In the bewildering rules of the modern-day Billboard charts, 1,500 streams or 10 paid downloads of a song are counted as the equivalent of one album sold. That makes sense in a listening landscape dominated by Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal, but when a hit single comes from an unreleased album or is simply a non-album track, the plays it racks up are not credited to a title for the old school album charts. They're good for the artist, but they don’t help an album chart.
As the New York Times report, Sony sub-label Epic Records have now figured out a sneaky strategy to change that. Epic AF is an “album” (really digital playlist) compiling some of the most popular album-less songs of the summer: “Lockjaw” by French Montana and Kodak Black, “Don’t Mind” by Kent Jones, “Pick Up the Phone” by Travi$ Scott and Young Thug.
Cash-grab compilations are nothing new, but this is no Big Shiny Tunes. Since its release seven weeks ago, Epic AF has sold zero copies because you can’t buy it. Oddly, it’s still landed in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart four times.
When you think about it, it's not as bad as it seems. This could be an innovative strategy to highlight overlooked artists or deeper cuts from a label’s catalogue. However, with its garish Suicide Squad meets 7-11 cover art and cringe-inducing title, Epic AF feels like the major label equivalent of “How do you do, fellow kids?” It has the credibility of Norm Kelly tweeting about “fire mixtapes” or John Tory listening to Kanye West on the subway, and it might not work for much longer.
DJ Khaled’s album Major Key hit #1 on the charts last week, but before its release, streams of his songs “I Got The Keys” and “For Free” were counted towards Epic AF. The compilation has since dropped down to #32, and Billboard has now changed its rules so paid downloads of songs from Epic AF no longer count towards its chart position, though streams still do… for now.
While the lawless gold rush of streams and album charts continues, Sony plans to rush out another comp from Epic featuring pop artists followed by a similar release from its sibling sub-label RCA. Look for the upcoming release of Bae Songs, Big Shiny Tunes Fam, and Now That’s What I Call Yas Queen.