Music business scrambles to contain fallout from Kanye West controversy

The world’s largest music companies are scrambling to contain the fallout from a furore over anti-Semitic comments made by Kanye West, condemning the rapper’s remarks despite continuing to host his songs on their platforms.

Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek said on Tuesday that West’s recent comments were “awful”, but that his music does not violate the streaming service’s policies. “It’s up to his label, if they want to take action or not,” Ek told Reuters.

Universal Music and Sony Music, West’s longstanding partners, have similarly denounced his statements, which included a tweet on October 8 stating that he would go “death con 3 on Jewish people”.

The backlash comes as companies around the world have cut ties with West in the wake of his increasing provocative behavior. In the past few weeks, Adidas, Balenciaga, CAA and Gap have dropped their deals with the rapper following a series of offensive comments, while Instagram and Twitter have suspended his accounts.

Earlier this month, the rapper and fashion designer wore a shirt that said “White Lives Matter” and claimed during a recent podcast interview that Jewish people “own the Black voice”.

Ari Emanuel, chief executive of the entertainment and media company Endeavor, has been among those to call on big music companies to cease working with West, who is widely viewed as one of the most influential musicians in recent history.

While these groups have dropped their deals with the rapper, they continue to collect income from his music by keeping it available to stream.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society. We are deeply committed to combating anti-Semitism and every other form of prejudice,” a spokesperson for Universal told industry trade magazine Billboard.

Universal owns the copyrights of West’s recordings up to 2016 and distributed his music until last year. It collects royalties when this music is played.

In 2020, West demanded to be let out of his Universal contract in a series of tweets, claiming he “was told to speak with Lucian Grainge[Universal’s chief executive]. . . I said I don’t speak with non-billionaire employees”.

Sony’s publishing arm has administered West’s music for years. A spokesperson said that the deal expired earlier this year but as part of the contract it will carry on administering the songs — and collecting a fee for doing so — “for a period of time”.

In an internal memo last week, Sony’s management told employees that “we denounce anti-Semitism” and the company was working to “combat prejudice against the Jewish community”.

A spokesperson for Amazon Music declined to comment, but West’s music is still available on the company’s streaming service.

West’s radio play has dropped more than 20 per cent in the week after Instagram and Twitter suspended his accounts, according to Billboard.