Remember when Drake first dropped “Pop Style” and it said “featuring The Throne”? And remember how it had a Kanye West verse and like five seconds of Jay Z rapping? And then when VIEWS came out in April, Ye and Hov’s parts were nowhere to be heard? Well, according to Mr. West, you can thank Apple Music and Tidal’s “bullshit” streaming war for that.
As his Saint Pablo Tour rolled into Seattle last night, Kanye delivered another of his famous sermons to the congregation and offered a heated explanation as to why The Throne’s first collaboration in four years was dismantled and removed from Drake’s album.
"This shit got me tight every time I perform this motherfucker…’cause y’all didn’t get what y’all was supposed to get with me and Drake on this song, ‘cause of some Apple/Tidal bullshit. This shit got me tight, yo. Every time I perform this song I think about this shit. I think about the politics and the bullshit. I think about how hard I go...for music, for art, for y’all, for the fans, how hard we go."
Kanye also revealed that Jay Z wanted to take himself off “Pop Style” anyway out of respect for Meek Mill, who was—and still is—embroiled in a highly publicized beef with Drake. That part isn’t too surprising: Meek is signed to Roc Nation management and is one of the few drug dealer-turned-rappers carrying the torch for authentic street rap on the mainstream level today. Plus, Hov’s a shrewd businessman.
"I started freestyling to it. Jay thought of a couple lines. I said, “man, just go ahead and throw that on there, that’d be so surprising, [Drake] probably wouldn’t expect you to be on there.” And we sent it back to him and he was like, “oh shit, The Throne is on this shit!” Then Jay thought about it and out of respect for Meek Mill, he didn’t wanna be on the track. And I said, “look, I’ll call Drake, I’ll call Meek, I’ll call y’all. We gotta squash this shit, we gotta let the people have this song.” But then it went into some Tidal, some political shit, some shit about percentages on songs. I can’t take this shit, bro!"
I’d be remiss not to call out Kanye for being a hypocrite here. In February, The Life of Pablo was released as a stream-only exclusive on Tidal, of which he’s one of many part-owners. You couldn’t even buy a copy of the album if you wanted to, which sparked a “piracy craze” on file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay. It wasn’t until the end of March when TLOP was finally made available on Tidal’s biggest competitors, Apple Music and Spotify, despite Kanye previously asserting, “My album will never never never be on Apple.” That doesn’t sound like a guy trying to negotiate a peace treaty in the streaming war, does it?
However, that also doesn’t make Kanye wrong. In recent years, the competition between Apple Music and Tidal has intensified into an arms race. This year alone, Apple Music has secured exclusives from Drake, Frank Ocean and Chance The Rapper, while Tidal has snagged albums from Beyoncé, Rihanna and, of course, Kanye West. Usually, this period of exclusivity only lasts a week or two, but it makes it increasingly difficult for fans to enjoy all our favorite music as soon as it’s released. As music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz wrote, “We’re in the business of building lifelong fans, but how do you do this when you can’t hear the music first when you’ve got to overpay to experience it.” Streaming is about improving access and discovery, not limiting it.
In fact, Universal Music Group—one of the three biggest music conglomerates next to Sony and Warner—reportedly implemented a company-wide ban on streaming exclusives earlier this year. The move was “partly influenced” by Frank Ocean cutting Def Jam out of the lucrative profits from his chart-topping Blonde album, which was released exclusively on Apple Music and through his own Boys Don’t Cry imprint. UMG has contracts with artists like Drake, Kanye West, and Dr. Dre, who all have close ties in the streaming war, but it remains to be seen how UMG’s decision will play out. Will this really be the end of the “streaming exclusive”? Or will more A-list artists follow Frank’s lead by taking their music from the label straight to the distributor?
As for Kanye West, it’s unclear where his allegiances lie in the streaming war and what it means for his future releases. Last night during his show in Seattle, he also claimed “there will never be a Watch The Throne 2” because of “Tidal/Apple bullshit.” But considering both himself and Jay Z are Tidal owners, why should there be any conflict? Has Kanye really changed his stripes on streaming and believes in bringing his music to the people on all platforms, as The Life of Pablo’s short-lived exclusivity on Tidal suggested?
All we know is that Kanye West is tired of this “bullshit” streaming war, and so are we—especially if it means no Watch The Throne 2.