One of the reasons people love [artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist] is because he always does things his own way. But when news broke on Wednesday that Amazon.com had shipped 500 copies of Wayne's serially delayed Rebirth album to pre-order customers despite the disc's release date recently bumping to February 1, even hard-core fans had to wonder how the hip-hop game-changer was going to deal with this unexpected road hazard.
"I've never heard of major distributor making a mistake like this and allowing an album to come out before the date," said hip-hop industry veteran Marc Byers, who has guided the careers of Eve and Beanie Sigel. "As big an artist as Wayne is, I can't fathom how a mistake like that can happen. But, the beauty of what Wayne has created is that I think his fans will still show up and buy his records."
Byers said the track record Wayne built up with his previous album, Tha Carter III — which also leaked early and still went on to be the top-selling album of 2008 — in addition to the tireless work the rapper has put into keeping his fans stocked with fresh music could help him overcome a situation that would seriously challenge a lesser artist.
While spokespeople for Wayne's label and Amazon had not returned requests for comment at press time, Keith Caulfield, senior chart manager at Billboard magazine, said this hiccup might one day just be looked at as yet another bizarre twist in the unconventional delivery of Rebirth. "What may happen is this could prompt the label and Wayne to rejigger the track list for album that will ultimately come out," he said of the disc, which has had half a dozen release dates so far dating back to early 2009, and which has been long tipped as Wayne's "rock" album and features the Eminem collaboration "Drop the World." "But if 1 million copies were manufactured, what do they do with them? Or do you stick with these tracks and release the album as is in February?"
It's likely the entire album will be available online before week's end — if it isn't already — which may burst the anticipation bubble that's been building for the past nine months about tracks featuring Blink-182's Travis Barker, among others. Caulfield said the situation could give Wayne's label a chance to add new tracks to give fans who show up on February 1 something to look forward to. "This is really uncharted territory," he said. "This is a project that's so unique I really don't know what will happen next. Certainly there are many people at his label discussing the many different ways they can handle this situation, and they might include rushing it out there in the next two weeks or holding it back and adding tracks."
What Caulfield can't figure out is what Universal would do with the reported 1 million copies of Rebirth that have already been pressed. "They could, in theory, destroy those copies and go back and remanufacture them, but that seems kind of expensive and I'm not sure anyone has ever done that before." Like Wayne, he said, Universal may just have to make it up as they go along.
Luckily for Weezy, Byers said he has one of the savviest management/marketing teams in all of hip-hop behind him, Hip Hop Since 1978, and he's confident they can figure out a way to turn this negative into a positive. "The key thing is to ramp up the marketing and move up the release date," he said. "The fans are already ready because Wayne has positioned them to never not be ready. With all the push-backs, the anticipation has built up enough that he can pick the spot of his choosing and say, 'We need to come with this in two or three weeks and turn marketing up.' Either way, I think they can recover 100 percent."