The relationship between Tidal and Kanye West, one of the streaming service's original artist-owners, is seemingly coming to an end. According to various reports, which Engadget confirmed independently, 'Ye has decided to terminate his exclusive streaming deal with the company, claiming it owes him more than $3 million dollars. Most of that sum was allegedly supposed to be a bonus for him bringing in 1.5 million new subscribers with the release of his last album, The Life of Pablo, in 2016. Tidal is shutting down Kanye's claims and, per TMZ, doesn't seem to be too concerned with his threat to quit since he's still under contract. It's also been reported that, if he were to jump ship and join another streaming service, Tidal's prepared to take legal action.
Either way, it's safe to say Tidal can't afford to lose its relationship with Kanye. The company's burned through three CEOs since Jay-Z took over two years ago, and breaking up with one of the biggest artists in the world would only add to its ongoing struggles -- especially when its success depends heavily on exclusive content. Sure, Kanye probably won't make or break Tidal, but there's no denying the clout he wields. When his The Life of Pablo album was released as a Tidal-exclusive last year, it hit 250 million streams in its first 10 days, and it was partially responsible for bringing the music service to the 3-million subscriber mark.
That said, there may be more to this dispute than meets the eye. Jay-Z, Tidal's majority owner, and Kanye haven't appeared to be on good terms for a while now. Last November, during a show from his Saint Pablo tour in Sacramento, Kanye publicly called out Jay-Z for not reaching out to him after his wife, Kim Kardashian, was robbed in Paris. "Jay-Z, call me, bruh. You still ain't called me," West said. "Jay-Z, I know you got killers. Please don't send them at my head. Please call me. Talk to me like a man."
He then took things further by telling the crowd that Beyoncé, who is married to Jay-Z, said she wouldn't perform at the MTV Video Music Awards unless she won "Video of the Year" over one of his own, Famous, and Drake's meme sensation Hotline Bling. (This was the same show where Kanye said he was on his "Trump shit," that Facebook and Google "lied to you" and described how Mark Zuckerberg didn't want to invest in his company Donda. After his 17-minute rant, Kanye walked off his floating stage and the show was abruptly cancelled.)
So, that begs the question, is it really all about the money or are there egos in play here? The timing of Kanye's decision to cut ties with Tidal comes at a rather interesting point: just days after Jay-Z's new album 4:44, which is already platinum, was released. In what seems to be a response to Kanye's concert tirade, Jay-Z says in his track Kill Jay Z: "You got high on the life, that shit drugged you. You walkin' around like you invincible, you dropped outta school, you lost your principles. I know people backstab you, I felt bad too. But this 'fuck everybody' attitude ain't natural." The song clearly references one of Kanye's most popular albums, The College Dropout, as well as lyrics from The Life of Pablo track Highlights.
In the same song, Jay-Z talks about giving Kanye a hefty amount of money. "You gave him 20 million without blinkin', he gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin'?" At first it was rumored that this was related to a deal with Tidal -- remember when Kanye, along with artists like Daft Punk and Deadmau5, joined Jay-Z on stage to celebrate the launch of the service in 2015? But more recent reports suggest the money was to pay for production costs of the Saint Pablo Tour, including things like that insane floating stage. Kanye has yet to respond to Jay-Z's words, but given his long history of not holding back, that could happen sooner rather than later.
It may be too late for Tidal, which declined to answer our request for comment, to repair its damaged relationship with Kanye. Still, it should try to do all it can to keep him from breaking their exclusive deal because having even a weeklong lock on one of his future albums is better than nothing. And that's more important now than ever, as rivals like Spotify and Apple Music continue to grow their own exclusives in hopes of racking up millions of new subscribers.