Kanye West’s latest opus, name-changed for the 5th time to ’The Life of Pablo’ (after Picasso) was engineered to help sign up more subscribers to Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service. This comes hot on the heals of exclusive releases by Rihanna and Beyoncé which featured for advance screening - solely on that platform. In order to drum up even more support, Kanye announced that the album would never be made available for sale / download on any other platform - that indeed if you wanted to listen to the album, you had to sign up to Tidal or go without. Rightly or wrongly, this is just not how the Internet works - sure you can make the streaming exclusive to a single platform, but to make that the only medium available full stop would likely have some very obvious consequences. In fact now manifested in 500,000+ illegal downloads of said album in a matter of just a few days.
The success of any consumable is deeply impacted by its channels of distribution. Apple for instance has its own stores, but its wares are carried by numerous other retailers too. Adele’s ’25’ album - by far and away the biggest seller of last year - cleverly did away with any streaming for the first few months - to ensure maximum sales of CDs, Vinyl and Downloads - and her approach has proven to be an unqualified success - and something A-List Pop Stars can take advantage of.
I am already subscribed to Spotify and Apple Music - the two key streaming platforms - would I / should I buy into yet another streaming solution purely on the merits of a single Kanye West album - for the vast majority of people, the answer has been a resounding no. That said - Tidal itself has benefited to a significant degree, going to the top of the Apple Apps charts, but only really in terms of an initial 1 month trial subscription - what will happen after that one month - especially now that there are various versions of the album already in the wild? Does Tidal have to keep turning out these exclusives to compel people to choose that platform over the industry leaders? And do they have sufficient ammo for the task?
When Beyoncé released her eponymous album (end of 2013) - she did it globally, simultaneously and on iTunes - a distribution platform whose reach far exceeds that of Tidal. Any smart artist should know that if you try to force a limit on distribution channels, you simply fall foul to more piracy. To ensure a healthy legitimate uptake of your album - you need to release to all markets simultaneously, you can no longer afford to do staggered releases, the world just does not work like that any more - we’re all connected globally now and well aware of what our neighbouring countries and continents are listening to. I’m certainly not going to say Kanye invited piracy, but that was always going to be the inevitable result of a Tidal-only exclusivity strategy. Also - artists get a far higher percentage of actual song and album sales versus streaming royalties - why would you want to deny yourself that very substantial chunk of revenue?
And we all know now that Kanye really needs the money - having confessed to being $53million in debt, on Twitter no less. Instead of getting some sort of exclusivity sign-on fee from his best buddy Jay Z, he has taken to Twitter to beg for a $1billion investment from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook - bizarrely using Twitter as his chosen medium of correspondence, rather than using Zuckerberg’s own platform or engaging in more personal and private correspondence. Larry Page (Google) has been hit up too as an addendum on Twitter! Kanye has produced a very ambiguous organisation chart to bizarrely try to justify a £1billion investment - the whole thing sounds like a really totally crazy publicity campaign - he surely can’t be serious with this sort of approach? And why an arbitrary billion - who invests that much on a single individual?
But then and obviously falsely, Kanye brags about being ’Rich’ on his new album ("I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we didn’t like the same bitch / Yeah, he might have hit it first / Only problem is I’m rich" - ’Highlights’) - while at the same time throwing shade at a variety of celebrities including Taylor Swift ("I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why, I made that bitch famous." - ’Famous’). If he isn’s targetting someone lyrically, then he’s typically having a go at them on Twitter - which is either one of the cleverest marketing strategies of all time, or just pure ego-maniacal madness.
Condé Nast seems to figure quite prominently in Kanye’s life too, after putting Kanye and Kim on their Vogue Cover not so long ago, their ’Pitchfork’ music site has given ’Life of Pablo’ a very gracious and probably slightly elevated review of 9/10. This is by no means a bad album, it does lean fairly heavily on 808 and Heartbreaks - with lots of vocoder action, yet is far from being the greatest album ever and is nowhere near Kanye’s best when compared with the innovation found on ’My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ or ’Yeezus’.
I really think it’s time Kanye took a break from Twitter for a while and let his art do the talking. I’m a fan of much of Kanye’s musical output, I could do without his Twitter outbursts and rants though - they really don’t endear him. In terms of his contributions to Fashion - some of his sneakers / trainers are decent enough, but as with all his clothing - vastly overpriced and not representative at all of the work, materials or design details that have gone into them. We’re a little bit in ’Emperor’s Clothes’ territory here, and I am perplexed just how many Kanye fans physically queue up days in advance and pony up way over the odds for some essentially very ’Gap’ plain sweatshirts in very neutral shades, or slightly differentiated Adidas pumps in a unique Kanye colourway ...