About two months ago, controversial rapper, Kanye West released The Life of Pablo exclusively on the streaming service, Tidal, after weeks of confusion over what the final title, tracklist, etc. would be. This led to fans pirating the album at huge numbers, and because Billboard does not track Tidal, the album and its tracks did not chart at all.
Finally, earlier this month, The Life of Pablo was made available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music and could be purchased online. What made this delayed release especially interesting was that Kanye released a new mix of the album, stating that the record was “a living breathing changing creative expression.” This has raised discussion as to whether an artist is allowed to go back and change what they have already released.
Before I get too far into how I feel about this decision, I think I should mention how The Life of Pablo has held up for me as well as my opinion on the quality of the new mix. I have listened to the album itself a lot since I reviewed it and while it has grown on me, the problems I had with the album in my original review still stand. While the new mix definitely improves the quality, making everything sound clearer, it does not help mend some of the blatantly bad lyrical moments here. The only radical changes that were made were to the track “Wolves” where Frank Ocean’s verse is moved to its own track and Vic Mensa and Sia are brought in as featured vocalists, as originally planned. I do like this version more, I just wish more tracks had been enhanced in the same way.
As for this release plan, I think it was a disaster. The reported 500,000 illegal downloads show that there was a huge audience for this album that was alienated by the decision to put it on Tidal. Also, considering the album debuted on top of the Billboard 200 chart and eight tracks made it to the Billboard 100, mainly on streaming, there is still a significant audience for it months later. It just makes me wonder how the sales would have been if this had a traditional release.
This is what I find to be the real problem with this situation. Not the fact that he went back and altered the original album, but that he released sloppy work with a sloppy release strategy. I actually think it was a smart idea and it really is not anything too new. Classic albums are always being re-released and remastered but these changes are usually made 30-50 years after the initial release. I do not see the logic in releasing something that is not entirely finished, and then making your fans jump through hoops to legally enjoy it.
So do I think this is a precedent that artists will start to follow? No. New music worth listening to comes out every week. Rarely will people care enough to go back and listen to a month old album just to hear the slight changes. And even if the changes are extreme, you risk either annoying the fans who liked the original version, or confusing people who now have no idea which version to listen to.
With a new Kanye album supposedly coming out this summer, I would be shocked if Def Jam would allow him to repeat this misguided release, and I honestly can’t blame them. They missed a chance to profit even more on this, just to promote a streaming service that is still not catching on. All I am hoping is that this next album’s release is smoother and the record itself is actually finished upon release.