To many people’s surprise, Kendrick Lamar released his second album To Pimp a Butterfly late Sunday night/ early Monday morning, providing an exciting spark to begin the week. After a few full listens, I really like the jazz and funk direction Lamar took with this project. Overall, To Pimp a Butterfly is a very cohesive project that possesses a strong narrative, something that’s almost a rarity today. It’s an album that requires a straight listen from beginning to end to understand the racially charged message that Lamar is conveying. There’s no club bangers, no trap beats, or anything that sounds like current mainstream rap, making To Pimp a Butterfly a much-needed breather. Overall, this is a very good album from Kendrick Lamar, and he should be garnering a lot of critical reception for it soon.
Rather than dive into an in-depth review, which you can find on any music blog, I wanted to evaluate a couple business affects of Kendrick Lamar’s decision to release To Pimp a Butterfly so unexpectedly. It exemplifies the change in the music landscape.
- To Pimp a Butterfly is another major release that bypassed the “traditional process”. In the past, artists delivered a single to the radio station who then plays the song to create hype and promo for the upcoming album. Ideally, the single is a hit and drives people to buy the full album when it’s eventually Kendrick didn’t have a radio friendly hit (“i” was his lead single, but it didn’t get much play on the air or in the club), J. Cole and Drake released their albums without singles and both went on to sell pretty well, which is expected of Kendrick. With the rise of digital distribution platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud, it’s not necessary to rely on radio as a critical promotion channel anymore, especially if you’re a big named artist. You don’t have to craft radio friendly songs (i.e. Eminem’s typical first singles back in the day) because if the public likes it, the radio will eventually play it. It used to be that the radio influences what’s a hit, but now, the roles are reversed. What does it mean for radio? It’s still a popular means to consumer music, but it doesn’t have the power it once did. Do you still rely on the radio to inform you what’s good music? I certainly don’t.
- Well-known artist, like Kendrick Lamar, could cut back on their marketing budgets because their brand equity already does most of the work. Iconic brands like Coke, Nike, and Apple technically don’t have to spend much on marketing because their brands sell themselves. Artists like Beyonce, Drake, and Lamar can release their albums on whim with little invested in marketing and still sell. They don’t need extensive promo tours, commercials, billboards, etc to get people excited. Simply, a leaked song on the internet could get people into a frenzy. Kendrick did a couple radio interviews, performances on SNL and the Colbert Report, and shot out a couple tweets, and I’m sure that those media outlets were more than happy to have him on their program, as it probably benefited them than him. Usually, record labels are responsible for marketing a new project, and if less effort is generating a greater return, especially if the artists do it themselves, are these labels necessary players? If you were a star, why would you sign a percentage of your revenue away if you can do the marketing legwork yourself? There’s been the ongoing discussion of the role of labels, and in my opinion, they’re good for developing artists who have no brand recognition, However, once the artists rises to stardom, they’re almost unneeded.
Ultimately, what Kendrick has done demonstrates where the power is shifting in the music industry: the creators. Nowadays, if you’re able to create good content, you can that put it out pretty easily on your own terms. In Kendrick’s situation, he released it when he felt like when it was ready without really having to sell it. The middleman is fading, which benefits the artist and the end consumer.
Enough of the business talk, go get Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly out now on iTunes.