In the age of streaming, an artist can endlessly tweak their masterpieces but where does it end?
It has only been a couple of weeks since Nicki Minajreleased her album Queen. You would think shed be happy with the end result given shes had four years to tinker with it (48 months is basically three decades in Drake years). Not so: Just listened to [opening track] #GangaBurns after a long day & realized that I hate how low I made the hook. Gotta get it swapped out, she tweeted hours after the album was first made available.
Until recently, Minaj would have had no option but to grumble to herself, joining the many artists, from Radiohead to Lorde, who loathe sections of their back catalogue. But now, she can re-record parts she doesnt like and change the files on Spotify. Indeed, she has already added another song, FEFE, to the record, noting that because of streaming, we can update the albums. In fact, if you downloaded Queen, Kanye Wests The Life of Pablo and Travis Scotts Astroworld the day they came out then, well, first of all youre a very strange person who still pays to get MP3s, but also youll have outdated versions of those records.
Kanye was the first major artist to publicly own the fact that he was releasing an unfinished record, with his label Def Jam announcing, on the day The Life of Pablo came out, that in the months to come, Kanye will release new updates, new versions, and new iterations of the album. They called this an innovative, continuous process; the album will be a living, evolving art project, which is basically label-speak for: We have literally no idea what Kanye might do, no one here even has his mobile number.
In the months that followed, Kanye put Vic Mensa and Sias parts back on Wolves after previously removing them, and added the song Saint Pablo. Kanye appears to have encouraged his proteges to take a similar attitude to finality. Teyana Taylor, whose record was executive-produced by West, briefly floated the idea of releasing an updated version of it once the samples had been cleared. Travis Scott, also on Wests label, followed a similar path after fans complained that Astroworld track Yosemite was badly mixed.
Why stop there? There are a couple of records I would love to tweak, with or without the artists consent. Id start by making a version of Rita Oras Your Song that comes up with a better rhyme for sad songs than mad songs, then Id set about taking all the skits off every hip-hop record ever.
Some purists might argue that records are windows into a particular point in time and artists should leave them alone as a record of that particular moment, but then those are probably the same people who will spend 50 on a deluxe version of a Peter Gabriel album, remastered using technology unavailable at the time it was recorded, to play on their fancy soundsystems. So, who are the real philistines?