The Messy Rollout—and Aftermath—of Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’
If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was “maximal” and Watch the Throne was “opulent,” then “messy” seems to be the most fitting way to describe Kanye West’s new album.
The Life of Pablo, Ye’s seventh solo LP, is euphoric at its highest point (“Ultralight Beam”) and jarring at its lowest; “Now if I fuck this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’ma feel like an asshole,” raps Kanye on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” bringing Kid Cudi’s soaring intro crashing down to Earth.
Overall, the album feels like a post-apocalyptic palace: an extravagant sonic architecture built out of scavenged materials from the trap, soul and gospel wastelands. Yet somehow, it still stands tall.
The chaos of the music is even reflected in the way the album was rolled out. The Life of Pablo (previously WAVES; previously SWISH) was premiered during Kanye’s Yeezy Season 3-slash-aux cord DJ set at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11 before being exclusively released on kanyewest.com and Jay Z’s TIDAL streaming service three days later. But in the weeks, even days, leading up to its arrival, Kanye’s impulsive and indecisive nature kicked into overdrive.
“New album title, WAVES,” he tweeted on Jan. 26, which later caused one of the most flagrant famous people fights Twitter has ever seen, and one that’s better saved for another time. On Feb. 9, Kanye announced that he’d changed the title again (the one he’d finally settle on). Then on Feb. 12 — just two days before its release — he tacked anadditional eight songs onto what was once a tight 10-track album.
Even now, Kanye is still tinkering with the album. “Ima fix wolves,” he tweeted on Sunday, which may or may not mean Vic Mensa and Sia will be reinstated on the “final version,” if such a concept exists in Kanye West’s world. Meanwhile, a recent email from TIDAL suggests that the copy of the album they’re currently streaming is only a “partial version,” with the “final version” set to be released “in the next several days.”
However, don’t expect to see the album on iTunes anytime soon. On Monday, Kanye took a kamikaze nosedive and decided he wasn’t going to sell The Life of Pablo at all. Like ever. Especially not on Apple. “You can only get it on Tidal,” he wrote, no doubt securing yet more short-term success for Hov’s music streaming platform.
My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal.
This sloppy rollout, particularly the limited availability of what isn’t even the finished product, has caused a “piracy craze” online. According to Torrent Freak‘s estimations, The Life of Pablo was illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times on BitTorrent the day it was released. The album is making a similar impact on The Pirate Bay, too. “At the time of writing close to 10,000 people were sharing a copy of the most popular torrent simultaneously, something we haven’t seen with a music release before,” writes TF editor Ernesto.
Meanwhile, many of those who did pay for the album are probably wishing they just pirated it instead. According to The FADER, approximately 4,000 fans who purchased The Life of Pablo through Kanye’s website never received a copy of the album. TIDAL, who was fulfilling credit card orders for Kanye’s store, did offer these customers a refund, though.
Until the next stream of consciousness unspools from Kanye’s Twitter fingers, it looks likeThe Life of Pablo, in all its finished glory, will be streaming — and only streaming — on TIDAL by the end of the week. But if Kanye, for the first time in his career, does indeed optnot to sell his new album, this raises quite a few important questions.
As Complex Editor-In-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever tweeted yesterday, “Serious question, if TLOP is never commercially available and only streamed on TIDAL is it eligible for Grammy consideration?” According to a FAQ on The Grammys website regarding last year’s requirements:
For the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards, albums must be released between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015. Recordings must be commercially released in general distribution in the United States, i.e. sales by label to a branch or recognized independent distributor, via the Internet, or mail order/retail sales for a nationally marketed product. Recordings must be available for sale from any date within the eligibility period through at least the date of the current year’s voting deadline (final ballot).
“Recordings must be available for sale” is the key line here (word to Chance). Kanye explicitly stated his album would not be for sale — ever. So does this mean Mr. West can wave goodbye to winning (or bribing with his very presence) Album of the Year in 2017? Who knows? The Grammys have yet to encounter a stream-only album from an artist as big as Kanye West, so it’s difficult to draw a conclusion from their answer.
Without a traditional sales structure behind it, The Life of Pablo will have to rely solely on TIDAL streams when it comes to the Billboard charts, and that doesn’t bode well for Kanye either. Billboard highlighted the risks of artists releasing their music exclusively through TIDAL in a piece published last April. In fact, they discovered that Kanye’s “All Day” would have dropped from No. 62 to No. 84 on the Hot 100 had the single been streamed exclusively on TIDAL. Higher charting hits like Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” and Drake’s “Know Yourself” would have suffered, too.
Rihanna proved to be the exception to that rule last month. The “tropical house” pioneer (sorry) released her eighth LP ANTI exclusively through TIDAL on the slightly-earlier-than-expected date of Jan. 27. The album was certified platinum by the RIAA two days later and topped the Billboard 100 the following week.
However, unlike Kanye West, Rihanna had a $25 million deal with Samsung in place, guaranteeing a million downloads of ANTI, which she dished out to fans for free on Twitter. She later released the album on iTunes once the seven-day exclusive streaming agreement with TIDAL expired. If it is indeed true that he’s $53 million out of pocket, then maybe Kanye should take a few notes from his Roc La Familia.
I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt… Please pray we overcome… This is my true heart…
For all the probable and possible pitfalls, though, The Life of Pablo‘s messy rollout is a true representation of Kanye West: bold, impetuous and beholden to his big brother Jay Z (in this case, his streaming service). Both the album and the way in which it was released is a raw product of Kanye’s ADHD genius, a wonderfully erratic spark that has guided him from the “chop-up-the-beats Kanye” all the way to the “spazz in the news Kanye.”
I’ll change a picture, or just completely remove something and be like, you know what, on second thought, I don’t like it. I thought I liked it, and it’ll be like, maybe there’s like 30 comments on that and I’ll be like, brrrp, take it off.