Pazz & Jop 2011: Nick Minichino On Funkmaster Flex's ALL-CAPS Premiere Of Jay-Z And Kanye West's "Otis"

To supplement this year's Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. This is from Nick Minichino, who voted specifically for Funkmaster Flex's premiere of Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Otis" this summer.

That was the driving force of it—to create that moment of unwrapping the CD and listening to it for the first time. It was a very old-school way for things to happen. People really were anticipating an album on a certain day and everyone got to experience it simultaneously.
—anonymous Roc Nation executive about Watch The Throne's tight leak policy

Before Watch the Throne, music-industry talk about the "album experience" always felt like code for BUY THE ALBUM and especially DON'T STEAL THE ALBUM, especially since, in practice, no one really seemed all that interested in preventing leaks. The external-hard-drives-in-locked-briefcases mystique of Steven J. Horowitz's Billboard story (from which the above quote is sourced) merely revealed that, prior to this album, basic data protection was a skill music-biz folks had yet to learn.

And yet. Despite disheartening leaks Jay-Z and Kanye West had experienced in the past (the article cites My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy tracks, but there are plenty of other examples at least as far back as The Black Album in 2003) the "old-school" motivation rings true, thanks to plenty of other elements of the album's release. Of course, having actually exerted control over who will hear one's album before its release enabled quite a bit of the hoopla, and allowed the artists to make an event—complete with pop-up shop—out of the release. Having the money and power to ensure a release date before the release of a single allowed them to use the single's hype to goose album excitement (and vice versa)—a ploy only a handful of other rappers would be able to replicate. And the "listening party" allowed them, however briefly, to re-inscribe critics as gatekeepers.

That said, the crucial element of the old-school presentation was the premiere of "Otis." There was enormous incentive to determine the best possible venue and timing to release the first "real" single, especially after "H.A.M." debuted and sank. Jay-Z and Kanye West could have put the song anywhere online at any time, held it for the video and had an MTV premiere (which they got anyway), or made it an event in any number of other ways. Instead they premiered the song, relatively unannounced, on a Wednesday evening over terrestrial radio in New York City.

It goes without saying that until recently, if new music wasn't on the radio, you didn't hear it—especially rap, which, Yo! MTV Raps aside, didn't get the television airplay it deserved until the shiny-suit era. Mixtapes didn't travel all that effectively until the internet changed the game, and that happened just in time for the physical-mixtape business to get attacked. (Today is the five-year anniversary of DJ Drama's arrest.) If radio airplay didn't matter, would anyone care who Stretch and Bobbito are? That said, for nearly twenty years, Hot 97 has been the hip-hop station in the hip-hop city, and therefore the place to premiere big New York City rap singles. (One noteworthy example comes from Just Blaze: in 2002, he gave Dipset over-the-phone permission to use the "Oh Boy" beat, expecting to re-record the sample to save on royalties, but then on his way to the studio to meet them, he heard the song on Hot 97. In the time Just Blaze's drive took, Cam'ron and Juelz Santana had written and recorded their verses and the crew had immediately run the track over to the station—without bothering to clear the sample at all.)

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