Rap fans can now (legally) listen to Eminem’s new album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, a full 4 days before its scheduled release exclusively on iTunes Radio. In the past, iTunes simply provided on-demand playback of the early albums in their entirety from the Artist’s page, but now it’s providing the streams through a ‘First Play’ station on its new iTunes Radio service in the US.

The album was recently released ahead of schedule via BitTorrent which may have hastened the move to iTunes Radio.

It looks like all Apple’s future album streams will also land in the new iTunes Radio ‘First Play’ station. Earlier this year Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue told Entertainment Weekly that Apple would leverage iTunes Radio for the premiere streams.

This year, iTunes has been successful in converting streaming album premieres into impressive pre-orders and sales, how much influence did that have on iTunes Radio? We’re leveraging it. For example there’s a Justin Timberlake album that’s on iTunes Radio as of [last Thursday] for the first time, so the first time we ever premiered an album on there. We certainly knew we would leverage it for iTunes Radio but the primary key to iTunes Radio was to create it custom for you. When you’re talking premiering song, what we’re doing iTunes Festival-wise, we knew iTunes Radio was a perfect place for that so it’s perfect alignment

Labels and artists hope that the free streams will help combat leaks of the album ahead of its official release and also translate into increased preorders by driving users to iTunes.

Eminem is a 13-time Grammy winner and has sold over 220 million albums worldwide. His new CD is easily one of most anticipated albums of the year. The deluxe version includes 21 tracks with blockbuster appearances by Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Nate Ruess (from the band FUN). The album has already produced three chart-topping singles: The Monster, Survival Berzerk, and Rap God. Pre-orders are priced at $15.99 and include immediate downloads of the aforementioned singles.

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