Kanye West, one of the most popular, influential and commercially successful musicians of the past 20 years — who has effectively set his businesses and career on fire with a series of indefensible anti-Semitic comments — is now without a record label or music publisher, reports ‘Variety’ in a detailed analytical piece.
Universal Music’s Def Jam Recordings and Sony Music Publishing are both out of contract with him, and many of his other business partners have broken ties in the wake of his recent behaviour. On purely music-business terms, the situation is unprecedented.
Def Jam, which owns the copyright to his recordings up to some time in the mid-2010s and has distributed Kanye West’s subsequent releases up to last year’s ‘Donda’ album, has confirmed his deal with the company ended last year. (The copyright credits on some albums have changed in recent weeks; it now appears that West owns his masters from the 2013 ‘Yeezy’ album onward.)
As with RCA Records and R. Kelly, the company will continue to own and/or distribute his catalogue, and profit from it, per the terms of their contract, according to ‘Variety’.
Def Jam presumably owns the recorded-music rights to his earlier recordings for decades to come, although it is unclear when the post-2013 releases will be up for a new distribution deal.
Sony Publishing confirmed that his administration deal with the company ended earlier this year, although it will continue to administer his work, per the terms of the deal, for an unspecified time.
So what happens when Kanye wants to release new music? He has released three songs in collaboration with other artists this year (all before his anti-Semitic comments), but all were on his collaborators’ labels — a scenario that is less easy to imagine now. Presumably, based on his recent comments about launching his own apparel lines, the rapper will put the music out himself. But releasing music at Kanye West’s level requires major business partners — who will work with him?
The majors — Universal, Sony and Warner Music — are likely out of the equation for the foreseeable future, says ‘Variety’, but it is possible he could strike a deal with a large indie like the hip-hop powerhouse Empire, Create Music Group (which distributes Tekashi 6ix 9ine releases) or France-based Believe, which is one of the few western music companies that did not shut down or reduce its operations in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine).