Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Short Case-Study on the Pros & Cons of Leaked Music: Teflon Don

I'm gonna confine this post to the issue of album leaks (both on-purpose and not) and how that can have an impact on the reaction from fans on the true release date of an album.

By the way, am I the only person that realizes that the Teflon Don name came from John Gotti and not Big Meech, Larry Hoover, or MC Hammer? None of which were truly teflon-anything because they all got caught-up by the laws. Anyway...

Case Study: Rick Ross - Teflon Don

For a while now, Rick Ross (or Ricky Rozay) has been promoting his "Teflon Don" album release via Twitter, email blasts, and he even dropped a mixtape of free music (Albert Anastasia EP) for fans to devour in hopes it would create excitement for the Teflon Don release (I'm still curious as to why he called it Albert Anastasia).

What ended up happening (which seems to be inevitably be the case nowadays) is that Ross's album leaked. As I write this post (6 days before the album's official release date) I've already heard friends talking on Twitter about the album and how they've heard most of it already. That leads me to the topic of this post: What are the pros and cons of an artist leaking songs (or having them leaked illegally) that will be on their official album when it's released?

The Pros:
  • If the music is good, people will get excited for the album. Most times people assume that leaked music will be on the album (at the very lease in the form of a bonus track). I'd argue that nowadays that's not so much of a guarantee but it still holds true in most cases. In Rick Ross's case, I'm sure he leaked the John Legend feature track "Sweet Life" in hopes it would have the same impact as the John Legend track off of "Deeper Than Rap" (Magnificent) and he could then put it on Teflon Don. Unfortunately for him, it didn't. In fact, it came across as a formulaic attempt to recreate what is an arguably better track, Magnificent.

  • If an artist is thinking about conceptually going in a certain direction on their album, leaking a few songs can allow them to get feedback from the masses. In my opinion a true "artist" wouldn't care about what fans think of their album's concept (see Gods'Illa) but rather, just make what they want and release it. But in the highly-commercialized music industry of today, the "InterWeb-focus" group is probably a valuable tool. In Rozay's case, I am not sure if he really had a concept in mind to begin with. It seems to me like his plan was to get some great production (which Ross is pretty frickin' good at), some big names as featured artists (Jay-Z, Kanye, Diddy), and continue his raps about drugs, weed, women, and all his other vices mixed nicely with hyperbole and exaggeration.

  • If the music is well-received (and can garner radio spins) you can always put it on your album. In the case of Rick Ross, I doubt he was going to put Blowin Money Fast on Teflon Don until the response to it was overwhelmingly positive. Same with MC Hammer. But Blowin Money Fast had the InterWeb, streets, and eventually radio going nuts so it only made sense to put it on the album. MC Hammer had a similar but less strong buzz also.

The Cons
  • Lack of album cohesion. Nowadays it's pretty hard to keep a hip-hop album from leaking before it's release date. So it was an afterthought for me that his album would leak. I'm actually surprised it took so long to leak (or maybe it wasn't truly complete until very recently). But once I heard the album and reviewed the tracklist, I realized I'd already heard all but 3 songs. BUT, I hadn't heard them within the context and flow of the album and that makes a big difference in *some* cases. Perfect example is the song Maybach Music 3, which was leaked about a week ago and it seemed like people really enjoyed it. I felt it was over-produced and didn't live up to the reviews I was hearing. Fast-forward to me listening to the full album and I like the song more within the flow of the album. Go figure. It's still not better than Aston Martin Music.

  • Fans will feel jipped. I hinted at this in the last point but if fans have (in the case of Teflon Don) already heard leaked versions of 6/11 album cuts and 2 of the remaining 5 were on a free mixtape, then that means there's really only THREE new songs on your album. The appetite of InterWeb users for new music is insatiable and because of this, an artist has to tread the line between over-saturation and quality music leaks and also tread the line between leaking quality music and giving away all your album's good content. So much of Teflon Don was leaked or given away by Ross that the other 3 songs remaining should have been EPIC. I'd argue that 1 is dope (I'm Not a Star), 1 is a contrived party track that Diddy convinced him to do, and the other is the obligatory "I talked all this bullshyt on the album about drugs, guns, women, and money so now let me say something that resonates a bit more with people's hearts" track. So 1 out of 3 are dope, 2 out of 3 are at least listenable. And that's not a bad thing at all. But I'll bet that fans complain about having heard most of the album already.

  • Setting the bar high with free music is dangerous! If you give away quality merchandise for free over-and-over and then say "On date X, Imma start charging", how do you think people will react? That's one question that I could do an entirely separate post about. When your free music is good, what happens the next time you give away free music and it doesn't meet the listener's expectations? They start drifting. And in the case of many hip-hop "fans", they start hating. Setting the bar high with free music and not being consistent with the release of solid music can turn a fan-base fickle. And a hip-hop fan base is nothing else if it not fickle. Ross put out a solid EP, Albert Anastasia. It's a really good street record. But if he does another mixtape after Albert Anastasia, it'll have to be as good or better. Otherwise, it's going to be a failure in many people's eyes and it'll "devalue" his "brand" just a bit (shot out to LeBron). The same applies to album releases but those are paid for (theoretically, lol) so people should be able to demand a certain level of quality.

I say all this to say that the InterWeb is a great place to find, listen to, and review/comment on music. For the listener, there's no real risk. But for the artist, it's gotta be a tough position to be in. Create a buzz, maintain the buzz by giving music away, drop an album with some familiar music that's good mixed with new music that's as good or better than what's been leaked. I can't imagine what these artists are going through, but I can sit back and enjoy the music.

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