Questioning the Ethicality of Music Leaks
Prior to the year 2020, the opinion of New Orleans-based rapper Jay Electronica was comparable to that of an enigma.
Deemed “the best to never do it” by some, Electronica showed the potential of a generational artist yet never blossomed from there.
To put things into perspective here, Electronica was expected to drop the highly teased “Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn),” a follow up to his debut mixtape, in 2012. The project had been teased since 2007 with nothing to show.
Following the shut down of the world came the end to Electronica’s hiatus, releasing his official debut, “A Written Testimony,” a project met with mixed reviews due to the lack of the rapper’s presence on the album. It was a collaboration between himself and Jay-Z, with the latter seeming to take firm control of it.
The wait for “Act II” was still in progress with the possibility that it might take years to ever hear from Electronica again.
Then, suddenly, just as surprising as his return was, Electronica’s “Act II” was released—“released” being the key word here, as the project was actually leaked by a group of Discord users who banded together to make it public.
Following the leak, Electronica collaborated with Jay-Z once again to put “Act II” on the latter’s streaming service, Tidal.
Despite not being entirely polished and mixed, “Act II” is a phenomenal body of work that showcases Electronica’s natural abilities as a rapper.
Electronica is one of the many artists who have experienced their projects being leaked to the masses prior to an official release. The question that many listeners might wonder is why the rapper kept this stored away for so long.
Hip-hop has become a genre defined by leaks. From a more popular perspective, artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti are the poster boys for leaks, as it almost seems as if fans release their music for them.
Uzi and Carti even have Reddit pages just dedicated to their music leaks, which lead down the rabbit-hole discovery of Google Drives and MEGA folders filled with unreleased music.
Sixty-seven unreleased snippets and tracks were found in the Playboi Carti Google Drive, while the MEGA folder for Lil Uzi Vert featured well over a gigabyte of unreleased work, as well as over 800 megabytes of music not found on streaming sites.
One might wonder about the reward these Robin Hood like leakers might receive.
According to Consequence of Sound, some leakers have made upwards of $60,000, taking in the royalties from streaming services.
The idea of leaking music is not just some underground concept, littered with folders of unreleased and unpolished work. One of the most notorious leaks revolved around the unreleased Wu-Tang Clan album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” after its purchase of $2 million by a man named Martin Shkreli.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s due to Shkreli’s work in the pharmaceutical industries, in which he earned the nickname “Pharma Bro.” He gained infamy after he increased the price of the prescription drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750.
After already creating the villainous image with his work in pharmaceuticals, Shkreli’s next target was music. After winning the bid for the rap group’s unreleased project, he kept it to himself, leaving the outside world looking in.
It was not until the 2016 election when Shkreli prompted the idea of leaking the album: if Donald Trump were to win the presidency, Shkreli would play the album for everyone to hear.
Following Trump’s victory, Shkreli teased the world by playing a few snippets of the project on a livestream. Any released content from the project beyond Shkreli can be found on YouTube.
In this idea of giving the world what they are waiting for, one might ask: is it ethical?
Sure, these artists are incredibly well off, seeing success with the projects they have released publicly, but there is more to the music than just the artist. Producers and audio engineers are a part of the process, and with these leaks, they are not receiving the credit they truly deserve.
It also should be noted that these leaks are not official releases. The tracks being put out are not complete the majority of the time, like the aforementioned “Act II.” Whether it be mixing issues or brevity in the length, leaks typically do not encapsulate the sound of a fully-fledged track.
Music leaks have now become the rival medium to streaming services, thanks in part to its quantity-over-quality approach. Whether it be from Reddit pages or a real-life Lex Luthor, the rabbit hole of leaks will only continue to grow.
Joe Eckstein is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Fourth year / Broadcast Journalism