The hip-hop community celebrated when Snoop Dogg bought Death Row Records in early February. It was rightfully heralded as a win for Black ownership, as Snoop was able to take back the figurative house he helped build from MNRK Music Group (formerly Koch Records). Many shrugged when they learned that he planned to turn Death Row into an “NFT label,” resolving that he was smart to get in on the newest craze. But a month later, most Death Row music is missing from streaming platforms, except for TIDAL, and people have questions.
The disappearance of albums like The Chronic and Doggystyle is the latest instance of prominent artists removing their music from the grasp of streaming services. Indie artists like Roc Marciano, R.A.P. Ferreira, and more have incorporated DSP-sidestepping, direct-to-consumer models for years. But now, some mainstream artists like Kanye West, who is selling Donda 2 on his $200 Stem Player, are divesting from DSPs, and the reaction to it has been a mixed bag.
At first glance, some of these decisions have the look of altruistic stands against corporate greed, but a closer look hints that they’re just taking cues from the powers that be. Snoop and Ye both suggested that their decisions will transform the industry for the better, but both of their wealth-building, forced-scarcity actions feel right out of a major label’s playbook. Both Donda 2 and the Death Row catalog are now exclusive items you have to pay a substantial sum for. Artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell showed the political power of their catalogs when they had labels remove their albums from Spotify as a protest against Joe Rogan’s COVID vaccine misinformation (and the streaming giant’s decision to stick by the lucrative rabble-rouser). But moves like Kendrick Lamar leveraging his catalog to advocate for XXXTentacion is a bottom-barrel example of using one’s power to uphold oppressive constructs.
Two things can be true at once: artists have the prerogative to do what they want with their music, but those decisions may deprive their fans. And acts with questionable motives risk confusing and annoying the consumers who helped them gain their power in the first place. Is DSP divestment a win for artists, or just wins for individual artists?