Lil Wayne's Amazon Leak Swells To Flood As 'Rebirth' Hits The Web
Jonathan Mannion

Rapper Lil Wayne's bad week took a further turn for the worse on Wednesday night (Dec. 16) as "Rebirth," the long-delayed follow-up album to his chart-topping "The Carter III," leaked on the internet more than six weeks before its official release date.

Digital files of each of the 14 tracks from the "Rebirth" CD began to appear on rap websites, Twitter and file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay in the late afternoon EST, less than 24 hours after Billboard exclusively revealed that an Amazon.com "shipping mishap" led to the premature distribution of approximately 500 copies of the album to fans who had pre-orded the disc from the online retailer. The album began arriving in mailboxes on Monday, Dec. 14 despite a change in the street date from Dec. 21 to February 1.

Michael Rosenthal, a 52-year old attorney from New York, was one of the fans who was surprised to receive the disc. He had placed his order on Nov. 20 and the disc arrived via USPS on Monday (Dec. 14). Rosenthal contacted Billboard, thinking that the Dec. 10 report on Billboard.com about the album's delay to 2010 was in error. "My initial thought was, 'Was Billboard's article mistaken or was Amazon's shipment in error,'" Rosenthal said in an email interview. "When I started understanding what had happened my thought became 'I wonder if this is going to be worth anything more.'"

On Tuesday, other fans who had received the CD in the mail began posting photos of the disc, with some even taunting jealous peers with a fuzzy live broadcast of the music through the live streaming site Ustream.tv. Yet it was obviously just a matter of time before one of the 500 recipients would upload the music anonymously.

The release date change - the sixth time "Rebirth" was pushed to a new date - was made earlier this 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.

Representative of Universal Music Group and Lil Wayne were unavailable for comment about the leak on Wednesday night.

The challenges facing his recording career were not even Lil Wayne's biggest concern of the week -- on Tuesday, he appeared in front of a New York judge where a February 9 sentencing date was set for his gun case. Wayne (born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.) plead guilty to a weapons possession charge in October. According to reports, he is likely to be sentenced to a year in prison and go into custody the same day.

Still, all of the controversy hasn't completely sidelined the workaholic rapper. Just as the news of the Amazon mishap was circulating, his reps announced a series of Western and Southern tour dates which will find the rapper joining his Young Money crew on stage starting Thursday (Dec. 17) in Hidalgo, TX and winding up Jan. 10, 2010 in Southaven, Miss.

Lil Wayne remains one of the most popular and compelling rappers of the age. His 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.

Furthermore, Lil Wayne's 2008-2009 North American trek was the highest grossing hip-hop tour of the year -- and the most lucrative rap jaunt that Billboard has ever tracked.

Seventy-eight Lil Wayne headlining arena and amphitheater concerts in North America from Dec. 14, 2008, through Sept. 6, 2009, grossed approximately $42 million and drew nearly 804,000 fans, according to Lil Wayne tour producer and tour business manager Shawn Gee.