RiRi Reveals #Anti: Is The Power In A Surprise Album Drop, Or A Leak?

Last night, an extraordinary event occurred. After years of anticipation, Her Royal Highness Princess Robyn Rihanna Fenty released the cover art for her new album, Anti. It is a glorious day. We plebes just saw it on Instagram, but Rihzus officially unveiled the work, by contemporary artist Roy Nachum, at the MAMA Gallery in L.A. While this is the first news of any progress on the album, once known as R8, there’s still no album release date. Our money’s on a surprise drop, á la Beyoncé

#ANTi #coverart @roynachum

A photo posted by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

Artists like Rihanna and Queen B can pull this off. Their albums will sell, no matter what, and labels need them more than they need the labels. But for lesser-known musicians, it’s easy to get stuck in the juggernaut that is the pop music industry — even on TV shows. People like Sky Ferreira can get passed around for years, recording music and never releasing anything. So sometimes, the only thing to do is leak your own album: just ask Hakeem on Empire.

After being blocked from releasing his album on his new label, the Empire character leaked his own album — much to the chagrin of his father, Lucious “Snitch Bitch” Lyon. But of course, like most things on everyone’s favorite TV show, it’s inspired by real artists.

We’re not talking about pulling a Beyoncé, but rather straight-up taking the tracks from your album and putting them on Soundcloud like Angel Haze did for their debut album Dirty Gold. The album leak isn’t just a surprise; it’s a surprise “fuck you,” right into the face of the label.

In essence, leaking your own album is the ultimate power move. Used by artists from Fall Out Boy to Death Grips, it’s an easy way to take back control of your own music. And while being obviously badass, there’s always a bit of an ethical quandary wrapped up in album leaks.

An album leak is always a risk. While studies show that for artists that are already popular, leaked songs can actually improve sales, for more off-the-radar musicians, there’s no guarantee that an album will sell after a leak. And while after getting to the point of leaking an album you’d assume an artist is okay with decreased sales, theirs isn’t the only livelihood wrapped up in the album’s success.

In your head, it’s easy to think that the money made from an album goes just to the label and the artist, and that by releasing an album, the label is simply cut out. But there’s other people to think of: songwriters, producers, sound engineers. How does an early album leak affect them?

The ethics of an album leak are pretty complicated when you get to the nitty-gritty of it, but, we’ll be honest, as consumers of music, we’re just excited to get some new jams as soon as possible.

Photo of Rihanna via The Fader. 

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