Not one day goes by without us hearing about Kanye West’s antics. The artist at the heart of a Netflix documentary, who just released a track with Alicia Keys and the rapper Fivio Foreign, won't be dropping his new album in a traditional way. This LP, entitled Donda 2 and out on Tuesday, February 22nd (if it's not delayed in the meantime) will not be available on major streaming platforms such as Spotify or Deezer. Neither will it be available in record stores on vinyl or CD.
Indeed, the rapper has decided to invest in an audio device —the Stem Player— which retails for $200 (approximately 176€) to listen to and "customise" (i.e. change each song) Donda 2. By doing this, the artist is thumbing his nose at the music industry which "exploits" artists, taking a large cut from their earnings. "Today artists just get 12% of the money the industry makes. It's time to free music from this oppressive system", a vindictive Kanye West stated on Instagram. "Tech companies made music practically free, so if you don’t do merch sneakers and tours, you don’t eat", Kim Kardashian's ex-husband added in another post published on his Instagram account.
The hip hop artist also encourages other artists to create their own distribution system. He explains on social media: "No one can pay me to be disrespected. We set our own price for our art." While it's understandable that Ye wants to challenge the power yielded by streaming platforms, it's questionable why a billionaire would want to make even more money with a disproportionately priced player produced in 67,000 copies (for now). The American rapper's fortune is estimated at 6.6 billion dollars according to information released by the American financial group Bloomberg in 2021. Many fans have complained about this move on Twitter, calling for Donda 2 to be hacked.
Unfazed by the criticism, the artist, who had in the past taken a stand against streaming giants, announced that he had already earned more than two million dollars in twenty-four hours with this new technology, which looks like a small speaker and allows listeners to enjoy the instruments on the tracks separately. Kanye West explained on social media: "To earn the $2.2 million we made on the first day on the Stem player, the album would have had to stream 500 million times. We did more revenue on Stem Player, without the album even being out, than we would have done with the album being out on streaming."
Whether one finds this approach greedy or daring, at least Ye's strategy has the merit of trying to change the sometimes unfair rules of the music business. The artist has joined the ranks of the many artists who have already tried to revolutionise the way their creations are distributed. Before him, Björk, Brian Eno, the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails or Jean-Michel Jarre had developed an application to listen to or remix their tracks, or even to invent new songs. While in the past Neil Young had launched his "Pono” Player", a portable digital media player in the tradition of iPods that cost a hefty 400 dollars (around 353 euros). Finally, Jay-Z has created his own streaming platform: Tidal. And we know how much the New York rapper has influenced Ye throughout his career...
Kanye West's Donda 2 (2022), available on the Stem Player on 22nd February.