Often words begin with a singular meaning in a certain context, and evolve into various meanings. Examples of words that have evolved and added to the book of slang, in the hip hop context are: dope, ill, fresh, word, sick, etc. In our opinion, there is a difference between the evolution of dope, ill, fresh, word, sick, etc, and the term leak. The difference is these words evolved from a singular meaning in a certain context, to a new meaning in a different context.

Over the past 10 years, industries across the world have been adjusting to an increase of black market products, and digital content is definitely one of them. Free music downloads entered the music world in 1999 when Napster became popular with its file sharing software. Napster allowed users to illegally gain access to copyrighted music, including music that was not intended to be released. This became the tool that gave leaks it’s legs.

So what does leak mean? By definition, a leak is an unintended opening, through which content is allowed to escape its original location.

When used in the context of the music industry, a leak can occur anytime that the record is released without authorization from the label and/or artist.

Let’s look in detail, how a record gets leaked. Here are some examples:
At the studio: a record can be leaked by individuals that have access to the hard drive the song is housed on. An individual would have to purposely email, download, or post the record online where it is subject to be made available world wide via the internet.

At the label: a record can get leaked if a label rep sends a song to DJ’s to gather a “buzz” potential. Also, excitement on a record is hard to contain, and someone at the label may send it to one of their friends to they can join in on the excitement, trusting their friend will not share it.

At media outlets: a record can get leaked by the label or pr company when servicing media outlets soliciting coverage or an album review. Someone at these media outlets can upload the content online or send the music to a friend.

At the manufacturer: a record can be leaked by an employee working to manufacture thousands of copies of the record. It just takes one “defective” compact disc to disappear for the record to get leaked.

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Examples of mainstream/secular albums that were leaked:
• Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Food and Liquor’ album experienced the negative effects of leaking. Songs on the leaked edition consisted of unfinished songs such as “Pressure” which contained a song with, only Lupe’s verses and without a hook. There was buzz about the album being available before release of course, however there was a lot of talk, if not more talk, that the songs were lackluster. That is where negative effects come into play when a project gets leaked. If the leaked copy is not a completed song, or if it hasn’t been mixed and mastered, it will tend to be less impressive.

• Dr. Dre’s much anticipated album ‘Detox’ has been the talk of the hip hop world for the past decade. Recently he unveiled during an interview that the first single would be “Under Pressure.” So when the first “single” was leaked it appear it wasn’t the authentic version. It was later revealed that someone hacked their email and downloaded the song. The feedback on the song wasn’t positive, and that’s because the song wasn’t complete.

There have been some success stories from leaks.

• Kanye West’s hit single “Jesus Walks” was leaked along with his entire debut album ‘College Dropout’. Jesus Walks was received by rave reviews. Kanye quickly countered the problematic leak by dropping a mixtape of the leaked material. This ultimately helped the buzz around the album and Kanye and due to the leak in conjunction with Kanye’s counterattack, the album very likely sold more than it would have, and catapulted him to where he is now. On the other hand, leaks weren’t as common in 2004 when ‘College Dropout’ released, and as a result of the leak, a very different ‘College Dropout’ was released to incentivize buyers to purchase the album. Our opinion is the leaked version was much better than the retail version.

While there are instances that (involuntary) leaks have both, helped and hurt an album’s sales, in almost all cases the artist has to replace the leaked songs or include more songs than originally planned. This is necessary to add incentive for buyers to purchase the album, and to add something knew and unknown to the public to recreate a mystery around the album so there is a new marketing angle. This ultimately ends up hurting the pocket of the artist (and their team), because as you may or may not know, major labels typically only front the cost for 12 songs, and anything beyond that come directly from, and is a cost up front, to the artist. Additionally, an album will traditionally be a cohesive project. So if some or all of an album is leaked, and the artist has to record new songs to combat the leak, this breaks the cohesiveness of the album and the listener doesn’t get the chance to listen to it in its intended form.

Examples of Christian Hip Hop albums that were leaked:
• There are none.

  The Christian music industry has the most loyal fan base in the industry. The moment a site posts up illegal music, supporters protest on behalf of the artist and fans to stop unethical downloads. The leaking cycle differs for Christian music. We generally do not hear of leaks in the Christian industry due to the fact that labels usually keep close security with retail outlets. Albums generally take 2-3 weeks to land on iTunes, but some distribution companies can provide services that allow you to distribute albums to stores 3-5 days before release. Therefore, there is much less chance of anyone receiving the project early.

For example, Reach Records keeps their album releases on lock. Amazon doesn’t have snippets, iTunes doesn’t have a “pre-order” option nor do websites have the album for review until very close to the release date. Within Christian media, projects used to have to be submitted for coverage 1-3 months prior to the release. However, with CCM Magazine and others converting to or joining online media, labels can submit a project within the month for coverage.

Christian Hip Hop does not see leaked music. This is a wonderful thing! Not seeing leaked music in Christian Hip Hop shows that we are doing something right. Not leaking music means that those involved in making the album, as well as media promoting it, are both valuing each other, for God’s glory. However, we are embracing an unhelpful evolution of the word leak. When Christian Hip Hop uses the word, it is used in the same context as the original word, but is used for the sole purpose of exploiting the popularity of the original meaning of the word. The reason the word has been exploited, is because when songs or albums were (really) leaked, there was a frenzy by fans and media outlets to get the music. In Christian Hip Hop, there are a lot of “leaks” being released. If you, the artist, label, or anyone involved in the production or promotion of your music, send in a song to any media outlet for coverage… that is not a leak! If you are looking to gain a buzz, you are better off releasing an official single or free downloads to develop a buzz.  

We (Rapzilla) have used the term in the past, but realized it was misleading and supporting, in our opinion, the degradation of integrity that we, and many others in Christian Hip Hop worked hard to achieve. To be clear, this article is not to talk about how Christian Hip Hop sucks, or to point fingers at any particular artist, label, or website using the term. Jay-Z released a song called “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)”, which addressed the over use of autotune. We took that idea for the title of this article, attempted to educate and to ultimately bring D.O.L. (Death Of Leaks). Let’s be proud that we are held and adhere to a higher standard than the secular music industry. D.O.L.