I really do miss the old Kanye. No, this isn’t about whether or not I think College Dropout is better than Yeezus or if Kanye’s rapping has fallen off. This is about Kanye’s work ethic. The man that used to make three beats a day for three summers has made the decision to release an unfinished piece of work and update it live, thanks to the medium of streaming music.
As an artist, one has every right to make changes to their piece of art. Of course, this usually does not happen after the work has been released to the public for purchase or critique. No doubt, Mr. West has done something unprecedented as an artist once again. He is producing an album right in front of us, and we can choose to watch this performance by subscribing to streaming services like Tidal and get to hear the album being shaped into a “better” work of art than it was before. It is as if the internet is West’s studio, where fans can come in, critique the changes and West can mold the album based off the fan reception. This is likely the reason why West “fixed” “Wolves” due to many being fans upset that Vic Mensa and Sia were taken off the song.
If an artist releases an album, though, it should be their final and most polished piece of work. Artists should stand by their works, and if fans really wanted to hear the version of “Wolves” with Sia and Vic Mensa, they could have simply ripped it from the internet. Once a work is released, it should represent what the artist thinks is the best version of the album. The fact that West is changing his album weeks after its release is a clear sign that West thinks his latest album is not his best work. There is a reason why fans give artists years to release their next album. It is because we expect artists to work at their craft and give us their best work — not to quickly throw something together in a month and then continue to update in the months ahead.
Obviously a large part of this is due to streaming and how popular it has become. 41 million people paid for online music subscription services in 2014 compared to only 8 million in 2010, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. So as more people begin to use online services, the permanence found on a CD matters less and less because one’s library can be updated overnight with streaming services.
But for artists, is it in their best interest to take this opportunity to change their music? It may begin with small tweaks, but what if entire songs were completely changed and the album comes out worse than it did before? Yes, artists and fans could find the earlier version of the album they enjoyed, but the reputation of the artist is greatly questioned after making such mistakes. The ability for artists to flip-flop after an album comes out and change it at any given moment based on its reception or their own personal feelings just makes it harder for listeners. How is one supposed to feel if an entire song’s mood is changed two months after the album comes out on Spotify? Or if a fan’s favorite verse was removed for no given reason except that the artist felt he needed to “fix” the song. Music is like any other piece of published work. Once it is published, it should not be changed.
Although West is the first musician to do this, he definitely might not be the last. And in hip-hop, with artists like Future and Young Thug releasing mixtape after mixtape, who’s to say other rappers won’t release uncomplete album after uncomplete album. West has been an innovator in music for almost 12 years. But his latest approach to releasing music is a Pandora’s box that should have never been opened.