When I first saw the numbers for 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne's best friends forever album, Collegrove, I was a little surprised. Granted, Chainz and Wayne are no longer at the height of their respective popularity, but they're still both a big deal, I expected more than the 34K copies sold, 53K when equivalent streams are included. By contrast, Kendrick Lamar's surprise untitled/unmastered album had dropped the same day as Collegrove and racked up 178K in sales and equivalent streams and I wondered, did Chainz and Wayne get washed out by Kendrick?
It's a question that came to mind again when I was reading Chainz new interview with Rolling Stone when he addressed the album competition between him and Kendrick directly:
Rolling Stone: Were you pissed off that Kendrick dropped Untitled on the same day as Collegrove?
2 Chainz: No, [laughs] I wasn't pissed off. I knew Kendrick was coming out the same day. I had the opportunity to change. That's what the game needs. I'm actually a fan of the boy too.
First, 2 Chainz knew Kendrick's surprise album was going to drop ahead of time? I walked my way up the label ladder and sure enough, Chainz is signed to Def Jam which is distributed by Universal, and Kendrick is signed to TDE which is signed to Interscope which is distributed by...you guessed it...Universal, who I have to assume are the ones who gave him the "opportunity to change." Go high enough and it really is like two guys running everything, the Illuminati is real.
But more importantly, did Chainz make the right call in refusing to move Collegrove's release day, and does same day album competition even really exist in 2016?
To be sure, there was a time when head-to-head album competition was a very real thing. Take Kanye and 50 Cent's famous Graduation vs. College Dropout competition. At that time you really might have only had $10 to spend and were forced to choose between the two, or on the flipside, you might walk into the store intending to only buy one album, but then see the other in the store window and make a splurge impulse purchase.
Now though, that kind of one-or-the-other physical choice doesn't really exist. No one's going into a store, no one has to choose, all music is free, or essentially free; if you have a subscription to a streaming service, you can listen to one album or 400, it's all the same price. So in that sense, Collegrove wasn't really competing directly against untitled/unmastered like it might have been ten years ago.
Instead, we now live in an attention economy—both Kendrick and 2 Chainz were and are competing with everything on the internet period. Collegrove could have been the only album that dropped that day or week, but Drake still might have rolled through with two new singles the same day and grabbed every headline and social media conversation. Albums don't compete with albums anymore, they compete with songs and YouTube videos and Netflix shows and porn and memes and stories and everything else on the internet fighting to pry our attention away from something and towards it.
So in that sense, it wasn't necessarily untitled/unmastered the album that might have hurt Collegrove's album sales, it was HOLY SHIT KENDRICK JUST DROPPED A NEW ALBUM that might have hurt Collegrove's album sales. The times they are a-changing my friends.