National Post (Latest Edition) - - ARTS & LIFE - Joe Coscarelli

In the weeks since Kanye West de­buted his new al­bum, The Life of Pablo with an elab­o­rate lis­ten­ing ses­sion-fash­ion show at Madi­son Square Gar­den, the mu­sic has earned rave re­views, been fea­tured on Satur­day Night Live and in­spired a re­buke from Tay­lor Swift on­stage at the Grammy Awards.

In the at­ten­tion econ­omy, The Life of Pablo (Def Jam) is a block­buster. The only prob­lem: It’s not for sale. Ac­cord­ing to West, the al­bum is not even fin­ished.

Af­ter clos­ing his tri­umphant SNL per­for­mance with a gar­bled an­nounce­ment that The Life of Pablo was for sale dig­i­tally at kanyewest. com and stream­ing on Tidal, the mu­sic ser­vice in which he is a part­ner, the capri­cious West quickly pulled the com­mer­cial ver­sion and has taken to stat­ing his con­flict­ing in­ten­tions for the songs in free-form posts on Twit­ter.

But the un­con­ven­tional and, in many ways, un­preced- ented al­bum roll­out has left some fans with­out the down­loads they al­ready paid for, while stream­ing ser­vices like Ap­ple Mu­sic and Spo­tify re­main un­cer­tain as to when or if The Life of Pablo will be widely avail­able.

Af­ter SNL, thou­sands who rushed to pay $ 20 to down­load The Life of Pablo failed to re­ceive the files de­spite be­ing charged by Tidal. Those who did re­ceive the down­load that night ex­pe­ri­enced their own glitch — in­stead of the fi­nal track, the se­cond-to­last song was in­cluded twice. Com­plaints flooded so­cial me­dia, and Tidal emailed its cus­tomers an “The fi­nal ver­sion of the al­bum will be re­leased in the next sev­eral days,” the mes­sage con­tin­ued, of­fer­ing a re­fund to those un­in­ter­ested in wait­ing.

West then an­nounced on Twit­ter, his pre­ferred mega­phone of late, that he had “de­cided not to sell my al­bum for an­other week,” and urged his 19 mil­lion fol­low­ers to sub­scribe to Tidal, which is owned by his long­time col­lab- ora­tor Jay Z. “Ima fix wolves,” West added of one track on the al­bum. He went on to say that The Life of Pablo would “never be on Ap­ple. And it will never be for sale ... You can only get it on Tidal.” Ap­ple de­clined to com­ment.

Other stream­ing ser­vices are stand­ing by ex­pec­tantly for the al­bum. Spo­tify, which has 20 mil­lion sub­scribers, said in a state­ment, “We hope to have it soon.”

A place­holder for the al­bum on Spo­tify in­cludes the mes­sage: “The artist or their rep­re­sen­ta­tives have de­cided not to re­lease this al­bum on Spo­tify just yet. We’re work­ing on it, and hope we can change their minds soon.” The same note is used for al­bums by Adele and Tay­lor Swift, who have also with­held their mu­sic from the ser­vice.

Def Jam, West’s la­bel, de­clined to com­ment. But a source close to West, who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the al­bum’s re­lease, said that there is a plan — in­clud­ing talk of a deluxe phys­i­cal edi­tion — in the works, al­though the source could not con­firm the time­line, cit­ing West’s cre­ative process.

In the mean­time, The Life of Pablo has be­come a huge hit on mu­sic piracy web­sites. Tor­rent Freak, a site that tracks BitTor­rent and copy­right news, es­ti­mated that by Tues­day the al­bum had been il­le­gally down­loaded more than 500,000 times.

Nielsen, which tracks the of­fi­cial sales and stream­ing data used in the weekly Bill­board charts, has also seen its sys­tem dis­rupted by the un­ortho­dox de­liv­ery from a su­per­star artist. “We are cur­rently re­view­ing the specifics of this re­lease and have not yet de­ter­mined how Nielsen will re­port its sales,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

Sim­i­lar con­fu­sion played out on the charts ear­lier this month with the sud­den re­lease of Ri­hanna’s new al­bum, “Anti.” Af­ter it was leaked on­line, the dig­i­tal al­bum was given away 1 mil­lion times in a spon­sor­ship deal with Sam­sung and streamed ex­clu­sively on Tidal for a week, but Nielsen’s of­fi­cial tal­lies put it at only No. 27 on the Bill­board al­bum chart, with fewer than 1,000 copies sold dur­ing its ab­bre­vi­ated de­but sales week. Anti re­bounded with 124,000 copies sold and 14.2 mil­lion streams in its se­cond week, hit­ting No. 1.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing things for West, his al­bum was made avail­able for pre­order to fans who bought a ticket to see the Madi­son Square Gar­den event, which was screened in hun­dreds of movie the­atres around the coun­try.

Ja­son Nunn, 23, said along with a $ 25 ticket to watch the fash­ion show and al­bum de­but live from Spring­field, Mo., he paid an ex­tra $10 for a down­load of the al­bum upon its re­lease. See Tick­ets, one of the mer­chants that sold en­try to the screen­ings, told cus­tomers this week: “Upon Def Jam’s of­fi­cial re­lease of the al­bum, you will re­ceive an email with a link to down­load your dig­i­tal copy.”

While it has yet to come, Nunn said that he would roll with the punches for an artist like West.

“One of things I ad­mire about him is that he’s trans­par­ent and he’s not afraid to change some­thing af­ter he’s re­leased it,” he said. “If that’s hold­ing it up — I’ve heard the record — I’m OK with it.”

For West, he added, “It’s not, like, su­per out of char­ac­ter.”


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