Hip-hop artist Kanye West has been known to push the boundaries of hip hop and popular music for most of his musical career. Love him or hate him, West is a well-known, creative and outspoken artist with a knack for non-traditional behavior in the music community.
In February, West released his latest album, “The Life of Pablo,” in a fairly unconventional way: he made it exclusively available on the music streaming service TIDAL, a subscription based platform. Though there is a lot of music on TIDAL, fans had to buy a $20 subscription just to hear this new album, which he claims will “never be available for purchase.” This has led to gigantic numbers of illegal downloads of this album, mostly from torrent site The Pirate Bay. Some have joked that the album is the first album to go platinum on The Pirate Bay.
Opinions on the release of this album aside, West is hard to ignore, and whether people paid or not, his album was heard. However, within the last week, West has done something else that is virtually unheard of in the music world. He has just released a new, slightly updated and altered version of the album on TIDAL, only a little more than a month after its initial release. This has caught much attention (and criticism), and sparked several discussions across the internet of whether this is something that musicians should do. Should a musician be able to alter an album after it is released? What does this mean for album releases going forward?
By altering an already-released album, West is changing the way that traditional music consumption is done. Sometimes, several years after an album is released, there may be a reissue of that album, with added tracks or re-imaginings of songs that people have come to know and love. What West has done isn’t a reissue, but instead a slight alteration, which may even be intended to slip under some people’s radars. By simply updating the album and replacing the tracks, which again is only available on TIDAL, first-time listeners may never know that what they are hearing is not the original version of the album. What he has done is essentially created an opportunity to have an album that can evolve and change as he sees fit; it can become an ever-evolving project, not just a static album that is released and will remain the same forever.
Whether you agree with it or not, it is definitely different. Many see this as a publicity stunt, the same way that many saw the release of the album on TIDAL as a publicity stunt. But it begs the question: Should musicians be able to alter an album once it’s released? Filmmakers do it, software programmers do it and video game studios do it, so who is to say that musicians can’t do it as well?
Does it take away from the artistic statement of an album if the musician can change what they don’t like about it whenever they want? I think it certainly does. An album is a snapshot of an artist’s mind at the time of its creation. If you were to go back and update every picture you’ve ever taken, nothing would be the original or retain any sentimental value. Once an album is released, it should remain the way it was on the day it came out. A reissue is one thing; this is another issue altogether.
For more opinions on this matter, music reviewer Anthony Fantano uploaded a video discussing the subject, which can be found on his YouTube channel, The Needle Drop. The video is entitled “Changing The Life of Pablo (Should albums be altered?).” West’s latest version of “The Life of Pablo” can be found on TIDAL, and only on TIDAL.