Kendrick Lamar’s latest album "To Pimp A Butterfly" broke a single-day streaming record on Spotify with a staggering 9.6 million streams Monday, a spokesman for the service said Tuesday. The nearly 80-minute album is already being hailed a seminal work by peers and critics just two days after its surprise digital release late Sunday.
"To Pimp A Butterfly" appeared on the free streaming service and iTunes a week before it was scheduled to be released. It was pulled from iTunes for a brief time a few hours later, which helped boost the album’s performance on Spotify.
All 16 of the album’s tracks were charting on the Spotify Top 200 as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. For the most part, listeners appear to have decided to listen to the album’s tracks in order, as the earlier tracks in the record have charted higher and descended in album order. The most-streamed track is the album’s opener, "Wesley’s Theory" and the least-streamed is the album’s 12-minute closer, "Mortal Man."
It has been convention for records to be released either physically or through a paid download service like iTunes before hitting streaming services like Spotify. Spotify pays artists and their labels royalties based on a somewhat complex formula that factors in the service’s monthly revenue and the artist’s streams as a percentage of all the service’s streams. Spotify is free, but users can pay $9.99 per month to listen without ads and have access to an expanded service, which includes the option to “sync” tracks to a computer or mobile device, almost like a download. Billboard estimates "To Pimp A Butterfly" has brought in around $44,000 from Spotify streams.
The calculus behind the unconventional release isn’t clear, but as Uproxx noted, a number of artists have recently embraced streaming and digital releases over physical releases in a bid to get maximum exposure and generate as much revenue as possible in a digital music landscape that makes piracy and album “leaking” easier than ever. A leak is when someone, whether that be a label employee, a radio station intern or a journalist, either deliberately or accidentally distributes copies that find their way onto free download websites ahead of the album’s scheduled release. In 2015, a leak is all-but inevitable with the many avenues available to would-be leakers and the few resources artists and labels have to combat it.
Some theorize "To Pimp A Butterfly" hit Spotify and iTunes a week early to completely blow any potential leak out of the water, much like Beyoncé did in December and Drake did in February. Others think it was a scrambled release after word got to Lamar and his label TDE that a leak was imminent. Others say it was just an adventurous way to put out an album.
The much-hyped record takes listeners on an odyssey through a landscape of jazz and soul samples, lush electronic production, spitfire lyrical delivery and spoken word passages from the 27-year-old rapper and his associates. Los Angeles-based bass guitar virtuoso Thundercat appears on a number of tracks, while Snoop Dogg, George Clinton and Ronald Isley also make appearances.