Kanye West’s week has been wild. His fans’ weeks have been wilder.
After spending the last few days publicly speaking out against his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, her new beau Pete Davidson, Billie Eilish and, well, pretty much everyone else, West has decided to switch gears and focus on his music. But this time, only dedicated — and decently flush — fans will get to hear it.
West announced on Instagram last night that Donda 2 would only be available on his own platform, the Stem Player.
The Stem Player isn’t a streaming service. It’s a physical device that allows users to customize tracks by isolating the different instruments and vocals used in the songs. It’s a cool device, but it’s not chap. Fans can purchase it for a whopping $200 — yes, even in this economy. On multiple posts on his Instagram, West explained his decision for releasing Donda 2 on his own platform was to help “free music from this oppressive system” where artists are not always paid their full amount.
Spotify and similar streaming music platforms have been ruinous for artists, who get paid a pittance per stream. Artists should revolt against such an unfair model, and West is right to use his considerable influence to disrupt the system in a way smaller acts can’t. But making music exclusively for a rarified tax bracket of Americans feels like trading one bad system for another. It seems like West is freeing music from an oppressive system into a place where most of us will never be able to listen to it.
At this point, there’s no doubt that West is a musical genius. He’s released several era-defining albums and, for all we know, Donda 2 could be another one. Even the new Netflix documentary jeen-yuhs is all about West’s undeniable creative ability. But no matter how brilliant Donda 2 ends up being, the average American simply does not have $200 on hand.
“I feel that same feeling like when I first moved to New York to make it in Music” West wrote. “I ain’t know what was gonna happen but I knew had to move. After 10 albums after being under 10 contracts. I turned down a hundred million dollar Apple deal. No one can pay me to be disrespected. We set our own price for our art. Tech companies made music practically free so if you don’t do merch sneakers and tours you don’t eat. Jay Z made Tidal and fake media attacked him. Well in the words of my big brother. Come and get me. I’m willing to die standing cause I ain’t living on my knees no more. God please cover me.”
That’s all genuinely noble, and it’d be a good thing if moves like the Stem Player and Tidal gave artists more options to be fairly compensated for their work. But it’s hard to draw a straight line between West’s new device and a bold new era for well-paid musicians. Time will tell.
West also released the album’s tracklist, which may be most fans only glimpse at what Donda 2 holds. Unless, of course, they’re comfortable using some slightly less-than-legal internet means.