Amazon Ships Lil Wayne’s ‘Rebirth’ Months Ahead Of Street Date

Billboard: While most of Lil Wayne’s fans will have to wait until at least February in the New Year for his often-promised and often-delayed “Rebirth” album, about 500 Amazon customers who pre-ordered the album are enjoying the record already, thanks to a shipping mishap.

According to sources and an e-mail to Billboard from an Amazon customer, the online merchant sent copies of the album to some customers who pre-ordered “Rebirth.” The album began arriving in mailboxes on Monday, Dec. 14, despite a change in the street date from Dec. 21 to February 1.

The release date change – the sixth time “Rebirth” was pushed to a new date – was made last month by Universal Motown, the distributing label for Cash Money, and its distributor Universal Music Group Distribution. Universal Motown and UMGD recalled the album, but roughly one million units were manufactured and about one-third were shipped to accounts when the decision was made to pull “Rebirth” from the schedule, sources say.

Although Amazon received the word to return the Lil Wayne album, supposedly about 500 copies were sent to customers. An Amazon spokesman didn’t respond to an e-mail request for a comment.

The decision was made because the latest single from the album “On Fire,” is still building. Digital scans of the single since its early December release total almost 6,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Prior to “On Fire,” the only track that has been released as an official single was “Prom Queen,” which was released in early February and peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It scanned 725,000 units. Also, other tracks from the oft-delayed album continue to pop up on the internet. A third track from “Rebirth” leaked today (Dec. 15) – the highly-anticipated “Drop the World,” featuring Eminem. Previously, “Hot Revolver” and “Fix My Hat” appeared on the net, while “Da Da Da” was issued as a digital single the same day as “On Fire” and so far has scanned less than 1,000 copies.

Consequently, Cash Money and Universal executives felt that the album hadn’t received the proper set-up and decided to hold-up the release yet again, sources say. The album was initially supposed to be released April 7, but was pushed back to May 19 and then Aug. 18. And when that date came it went, the release date was pushed to Dec. 15 and finally Dec. 21, before the latest turn of events.

While its known that the album has been delayed to allow for proper set-up, some sources indicate that the album may be worked on some more, possibly with new tracks being added. If that’s the case, then the Amazon customers who already received the album may have a collector’s item on their hands.

Despite the latest postponement, retail anticipation for the album still runs high. Lil Wayne’s last album “Tha Carter III,” which came out in June 2008, was the last record to hit 1 million units in a debut week, at a time when most in the industry thought that feat was no longer possible due to the closure of record stores and the decline of the CD.

With more stores closures since “Tha Carter III” and the CD being a less resilient product than a year ago, it is unlikely that “Rebirth” will debut at a million, according to retailers. It is even less likely to do so now that the album has been delayed into the new year. For the last two years, the CD has lost 20% of its base in the new year in the U.S. market, and come January that is expected to happen again.

Possibly complicating matters more: Lil Wayne pleaded guilty in October to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and is set to be sentenced on Feb. 9.

Even with all of that, “You don’t bet against certain artists and Lil Wayne’s one of them,” says the head of purchasing at one account. “He has such a huge fanbase.”

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