Releasing An Unfinished Product = Genius?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kanye West is a polarizing figure. There are some people who believe he’s just another egotistical rapper in a long line of egotistical rappers who only happens to stand out because of his constant “in your face” presence either on social media or in public at awards shows. There are others who believe he’s a genius, creating masterpieces every time he stands in front of the mic, every time he puts pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or however he writes his music.

While I believe there’s something unique about the man, that he’s not just another cookie cutter rapper, I certainly don’t believe he’s a genius.

The most recent example of his brilliance, according to those drinkin’ the Kool-aid and lovin’ every drop, comes in the form of The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s most recent album.  Not just because of the music, but the process in which it’s being released.  You see, the album isn’t done yet.  Oh, Kanye released it, but who lets a silly little thing like a release date get in the way of deciding that an album is finished?  It was officially available and for sale on Tidal on February 14th for one day, with one of the tracks repeating itself and featuring a glitch in the audio of another.  He then removed the option to purchase the album, making it only available via streaming.

Since then, he’s updated it numerous times with changes to the songs including edits to the music, the lyrics, and even adding new tracks to the album.  This is being seen in the industry as a game changer and an incredible innovation.

Vulture’s review of The Life of Pablo, which called the album “a brilliant work in progress,” said:

“There’s absolutely something noble about his endless tweaks to this piece of work, the many title changes and track-list swaps, inching ever closer to his idea of perfection.”

And The Verge said this of “Kanye West’s radical act of creative transparency”:

“It’s made a traditional release — picking a dozen tracks that fit well together and releasing them in one clump for purchase and evaluation — seem almost antiquated. You have to hand it to West: even when it feels like he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off, he finds a way to stumble into innovating.”

Are you shitting me?  “Something noble about his endless tweaks”?  Makes a “traditional release seem almost antiquated”? You’d really have to be on board the hype train for the whole trip to arrive at these stops.  He put out an unfinished, broken piece of entertainment, and he’s fixing it.  That’s what happened.  No more, no less.  This may be new to the music industry, but it certainly should not be a move that people want to see happen more and more.  And this isn’t new to the entertainment industry as a whole.  In fact, this is something that has been going on in the video game industry since PCs and consoles could be reliably expected to be connected to the Internet for long periods of time.

In the gaming biz this is seen as lazy and frustrating, rushing to put out a game to appease shareholders or a marketplace full of people who won’t stop hounding you just so you can shut them up and collect the money in advance, knowing there are problems to resolve, bugs to be worked out, even additional content to tack on to it.  These are things that gamers have come to begrudgingly accept to varying degrees, but no one truly likes it.  No one thinks it’s “brilliant” that Batman: Arkham Knight was unplayable on the PC on release day.  No one calls Bethesda “geniuses” every time they have to wait 20 minutes for a new patch to download so they can play a game they paid full price for and just want to enjoy.  These things are seen as an unfortunate byproduct of an industry trying to create something so complex that it essentially requires its audience to become beta testers at a certain point in order to get it in full working order.

“Yeah, but The Life of Pablo is so complex that there’s no way we could be expected to wait until he’s finished it!”  I’m sure someone believes that, someone who just couldn’t wait for Kanye’s next so-called-masterpiece.  I’m not that person.  It’s an album.  A collection of songs by a musician or group of musicians.  The basic process hasn’t changed for nearly a century: write, record, produce, master, release.  In that order.  There’s no reason for him to continue tinkering with it (they call it “patching” in game development), like he’s George Lucas trying to get Star Wars to meet his “true creative vision” (and ask fans of Star Wars how much they love all those changes and how much of a “genius” they think George Lucas is now).

If it wasn’t ready, if he wasn’t happy with the finished product, he has all the time in the world to fix it before making it available to the public.  That’s his job.  It’s what he does, that is, when he’s not distracted with tasks like deciding what color his $600+ Yeezy hoodie should be.  The day this business model becomes standard, basically releasing your unfinished demos for money and then pissing around with them until they’re finished (if you ever decide to finish them, why bother, you got the money now, right?), that’s the day the music industry loses what little goodwill it had left from fans, and the day profits drop even more.  And if you still think he’s a genius when his business decision to only release TLOP on Tidal as a streaming product resulted in it becoming one of the most pirated albums of all time and an estimated $10 million dollar loss in sales, well… I’m afraid we have different understandings of the word “genius”.

I think it means someone who is smart. You clearly don’t.

NOTE: Buckley reserves the right to edit this article until it’s considered perfect. Please let him know how much of a genius he is for this decision in the comments below.


Image by Robbie Sproule, altered under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).

38 Responses

  1. Remyboy

    You should fix your article so that it doesn’t say “drinking all the kool-aid”. I don’t think you want folks to be derailed by this phrase and start thinking about racism… You are on point with your thoughts of the work though.

    • Gwen

      There are two ways one could read into that phrase. 1) the way it has traditionally been used, to reference a cultlike mentality because of that cult that committed group suicide via drinking poisoned kool aid, or 2) “omg black people liking kool aid is a stereotype. ”
      Congratulations for flipping an old non racist metaphor into something related to “social justice” though.

    • Universal Indie Records

      I’m black and I took no offense to the phrase. This metaphor has been around for ages and the assumption would be that everyone with any common sense knows that.

    • Dom

      Drinking the kool-aid is not a racial reference, it’s a reference to the Jonestown massacre where a cult leader convinced all of his followers to drink poisoned kool-aid. Since then, it’s become synonymous with a group blindly worshipping or following a person or fad.

      • Jaded2424

        To be fair Jonestown’s congregation was predominantly Black.

    • dave

      that isn’t what he means by ‘kool-aid’. you are racist for thinking of it that way. it has to do w/ cults not race

  2. Thomas

    Is it bad that I read this in your voice? Ah, whatever. Still, you seem pretty on point (in my opinion, anyways, but I’m just one guy). You keep on keeping on, and pointing at more stupidity for the rest of the internet to enjoy. Thanks. You truly are my second favorite asshole (Right after the one I shit out of)

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    I’d question whether the album itself should be such a revered format. Drake’s latest album was technically a mixtape, or that’s what he said. Kygo doesn’t even care about the format, and Billboard can’t even figure out how to count it anymore. Maybe we’re trying to stuff a thousand square pegs into a old round hole.

  4. Yawn

    We’ve seen works in progress for decades from Lou Reed — a guy who, btw, was a genius, not just another misogynist.

    • Anonymous

      Tons of insecure artists have changed their songs over the years and released new versions again and again…

    • George

      Do you have examples of Lou Reed’s unfinished work? To this degree? I agree totally with the article. However, hip hop artists have been doing the mix tape thing for a while. Which to me means they have a bunch of songs that they completed that arent worthy of a the promotion and money involved with a big label release. They are not going back and editing the tracks because they are flawed sonically. But yea the album has been dead in hip hop for a while. Enjoyed the article.

      • Yawn

        Examples of Reed’s unfinished works? Any song he ever wrote. Listen to his live versions. He’s basically rewriting his entire catalog.

        Same thing with Dylan…

        • Lars

          Rock music has done that for awhile though. You’d go see Rock bands live to see what they’d do different and change up whole they were playing. It doesn’t mean the studio songs are unfinished though. Otherwise led Zeppelin, blues traveler and a bunch of other bands and artist have released unfinished music.

  5. Versus

    I cannot endure his music, vulgarity, or personality.

    However, there may indeed be a point to this approach. It is not so far removed from the endless stream of remixes which follow the “original version” of a track, and it may well be that one of those remixes becomes the one that resonates with audience and/or becomes the hit or definitive version. Then there are remastered versions released (cd: Led Zeppelin catalogue; how many times has it been remastered?). Then there is the whole mashup culture and DJ edit culture. Etc.

    So: Should/must there be a definitive version of a work? Of course, one of the reasons for such definitive versions is that it enables copyright. A work with a fluid ever-changing content becomes difficult to categorize and copyright.

    • Chelsea

      I consider there to be a significant distinction between releasing an unfinished album and:
      a) remastered versions of songs years after release to improve quality of sound (which is the sole intent of remastering, if I’m correct).
      b) remixes of songs, made by totally different artists and producers who want to add their own sound to a song.
      These are all stand alone products. I’m not complaining about there being a ‘lack of definitive product’, but it would seriously irritate me to buy an album to find that the sort of glitches and faults as described above.

  6. Devon L.

    The only thing Kanye should be praised for is eventually eating buckshot.

    He’s a loser pile of human waste who got lucky making the poor excuses he calls music and selling it to idiots.

  7. Hunter R.

    The sad part about the the whole ordeal, is that this will inspire some of the artists that admire Kanye to do the same thing and damage their own profit. I’m dumbfounded by the amount of morons that are successful in the music business; however, Kanye had to have done something right since he isn’t bankrupt yet, but than can change real fast, let’s hope it does so he hopefully learns a lesson from this mess.

  8. Sharquondrayusarius

    Kanye Genius fr fr, u Just Hatin Buckly, go make a musicel awtopsy of justin beiber

    • Dekoma

      +Sharquondrayusarius why don’t you go back to fucking school, you can’t spell for shit I didn’t even have to read your comment to know that I just saw the name and by the way it does not look like you are gonna be contending in spelling b’s anytime soon, why don’t you go “Hatin” on your 3rd grade teacher for not teaching you how to spell dumbass.

  9. TheObviousNinja

    Buckley was actually allowed to write for Digital Music News as a music critic…i mean, i get that he does Musical Autopsies and Worst of lists (and is usually pretty on-point whilst doing them), but it just kind of gets to me that these people think of him as a legitimate music critic that deserved to write for this site more than Rap Critic, Spectrum Pulse, TheNeedleDrop or even Todd in the Shadows.

    Buckley, i can see that you were just like “hey, i’ll get to make jabs at Kanye to a whole new audience: SIGN MY ASS UP”, so i’m going to give you a pass because i probably would have taken that gig as well. But for DMN, this just makes you look like more of a joke than you did when you let Jeff Price use your site to whore out Audiam.

    • Javier Garcia

      Buckley’s wit is sharper than the other critics you’ve mentioned; sure, their format may seem more ideal (i.e., more professional, less cursing, less vulgar) but it doesn’t render him (Buckley) less capable. He’s far more culturally conscious and able to articulate in a more biting and engaging way than the aforementioned critics. And that’s the sole reason(s) why he’s a better choice – it doesn’t make DM look stupid at all.

      • TheObviousNinja

        I can see what you mean and honestly i thought DMN actually pegged him as a music critic since that’s kind of what their site is about (plus WatchMojo actually did that). But, i still stand by my opinion that they still are kind of shitty for letting a guy write a whole article about how amazing his service is full of mis-information. I would understand that if they wrote an article about this guys service, but instead, they just let the guy talk on their website as a writer.

        • ShishkaB

          Anybody can be a critic, it doesn’t take a university degree.

    • Hayley A.

      If I may say my two cents worth, he is a radio show presenter. If someone with a musical degree were to write this article, I am positive that the outcome would probably be more technical and analytically professional. However, getting someone who primarily deals with this type of music and gets to see first-hand how our culture responds to it (in terms of how many people request songs, what they have to say in regards to the music, etc) does make for a very interesting perspective. Think about it, he basically gets to analyze how society responds to certain music and musicians on a day-to-day basis with a wide variety of people chipping in their opinions. So getting someone with that background, a strong fan base and even videos of him criticizing songs isn’t that bad, eh? I am sorry if this barely makes sense but I am about to go to sleep. I may make more sense in the morning ahaha x 🙂

    • Some Guy That Is From ADOB

      “I went tooo a party but it sucked so I left DONE.” ~ A Dose of Buckley 2016

      Please let this get out there.

  10. Lazy "masterpiece"

    Kanye turned in his “homework”(album) to his “teacher”(customers) and he is allowed to modify what he gave in order to “perfect” it? Once it’s done, it’s done. Can you imagine if the world worked like that? “Hey here’s your new car. It’s not finished yet because I need the brakes so I’ll come back later to ‘perfect’ it.” This isn’t innovative nor “genius”, he is relying on people to pay full price for a very lazy and poor quality product/piece of entertainment.

  11. Paul

    Another on point logical deconstruction from Buckley. Thank goodness there are people who can see past the nonsense that the music industry and their overpaid “artists” try to shove down our throat.

    This is just another instance of how much of a fool Kanye really is. I was highly impressed by him when he first arrived on the seen. Now, his deliveries are always DOA.

  12. Ava

    Very logical on point criticism , I’m glad there’s someone out there who can peer through the rubbish and piles of dogshit out there and see the truth and really doesn’t try to sugar coat it.
    Mature content that is high quality,
    Your an absolute genius for making this decision.

  13. Rick Shaw

    This article would have been truly genius had you not finished it.

  14. Ruby

    Thanks, Buckley!

    I always have a wonderful time listening to what you have to say, because you’re always so quick to point out the manure pile when many argue in favor of calling it “modern art.” While I do agree that Kanye has some definite talent in what he does musically, he’s also a pretentious, self-absorbed idiot who is entertaining enough and in the limelight to where he can pull shit off like this and have the public hail him “genius.”

    Like fuck, I have to wonder who the hell else these people consider a “genius” if Kanye makes that list.

  15. dave

    amazing article. i really want you to know that you are awesome, but i have to go figure out a math problem so i can post this comment.

  16. Mary

    Image this: you want a new house so you call up all the people necessary to build one for you. They give you an estimate of how long it will take and how much it will cost. ok, now a few weeks later, they call you to tell you the house is ready for you to move in. you’re in shock, this is so much earlier than expected but you’re just glad you get to live in your new house so you rush over there. once you get there you’re furious because the house isn’t even close to being done! you ask them what’s the deal, and they say that the house isn’t finished yet. they tell you that they came up with this amazing idea that they’ll let you move into the house before it’s finished, and they’ll keep coming back to work on it until it’s done. you think this is a ridiculous idea but your neighbors think it’s brilliant and that this is how it should always be done in the future.

    wouldn’t that be a shitty idea?