Kanye West: My album's not for sale

Thousands who paid to download The Life Of Pablo failed to receive files

Kanye West debuted The Life Of Pablo during his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden last week.
Kanye West debuted The Life Of Pablo during his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden last week. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • In the week 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 (SNL) and inspired a rebuke from Taylor Swift onstage at the Grammy Awards.

In the attention economy, the album is a blockbuster. The only problem - it is not for sale. West says the album is not even finished.

After closing his triumphant SNL performance with a garbled announcement that the album was for sale digitally at kanyewest.com and for 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, unprecedented album rollout has left some fans without the downloads they paid for, while streaming services such as 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 US$20 (S$28) to download the album failed to receive the files despite being charged by Tidal. Complaints flooded social media and last Monday, Tidal e-mailed its customers an update: "A partial version of the album is available for streaming on Tidal.com, but the download is not available.

"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 that he has "decided not to sell my album for another week" and urged his 19 million followers to subscribe to Tidal, which is owned by his long-time collaborator Jay Z.

He said The Life Of Pablo would "never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale... You can get it only on Tidal".

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."

Def Jam, West's label, declined to comment. But a source close to the rapper said 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 reviewing the specifics of this release and have not yet determined how Nielsen will report its sales," the company said in a statement.

Explaining his motivations when he released the album, West revealed that he was US$53 million in debt.

"Yes, I am personally rich and I can buy furs and houses for my family," said the husband of reality television star Kim Kardashian, who is wealthy in her own right. "But I need access to more money to bring more beautiful ideas to the world," he tweeted.

The plea for money triggered widespread online derision of the star, who has likened his diverse talents to Michelangelo's and, in the past year, pursued fashion design and declared his intention to run for president in 2020.

The Philadelphia Police Department on Thursday told West that it was hiring and posted on Twitter a doctored photo of the rapper dressed as an officer.

"Starting salary of $47,920; you could be debt-free by the year 3122!" it tweeted.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Kanye West: My album's not for sale'. Subscribe