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The Lost Age of the Full Album Experience

It’s a question that’s been talked about, written on, and argued over to death: Has the evolution of the Internet been an asset or a detriment to music? More specifically, to hip-hop music?

Now, I’m not going to set out to try to answer this here. The answer is as layered as my second favorite kind of cake (I see you ice cream cake), and as complicated as George Steinbrenner’s legacy (R.I.P.). With that being said, I’ll touch on a few of the ramifications.

I think it’s great that anyone with a computer has enough credentials to be a rapper. But I think it sucks that anyone with a computer has enough credentials to be a “rapper.”

I think it’s great that fans can discover artists in new and more numerous ways than they could in the past. But I think it sucks that many talented artists get lost in the shuffle.

I think it’s great that you can get music for free. But I think it sucks that artists are having lower sales. However, I think it’s great that this can give them more incentive to do live shows.

From a personal standpoint, though, there’s been one aspect that sticks out as one I truly don’t like, but it’s become one I can’t avoid.

Today is Tuesday, and that means it’s album release day. It’s meant that for I don’t know how long, but definitely as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Internet age, but even so, there were plenty of Tuesdays (or, really, any day of the week) where I would hit the store to cop an album. I’d rip the plastic exterior with relative ease, then usually get frustrated by the sticker over the top and/or bottom of the case. Once I won that battle, though, I’d pop the CD in my discman (yikes), hop on the bus (what up 39), and listen to the record from front to back. Or, as I got older, I’d wait till I got home and throw it on my iPod, computer, or in the stereo. But the result was the same: Listening to an entire album for the first time and having it all be new, save for a single or two.

Earlier today, I just got my hands on an album that’s coming out in the next week or so, and although I’m excited to listen to it, I’ve already heard more than half of the songs. Literally. And while those songs have all been dope, I’m a little disappointed.

I’m not disappointed in the artist, nor the album, just the situation. And it’s not a unique one, although having heard half the album is a bit much. In this current climate, it happens a lot. Songs leak, we listen. We get the album, we know many of the songs. Our opinions on the albums are shaped by this.

And I’m not criticizing entire album leaks. Those are nearly unavoidable today. My gripe is with listening to that entire leaked album and already knowing tracks 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13. There’s something about listening to an album fresh; something about consuming a project as an entire body of work.

Again, no one is really at fault here, it’s just the way things are. Songs get posted on sites, and how can we not listen? We’ve all been waiting for that certain feature from the album, or that artist-producer combo, or whatever the case is. Why shouldn’t we click, download, listen, repeat?

There have been rare recent occasions where I’ve tried to avoid doing this, hoping to listen to an entire album fresh for my first experience with it. It’s tough.

Shortly before the release of L.A.X., many of the tracks from Game’s third LP leaked. My boy would text me, “Did you listen to ‘Letter to the King?’” My answer was no. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I wanted to check out the album as a whole. I remember him half mocking me, half expressing his jealousy. In the end, when I finally listened to L.A.X. in its entirety, which was my first listen for most songs besides “My Life” and one or two others, I thought it was a dope album. I probably would have felt that way regardless, but my first listen to it from front to back, as well as a few subsequent, was truly an experience.

I did the same for Nas’ Untitled, with similar results. There are only a few other widely anticipated albums with abundant track leaks that I’ve tried or been able to do this with. Like I said, it’s hard. And half the time, I don’t even want to do it. Oh, Drake and Jay-Z? Fuck it, I’m in.

To me, a great album is an experience. A full experience. And splicing up that experience can often times take something away from it.

But, alas, this is the life we chose. What about y’all? —Adam Fleischer

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