Superstar albums and early leaks go hand in hand, as Lil Wayne knows too well. In 2007, songs from the rap titan’s sixth LP, Tha Carter III, leaked months in advance, forcing him to retool the set for a 2008 release. Online habits haven’t changed since, but when Wayne’s manager, Cortez Bryant, spoke to Rolling Stone on August 24th, he had high hopes that Wayne’s new album, Tha Carter IV, would break the streak.
“I think we’re lucky this time.” Bryant said of Wayne’s ninth album, which was officially set to premiere on iTunes at midnight on August 29th after his closing performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, and everywhere else that same day. “We held it until the last moment we could, and we didn’t send any songs or beats by e-mail – we used iChat, or a person had to get on a plane to share music…I’m knocking on wood before I get off the phone with you and it’s all over the Internet.”
Hours later, Tha Carter IV leaked. As fans sucked up bandwidth to download it, others wondered exactly what artists have to do to keep a hot album under wraps: Hotel studio sessions? Pelican briefcases? Biometric fingerprint detectors?
Pretty much. Three weeks before Carter IV dropped, Jay-Z and Kanye West reportedly used exactly that Mission Impossible-level of security to successfully thwart leaks of their joint album, Watch the Throne. According to a label source, the duo also footed the bill for pressing plants to stay open over the weekend, allowing them to print copies down to the wire. But the strategy also had most music retailers, who depend on marquee releases to boost their business, fuming: Best Buy carried physical copies of Throne exclusively for two weeks, leaving them in the dust. “Your decisions will be doing great damage to over 1,700 independent record stores,” they wrote in an open letter to Jay-Z and West.
Wayne is no stranger to controversial rollouts: I Am Not a Human Being, released while the MC was still in prison, was a digital-only album for two weeks before CDs were let loose. Bryan “Birdman” Williams, CEO of Cash Money Records, says Wayne went the equal-opportunity route this time because those tactics “just piss everybody off. This is one of the biggest releases of the year, and we wanted to make sure that everybody got to play their part at the same time.”
Cash Money delivered Carter IV to Universal about 10 days in advance, which Williams says was necessary to press the two million units being shipped in its first week. “The goal is to sell a million-plus copies,” he explains. Although that’s likely what led to Carter IV breaking free, Williams says he’s actually OK with leaks, to a point. “I can deal with it for short period of time,” he says. It’s when you have a leak out for a long time that it’s crazy.”