To Pimp a Butterfly: How Millennials Changed the Music Industry

Today, Kendrick Lamar dropped his highly anticipated To Pimp A Butterfly early. Jury’s still out if this album surpasses its predecessor good kid, M.A.A.D City, but K Dot., known for his unconventional imprint on hip hop culture, caused excitement with the early release.

Already, some are trying to deconstruct the entire album in think pieces and pseudo-intelligent, quasi-perspicacious tweets. But TPAB, is too complicated, too dynamic, and too intricate for prescient analysis. The album is full of political references, socioeconomic imagery, and hidden meanings–ingredients that make Kendrick the lyrical maven that he is. It’s simply too soon for a detailed, analytical summation of his symphonic creation.

So, I’m turning my attention to the method by which he dropped his album. The early release. The fact that Vevo– a joint venture between Google, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Abu Dhabi Media — put the entire album on YouTube shortly after the album was available on iTunes. The fact that already, despite the untraditional formula, K. Dot and team made $1 million in sales.

The music industry has (thankfully) changed. Gone are the days when airplay, spins, singles, and music videos, determined the imminent success or failure of an album. The internet and millennial market effectively and decidedly forced the rigid music industry to keep up with the convenience of free downloading and piracy. J. Cole said it best in “Let Nas Down.”

Where’s the hits? You ain’t got none
You know Jay would never put your album out without none
And dog, you know how come
Labels are archaic, formulaic with their outcomes
They don’t know, they just study the charts
Me, I study the shows, the fans, study their hearts

And it’s true. Music fans — especially hip hop heads — will find and support hip hop that speak to our political consciousness and social upbringing. There’s a fatigue in the millennial hip hop community; we’re tired of simple club bangers…especially when they all sound the same. This isn’t to say we don’t like losing ourselves every once in awhile, but the frequency with which this form of hip hop penetrates airwaves is, over time, boring. We’re not willing to pay for an entire album of this vein. But we will fork over hard earned dollars for hip hop that’s innovative and redolent of hip hop’s core nature. And we’ll certainly hand over those dollars if we feel special.

Surprise releases make us feel special. 

That’s why Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail debuted at number 1 on Billboard. The icon’s twelfth studio album was released digitally free of charge for Samsung users back in 2013. Despite initial glitches, we forgave the rap mogul; those dope ass commercials with a barefoot Rick Rubin were enough to make us forget about the faulty technological rollout.

He and his wife, megasuperstar Beyoncé, cemented their power couple status, when she, too, took a surprise shift from the standard music industry hustle. Her self titled album, released December 2013, was the first of its kind. A dual visual and vocal masterpiece, Beyoncé secretly dropped via iTunes with absolutely no promotion or singles. The album debuted at number 1, went platinum in a few days, and was one of her highest selling albums to date. It also exposed her feminist political ideology, which added to its marketability.

J. Cole, perhaps taking a queue from his mentor, did his thing at the tail end of 2014 when he dropped 2014 Forest Hills Drive with very little promo and no singles. His album also debuted at number 1 and went platinum.

D’Angelo’s Black Messiah also followed the atypical business model. After almost a decade-long hiatus, the Father of Neo-Soul released his work, went on to sell 117,000 in the first week, and earned him a late night appearance on Saturday Night Live.

And now Kendrick, whose March 23rd release date was a red herring.

As I’ve said before, Lupe Fiasco laid the groundwork for the music industry shift. When he gained mainstream traction in 2006, he showed the music structure that politically-rooted hip hop was market ready. Unfortunately, the stagnant industry wasn’t. They didn’t know how to promote or package him and, as a result, he laid to the wayside as a sacrificial experiment.

This isn’t to say the music industry isn’t savvy on the upkeep. With the explosion of 360 deals, “artists” with viral appeal sign their lives away to augment the industry’s bottom line. Fad artists who are only good for a single or two sign these deals, handing off profit from sales, tours, merchandise, and publishing rights in the process.

But artists, creative lyricists with social imagery, are allowed more leeway. Artists with loyal fan bases and marketable sustainability, are allowed the freedom to restructure the rollout of their inventive works.

And millennials are responsible for the shift. Our demand and egos challenged the music structure to do better. And so far, they have.

*Featured Image Credit:

Suggested Reading: “Rap Exploitation: How to Destroy a Black Male in 10 Steps.” Andre G, Rap Rehab.

Photo on 6-15-14 at 12.18 PMArielle Newton, Founder/Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @arielle_newton. Get at us @BlkMillennials.


One response to “To Pimp a Butterfly: How Millennials Changed the Music Industry

  1. Pingback: 5 Reasons Black People are So Bomb in 2015 | A Womyn's Worth·

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