Business partners like Adidas, Balenciaga, Gap and the Creative Artists Agency, as well as Ye’s longtime label Def Jam, have distanced themselves from the artist.
At the start of 2016, everything was lining up for Kanye West. Already a living hip-hop legend, having released six consecutive paradigm-shifting albums, West, who is now known as Ye, was enjoying his cultural capital across multiple mediums.
With thousands gathered in Madison Square Garden and millions more to watch online and in theaters around the world, Ye combined the reveal of his seventh solo album, Pablo’s lifewith the launch of her third Yeezy fashion collection for Adidas, filming everything for her family’s reality series keeping up with the Kardashians. Some of the music remained curiously unfinished, and one song, Famousreignited a feud with Taylor Swift that would last for years.
It was Kanye’s MO for over a decade: blending smash hits with unscripted spectacle, the artist often got away with messy moments thanks to the clarity of his creative vision.
“These first five albums are probably the top five albums of them all – I’m almost going to say any artist of all time, not just hip-hop,” said radio and TV host Charlamagne Tha God. known for its syndicated morning show, The breakfast club.
Now, as business partners like Adidas, Balenciaga, Gap and the Creative Artists Agency, as well as Ye’s longtime label Def Jam, are distancing themselves from him after he flaunted a slogan associated with white supremacists and repeatedly made anti-Semitic statements on social media and in interviews, many wonder if the musical catalog that was once its foundation can withstand the backlash or provide a path back.
“It’s one of the biggest Ls we’ve ever seen a human take in business and in music, and it was all self-inflicted,” Charlamagne said. “We don’t know why he decided to wear the ‘White Lives Matter’ shirt. We don’t know why he decided to start making anti-Semitic comments. It is unclear why he decided to defend Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd. There isn’t a living song that can make me forget that.
“All that music,” Charlamagne added, “is just a distant memory.”
You have four albums since pablo were more notable for their chaotic rollouts than for their quality, failing to make as much of an impact, critical or commercial.
While Ye once ruled the pop world with smash hits like jesus walks, Gold digger and Strongerhe hasn’t had a major hit in years. Pablo’s life sold the equivalent of approximately 3 million copies in the United States; following records as you (2018) and donda (2021) only got about half that each, according to tracking service Luminate, which provides the data for Billboard’s charts.
Even when an album like 2019 turns to gospel, jesus is king, debuted atop the Billboard charts, it quickly faded from memory. Projects have been plagued by repeated delays, incomplete registrations and failed exit strategies. Her attention in recent years has been much more focused on fashion. He hasn’t toured since 2016.
While Ye’s radio presence has faded over the past month – from an average of around 2,300 listens to his songs per week to 1,800 last week, with many stations now dropping him completely – streaming can provide a safety net. His stock of hits remains steadily popular there, drawing nearly 4 billion plays so far this year in the United States alone. On Spotify, he has 51 million monthly listeners worldwide, making him the 19th most popular artist on that platform.
Over the past month, Ye’s streaming numbers have dipped slightly, dropping about 6% to 88 million on-demand clicks in the US. But those totals are well within his usual range at this point in his career and are even up slightly since the start of 2022, according to Luminate. The number of user playlists on Spotify featuring Ye songs has also increased in recent weeks to nearly 1.3 million, according to Chartmetric, a company that tracks streaming and social media.
These numbers suggest some combination of fan loyalty and user curiosity that may be driven by attention in the news media. “Most music consumers probably just care whether or not they like the music, so any negative media coverage about an artist might just remind them to listen to their music,” said Rutger Rosenborg, Chief Marketing Officer of Chartmetric. . “And maybe Kanye is banking on that.”
This phenomenon has happened many times in recent years. Many R. Kelly fans have stuck with him in their private listening habits, even as the singer has been accused – and convicted – of racketeering and sex trafficking. Last year, after country star Morgan Wallen was caught on camera using a racial slur, radio stations deleted his songs for a time and streaming platforms temporarily removed him from official playlists . But fans rallied behind him, and Wallen found himself with the longest Top 10 streak on Billboard’s album chart in nearly 60 years.
Artists such as Chris Brown, XXXTentacion and Michael Jackson, who have also been accused of misconduct, have held firm on streaming services. These platforms have generally been reluctant to remove content, considering their role as neutral protectors of speech. Kelly’s music, for example, remains widely available, even if not heavily promoted.
Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, said Reuters Tuesday that Ye’s “awful comments” would only warrant removal from the service if they were included in a recorded song or podcast. “His music does not violate our policy,” Ek said. “It’s up to his label whether he wants to act or not.”
Apple representatives did not respond to questions this week about whether its streaming service would take any action regarding Ye’s music.
With Ye now out of his lucrative contract with Adidas, his catalog could offer him a financial lifeline. In recent months, representatives of Ye have been quietly buying his songwriting copyright collection from investors, hoping for a nine-figure deal of the kind that has recently made headlines for stars such as Sting or Justin Timberlake. But potential buyers pushed back on Ye’s asking price, according to people briefed on recent meetings with Ye’s camp. The controversy over Ye’s anti-Semitic remarks could make a sale more difficult.
Following the announcement last month that his catalog was being offered to investors, Ye responded in a since-deleted social media post that his posts were being bought without his knowledge: “NOT FOR SALE.”
The direction of Ye’s music career is unclear. Although momentarily shunned by the entertainment industry’s top talent managers, he’s also essentially a free agent – a position he’s been seeking for a long time. His recording contract with Def Jam ended with his album donda. And his songwriting contract with Sony Music expired earlier this year, although the company still acts as administrator of his catalog.
None of this rules out the possibility of a return to an industry that has long garnered attention in every way and often embraces the redemption of its biggest and most troubled stars. “Even if it’s not Def Jam,” said industry analyst Dan Runcie, who covers streaming and hip-hop business on his Trapital site, “I think there’s probably a another record label that will probably want to partner with him in some way.”
Platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud, plus the ease of digital distribution to Spotify and other major streaming services, mean Ye may not even need a business partner, given the size of his personal megaphone.
“Kanye can release a song tomorrow, and people are going to listen to it,” Charlamagne said. “We love dysfunction, so unfortunately Kanye West will always have a voice.”
Whether this music can be more than another momentary sideshow may be a bigger question than just what’s going on in the studio. “I feel like Kanye is moving like a human who knows he won’t be around for very long,” Charlamagne said. “I pray that is not the case. Maybe that’s exactly what he needs, to reach the lowest level professionally, before going to seek help and healing.
As it is, Charlamagne added, “Not a single song is good enough for this level of bigotry.”