Kanye West has been one of Tidal's biggest champions: he joined the company the moment Jay-Z relaunched its service, and The Life of Pablo was one of the streaming music service's largest (if temporary) exclusives. However, it appears that the relationship has... soured. TMZ sources claim that Kanye has left the company over a payment squabble involving both Life of Pablo and music videos. It's reportedly a messy dispute, and certainly not what Tidal wanted in an already tumultuous period for the business.
Tidal allegedly owes Kanye over $3 million for both the performance of Life of Pablo (it reportedly helped obtain 1.5 million new subscribers) and producing music videos. The two sides tried to negotiate a truce, but talks are believed to have broken down two weeks ago. Naturally, the tipsters say that Tidal has a different story: while it's not clear how the firm views the bonus, it maintains that Kanye had to deliver the videos to get paid. It also believes that Kanye still has an exclusive contract, and has threatened a lawsuit if he jumps ship for another streaming provider. Kanye would sue back.
We've reached out to Tidal over the money fight. There's no doubt that both sides already have some bad blood, though. Jay-Z already has a strained friendship with Kanye, and his new 4:44 album starts with a track that appears to chastise his former ally and suggest the two drop their egos to discuss their problems. A battle over compensation isn't going to help matters.
The news suggests that Tidal's unique artist partnership is running into trouble, and it's exacerbated by word that Jay-Z's 4:44 Tidal exclusive isn't quite as special as it sounds. Billboard's own sources understand that the album is headed to Apple Music and iTunes on July 7th, just one week after Tidal and Sprint hyped the exclusive to the Moon. That's good news for would-be listeners if the scoop is accurate, but it it also undermines both Tidal and its alliance with Sprint. If they can't get Tidal's superstar owner to hold to an exclusive for more than a week, what will they get from lower-profile musicians? You may still have bragging rights when you play an album before your friends, but that sense of superiority won't last long.