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No Country for Old (Rap) Men: The Art Of The Patched Rap Album

With Kanye still finalising "The Life of Pablo", Robbie explores the rising trend of album reworks

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Anyone who owns a modern video game console will tell you that the majority of big-budget games these days ship in a half-baked state and require that you download a series of ‘patches’ with fixes and changes to whatever you bought on the disc. This is great for developers, as it allows them to keep fixing problems and adding features for months after their game is released into the wild. Not so wonderful, however, for consumers who have to sit and wait a few hours before they can even play their new shit. The thought of little kids staring at a slowly progressing download progress bar on the TV screen through tear-filled eyes on a Christmas morning because they can’t play Minecraft until it updates does vaguely amuse me though.

This has only become feasible due to the ways in which distribution channels have evolved, and by the same token these current parameters are beginning to be applied to music. Where once an album was released as a finished product, with the only avenues to add onto to it being remixes and b-sides of 12 inch singles and the possibility of a future ‘special edition’ pressings with a bonus track or two, the prominence of streaming now makes it feasible to ‘patch’ a rap album, as Kanye West has apparently done with his latest effort.

Not that this is entirely unprecedented—old frenemies Jay Z and Nas have both previously tampered with their own albums post-release. Nas removed the universally panned ‘Bravehearts Party’ from the second pressing of Stillmatic, allegedly at the request of Mary J. Blige who may have regretted her involvement once she sobered up; while S. Carter went as far as to release The Blueprint 2.1 as a way of publicly admitting that the double album version was a bloated mess and needed some serious editing.

But the idea of rappers having the opportunity to shape and re-mould albums in response to critical response and fan feedback is certainly intriguing. Feeling some kind of way because everyone is claiming that one of your guests bodied you on your own song? Go and re-record your verse or take them off the song altogether! Likewise, if the artist suddenly decides to rework one of their beats altogether, or lay down entirely new vocals, what’s to stop them? If they’re lucky, maybe no one will even notice!

While there’s a danger that this technique might rob the original recordings of their spontaneity, it allows those projects rushed out the door to meet strict deadlines the opportunity to be properly fleshed out while allowing listeners to debate over which version is superior, perhaps resulting in recordings of earlier takes becoming digital rarities to be collected by obsessive completionists.

Will future rap message board threads abandon debating who’s top five dead-or-alive to argue over whether version 4.1 of the new Kendrick LP is better than version 6.3? Perhaps record labels can take a leaf from the video game companies and sell us an album with only eight songs and then make us purchase additional tracks for $5 each for the next four months, as they do with Call of Duty map packs.

Apparently Mr. West sold a million dollars worth of clothing in one day through his pop-up shop in Soho (another 52 days like that and he can repay Kim), but there’s still no sign of a CD version of the album, meaning that you either subscribe to Tidal *coughs* or bootleg that shit like the rest of us. At least he didn’t give it away through people’s phones though. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means advocating this concept. The effect that social media pressure and caving in to excessive fan-service has had on Hollywood was painfully apparent on the latest Star Wars film—an enjoyable romp, but unmistakably the product of ‘by committee’ filmmaking. It’s more important than ever that creative types are allowed to stay focused and deliver whatever it is that they wanted to, for better or worse. Even with putting aside my own non-progressive musical leanings, if the fans were able to dictate the future of rap, we’d have had Nas remaking Illmatic every six months, Kanye would still be rapping about college and Jay Z would still be telling us about the weight he moved in ’88.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.

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