It’s Personal: Why Jay Z’s Tidal War Is Heating Up With Jimmy Iovine’s Apple Music
There has always been a problem with music industry executives exploiting artists, specifically Black artists.
Throughout Jay Z’s new “4:44” album, released on Thursday, the Brooklyn rapper talks about personal things — his marriage, his daughter, and his views on how capitalism and entrepreneurship can help Black people.
Jay Z calls out the names of dozens of people on the album, including Jimmy Iovine, an executive at Apple Music streaming service. In 2016, Apple was reportedly in negotiations to buy Jay Z’s Tidal music streaming business. Iovine later denied this.
Iovine teamed with Dr. Dre — now considered the world’s richest rapper — in 2006 to found Beats Electronics. Apple bought the company for $3 billion in 2014 and hired Iovine to create Apple Music, the electronics giant’s foray into streaming music.
Jay Z released “4:44” as a digital exclusive on his Tidal streaming service, which he bought in 2015. Here are some of the lyrics from “Smile”:
Fuck a slice of the apple pie, want my own cake
Chargin’ my own fate
Respect Jimmy Iovine
But he gotta respect the Elohim as a whole new regime
And niggas playin’ for power, huh
So our music is ours
— lyrics from Jay Z’s “Smile” track on “4:44.”
Before Jay Z took lyrical shots at Apple Music executive Iovine on “4:44”, he pulled most of his music from rival streaming services including Apple’s music streaming platform, Beats Music. The friction between Tidal and Apple seems to have taken a turn for the worse commercially and is now getting personal.
In a statement, Jay Z described the release strategy for “4:44” as a “perfect storm of sharing music with fans.”
Music streaming is dominated by Apple Music and Spotify. Tidal “has relied largely on splashy exclusives from its artist partners to encourage sign-ups, making itself the first — and, in some cases, only — place to hear new music from Kanye West, Rihanna and Beyoncé, whose ‘Lemonade’ has remained a Tidal exclusive since its release in April 2016, New York Times reported.
In the “4:44” song “Smile,” Jay Z reminds us that he owns the music service on which the album premiered. “Respect Jimmy Iovine,” he says, “But he gotta respect the Elohim/It’s a whole different regime.”
It’s a call for his fans to support black entrepreneurship — the same idea that led Prince to give exclusive streaming rights to Tidal before he died, Rolling Stone reported.
Jay-Z suggested in a 2015 Billboard interview that Iovine was not supporting him and other artists who were trying to take it to the next level:
Jay Z: “My thing with Jimmy is, ‘Listen, Jimmy; you’re Jimmy Iovine, and you’re Apple, and truthfully, you’re great. You guys are going to do great things with Beats, but … you know, I don’t have to lose in order for you guys to win, and let’s just remember that … I actually told him, ‘Yo, you should be helping me. This is for the artist. These are people that you supported your whole life. You know, this is good.”
Have you heard the rumor that he’s trying to lure people from your first-tier group by offering them more money upfront?
Jay Z: I think that’s just his competitive nature, and I don’t know if he’s looking at the bigger picture: That it’s not about me and it’s not about him; it’s about the future of the music business.
A lot of Jay Z’s references to Iovine have to do with two things: Apple’s successful efforts to get Kanye West to break his exclusivity with Tidal on “The Life of Pablo” album and Apple leaving Jay Z at the altar and not buying Tidal after kicking the tires.
Beyond the racial and culture-vulture overtones of Jay-Z’s lyrics, these executives are natural competitors playing for high stakes.
- Iovine partnered with Deathrow Records where Suge Knight owned the masters was largely independent until its collapse. Deathrow, by any music industry standards, received a good deal at the time with a major record label.
- Iovine partnered with Dr. Dre on Beats and together they produced an extraordinary exit by any measure. Dr. Dre reportedly received $400 million from the sale, increasing his net worth to $700 million.
- When Dr. Dre signed Eminem and profited nicely from Eminem’s work, it was Iovine who was Dre’s partner on that deal.
- Iovine’s Apple Music secured an exclusive deal with Drake for a reported $19 million.
Jay Z’s efforts to unite Black artists under equity ownership and a more fruitful contract structure within the declining music industry should be applauded. However, if he is going to be preaching about culture vultures and calling out names, he should also speak out against the vultures that don’t directly impact his personal pockets.
The time to call out any exploitive behavior is not when a particular business deal goes sour, or when it is relevant only to your personal pocketbook and your individual commercial interests.
I’m going to stop short at saying Jay Z used the race card opportunistically here.
But if Jimmy Iovine is such a horrible and exploitive culture vulture, I think Dr. Dre — who is well on his way to becoming a billionaire — would be the one to ask.
There is no evidence to suggest that Jay Z would be saying anything about Apple right now if Jay Z had partnered with Iovine for a billion-dollar Tidal exit.
If Apple had bought Tidal without changing its business practices with Black artists, you probably wouldn’t have heard anything on “4:44.”
Black consumers should be careful not to be used as political and commercial pawns in chess-like disputes that are more about individual financial interests than them.
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