How The Unexpected Album Release Wave Is Changing The Politics Of Music
A couple days ago, Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly on our unsuspecting heads.
The album's clean version dropped first, ahead of schedule, hinting at an error in the iTunes command center, a la "House of Card's" brief unveiling of its neat Netflix parcel.
Shortly after, Kendrick unleashed the explicit album and set the bar for 2015 rap.
It's premature to offer a verdict on the full record, but — after three listens, my brain is a lumpy puddle on my living room floor having melted out of my ears -- I'd say it's pretty good.
He creates something poignant, layered and thoroughly modern with this album. It is dope -- let's leave it at that.
The "surprise release" is the new black among big artists. Jay Z ignited the movement when he partnered with Samsung to release his album alongside a Galaxy incarnation.
The phone was an Apple knockoff, and Hov's album was equatable to when Shaq played for Cleveland.
But, he proved major artists could change the way they release their music, as Magna Carta Holy Grail debuted at the number one spot on Billboard's charts and went double platinum.
Following her husband's lead, Beyoncé let loose a self-titled, visual album with no warning, and the Internet short-circuited. In 12 hours, 1.2 million tweets had Queen Bey trending.
We didn't have any warning. We hadn't been warmed up.
All the excitement that usually builds for months in anticipation of an album spurted out at once. Beyoncé cemented her "I-can-do-what-I-want-when/how/why-I-want" status because she didn't need publicity. We were her publicity.
After all, she is Beyoncé. People Google her name every minute of every hour of every day. When she does something, everyone knows about it.
The Internet has linked all of humanity during earth-shattering phenomenons, be it natural disasters, the latest depraved actions of a terrorist group, or, you know, a sick album.
When Drake dropped his exquisite menu of bangers, the trend became official. The cryptic, classically emotional, handwritten note that doubled as the album's cover was a simple way to let Birdman and Cash Money know they didn't own him.
Drizzy made one of the biggest rap labels on the planet irrelevant. The "6 God" has 21 million people following him on Twitter. When he dropped the album, the ripple effect was a tsunami.
The surprise release is here to stay. Kanye's new work will be launched without warning, and it's hard to imagine the music world regressing back into its label-centric days.
The Internet has leveled the playing field, kind of. Prospective artists can launch their careers with a laptop, be discovered and become overnight sensations without anyone's help.
But, with this access, there has been such a glut of new music, it is borderline impossible to wade through all of it.
With the murder of the record label, the oligarchy of taste-making has turned into a true democracy. Music is an unregulated market where the driving force is popular demand.
The biggest artists no longer need press or labels because they make and release albums on their own. The Internet has created a pervasive attitude of "if it's important, I'll hear about it."
The 24-hour news cycle has such a ravenous demand for new content that if something doesn't make the cut, it wasn't worth anyone's attention.
There are so many things being flung into the unechoing abyss of the Internet at any given moment, we can only pay attention to what sticks.
New artists can take solace in the fact they no longer have to deal with money goggles of record executives. But, now they rely upon the finicky tastes of music blogs and Twitter to spread their product to the masses.
The shift may have put a higher emphasis on music quality as opposed to marketability, but still, it is not a cakewalk to stardom.
As always, this new model makes the rich richer.
Major artists add mystique to their work, which gets the word out better and cheaper than any publicity campaign. The move simply responds to our ad fatigue.
This way, artists don't seem like they're trying to sell us something, even though they totally are. And, we get suckered in like the trombone second-chair who falls for the lip-glossed, cheerleader who doesn't even know he exists.
These releases are sexy. Artists already know we want their work; they don't need to tell us to cop their stuff. The surprise makes it more special.
It's like going to sleep in July and waking up on Christmas morning.
New technology brings us anything at a moment's notice. This accessibility is spectacular, but it has put us on a time-crunch, as there is so much to see.
We can't waste time on one artist's build-up to a release while there are hundreds of others clamoring for our attention with actual product.
We don't care about what's going to be. We care about what is here now. The foreplay era is over.
Now, artists just give us what we want, whether we are ready or not.