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Music

Kanye West’s chaotic, unconventional ‘The Life of Pablo’ is now No. 1

Kanye West
Kanye West, shown during a 2015 performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Since its debut, Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” has eschewed conventional boundaries of an album release.

And West’s rollout of his seventh album — one that is chaotic, perplexing, exhausting and exhilarating — has continued to break the mold. Two months after its unconventional release the album has debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

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“The Life of Pablo” earned 94,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music.

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With just a small fraction of that sum (28,000 to be exact) coming from pure album sales, West’s album is the first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for which the majority of its units were generated by streaming equivalent albums.

According to Billboard, the 66,000 streaming equivalent albums equates to more than 99 million U.S. streams for the album’s tracks over the tracking week (every unit is equal to 1,500 streams from an album).

As for sales, since none of the tracks from the album was available for individual purchase, the album’s chart debut is based solely on streams and traditional album sales.

In mid-February, West debuted the album at a chaotic listening party/fashion show at a sold-out Madison Square Garden that also served as the debut for his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line.

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For weeks he had teased the elaborate presentation even though he hadn’t settled on an album name until a few days before its preview. It was originally titled “So Help Me God,” then “SWISH,” then “Waves” before West unveiled the album’s acronym was “TLOP.” He offered free tickets to the event (along with a pair of his custom-designed Yeezy shoes) to anyone who could decode those letters.

The album premiere was beamed in movie theaters across the globe and on the Tidal music-streaming service -- which at one point crashed under the weight of some 20 million people -- as the polarizing superstar showcased 10 tracks of “The Life of Pablo” while models wearing items from West’s new line expressionlessly stood onstage.

But following the bombastic album release event, there was no actual album to purchase. In fact, “The Life of Pablo” wasn’t even finished.

During his stint as a musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” days after the premiere event, West announced digital copies of the album were at last for sale via his personal website and streaming on Tidal.

But shortly after making the announcement, West pulled down the commercial version of “The Life of Pablo,” and those who had already shelled out $20 for the 18-track album complained on Twitter that the album had a glitch that excluded the record’s final track and instead repeated the song right before it.

In the end only the “unfinished” version of the album remained on Tidal. The streaming service offered refunds to those who didn’t want to wait for the official download and West urged his fans to subscribe to Tidal since he had no plans to release the album to other services, specifically Apple Music, before saying he’d never have the album pressed to CD.

Amid all the hoopla, those paying attention only to the whereabouts of West’s album received a massive bounty in the form of a folder that leaked to a hip-hop thread on Reddit. It included numerous never-before-tracks and alternate takes widely presumed to be from “The Life of Pablo” sessions.

West then began tinkering with the album in real time, and updating fans throughout the process. He released a new version of album track “Wolves,” and the album has continued to receive revisions including minor changes in the mixing, guest appearances and alternative lyrics.

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He then softened his stance on a wide release.

At the end of March he released the Rihanna and Swizz Beatz-assisted single “Famous” to both Apple and Spotify and on April 1 he released the full album to other services.

Before it was officially “released,” West’s album had long changed the conversation about finished albums and disrupted the traditional release models.

Even with “The Life of Pablo’s” exclusivity to one streaming site, people acquired West’s album in great numbers -- even if they refused to sign up for Tidal. More than 500,000 people had downloaded pirated versions of the album in the week after the album was released, according to file-sharing publication TorrentFreak.

And songs from the album were streamed 400 million times, globally, with Tidal claiming 250 million of those streams being logged in the first 10 days of its release.

“The Life of Pablo” marks West’s seventh consecutive No. 1 album.

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy

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