opportunity to go 2 for 2 with chart-topping independent projects.
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Truth be told, all three of the artists who were destined to clash on June 18, 2013, were all arguably deserving of the top spot, which made the lead-up to the contest even more exciting. Then, in true pre-streaming era fashion, Yeezus,Born Sinner, and Watching Movies With The Sound Off all leaked in their entirety several days before their highly anticipated release date.
Surprisingly, all three albums were some of the most experimental projects from each of the artists’ catalogs. While the Hip-Hop community was definitely shocked by the polarizing nature of Yeezus, Born Sinner and Watching Movies With The Sound Off challenged Cole and Mac’s fan bases as well.
Leagues ahead of his “frat rap” tinged debut album, Mac Miller’s Watching Movies represented a major step forward for the Pittsburgh artist, as the sonically expansive record showcased his maturity as both a songwriter and a producer. Born Sinner was like how J. Cole had been describing it for months — dark. Almost entirely produced by the young Roc Nation artist, Born Sinner was an ambitious and stylistic alternative to the mainstream sound that Cole chased throughout his debut. From calling out Kanye West on wax and admitting to the mental and emotional turmoil that he experienced upon finding out that Nas hated one of his Sideline Story singles, Cole was at his rawest and most self-aware.
Then there was Yeezus, an album that immediately split fans in half. At the time, you were either a believer in the self-proclaimed God’s abrasive and minimalist sound or a skeptic claiming that after five classic albums, Kanye had finally missed. As if their imminent release day showdown wasn’t exciting enough, the lukewarm reception to the leak of Ye’s sixth studio album threw a wrench into the equation, casting doubt on whether Yeezus would be able to rise to the top of the Billboard 200 once again.
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Finally, June 18th had arrived, and despite them all leaking online well in advance of their release date, Yeezus, Born Sinner, and Watching Movies fared well commercially. Thousands of fans hit up their local stores to cop their preferred CDs, and the sheer excitement for the tight sales battle even prompted Drake and Cole to go to Best Buy together and purchase a boatload of copies of Born Sinner.
When it was all said and done, Kanye West, J. Cole, and Mac Miller had successfully taken over the music industry. With Yeezus commanding 327,000 copies, Born Sinner moving 297,000 copies, and Watching Movies With The Sound Off selling a respectable 102,000, their first week sales were enough to land Yeezy, Cole, and Mac the first, second, and third spots on the Billboard 200, respectively.
Regardless of whether you downloaded any of the leaks, copped your album(s) of choice from iTunes, or bombarded your local Best Buy like Drake and J. Cole, the three-way battle between Kanye West, J. Cole, and Mac Miller on June 18th, 2013, demanded every hip-hop head’s attention and participation. Eight years later, there still hasn’t been a release day experience quite like it.