Epic AF, a recent digital compilation album from Epic Records featuring hits by artists like French Montana and DJ Khaled, has sold a grand total of zero copies since being released seven weeks ago. In fact, you can’t even buy it. But, as The New York Times points out, by exploiting Billboard’s formula for determining the Billboard 200 chart, the collection has managed to land itself in the top 10 four times since its release.
Since 2014, Billboard has counted 1500 streams or 10 paid downloads of a song as the equivalent of one album sold. But if a hit single doesn’t come from an album — or comes from an album that’s not released yet — those plays don’t count for anything. So, Epic had the bright idea of collecting its most popular album-less tracks, like French Montana and Kodak Black’s “Lockjaw” or Travis Scott and Young Thug’s “Pick Up The Phone,” into one digital playlist, slapping on a title and some cover art, and calling it an album, thus making it eligible for chart inclusion.
And it works! Before DJ Khaled’s #1 album Major Key came out last week, streams of “For Free” and “I Got The Keys” were counted towards the compilation album, putting it on the chart at a respectable #5. Now that Major Key is actually out, however, streams of the same singles count towards Major Key, dropping Epic AF back down to #32. Billboard has also tweaked its rules in the past week, making it so that paid downloads of singles on the album don’t count towards its chart position, although streams still do.
Nielsen Music senior analyst Dave Bakula says that although some could see this strategy as “trying to manipulate the charts…if they’re living within the rules, good for them in being creative and having enough of a stable of big-name artists and big songs,” likening Epic AF to the Now That’s What I Call Music! comps of the early 2000s.
“It did what it was supposed to do,” says Celine Joshua, a senior vice president for commerce at Epic and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, who oversaw the Epic AF project. “It was born out of a need and a problem. I was thinking about our hot roster and the cycles of which content was coming out when, albums that were around the corner and how young fans on these platforms are behaving — consuming in the playlist manner.”
So as long as Billboard doesn’t change its rules to put the kibosh on this kind of thing, expect more of these compilation albums to follow. According to The New York Times, Sony is already planning another comp from Epic featuring more pop acts and a follow-up from RCA.