Music is like a fresh-out-of-the-oven pie. It needs to to cool down and breathe before you consume it. Perhaps you should tap it to your chin, like Robert on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Take it in too early and you may miss something. If you’re too late, nostalgia and distance take over and make it a whole different experience. Cold pie is still good, but it’s different: removed and disengaged, unless you hit that sweet spot in the middle.
Kanye West’s “Yeezus” debuted on June 18th, alongside J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” and Mac Miller’s “Watching Movies With the Sound Off”.
“Yeezus” flew out of the gate, moving 328,000 copies in the first week. “Born Sinner” checked in at a touch below 300,000 and Watching lagged behind at 100,000. After one week, Kanye was the clear champion.
First week sales are purely based on hype, marketing and word of mouth. First week sales are generally not a reflection of the music, because nobody’s heard the music yet. Granted, leaks hurt this claim, but the majority of people buying in the first week are buying without having heard anything more than the single. For “Yeezus,” there wasn’t even a prototypical radio hit to excite the paying masses. So what is the first week “Yeezus” consumer really buying?
They were buying Kanye.
Here we are in September, and J. Cole has sold more albums than “Yeezus.” The numbers speak for themselves. “Born Sinner” is the clear overall champion, by about 60,000 units.
Are people still buying Kanye? Of course.
But why? Why is always the crucial question: Why did the pre-sale event in Chicago sell 9,000 records? Why does this man sell out venues all over the world? The answer is bigger than that.
It’s the “why?” of Kanye’s Nike sneaker, the “Air Yeezy,” that sells for thousands of dollars on Ebay. The “why?” is the wonder of Kanye. “Why?” is what we ask ourselves when comprehending the magnitude and magnetism of Chicago’s most artistic son. The paparazzi follow him everywhere from Bulls games to Fashion Week and enrage him in the process. And everyone is tuned in to Kanye West.
This is an information age. We consume products at all times. Nobody is a better producer than Kanye, in every sense of the word. He is the most compelling figure of our day. “Captivating” is not a strong enough word.
Bigger than anything that music, especially rap, has seen before.
In a world where music is dominated by the simplistic things, Kanye is able to stay at the top while doing the opposite. He isn’t just a musical artist. He’s not just a visual artist, a clothing designer or an architect (that’s right, the man designs buildings).
We love the combination. It’s not the fact that he makes great music, prophetic clothing designs and entertaining content of all stripes. It’s that he does it all together, that a single individual who happens to have an insatiable desire to continually create greatness can accomplish all of this. And he knows it.
That’s what we’re buying: a part of this creator. A man’s mind artistically displayed for all to see and hear. We’re buying confident creativity from its finest source.
Back to music: “Born Sinner” is better. Although it didn’t win the first week battle, “Born Sinner” went from being down by 30,000 units to “Yeezus” to beating the sales number by 60,000. That shows you the strength of J. Cole’s sophomore album.
It doesn’t make Kanye weak; it just means that what he produced was not strong enough to maintain the lead that his marketing genius, persona and track record gave him.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @benwong3