UPDATED: Kanye West launched a new social-media campaign to gain control of the rights to his recorded music and publishing on Monday night, claiming “I’m not putting no more music out till I’m done with my contract[s]” with his record company, Universal Music Group, and his publisher, Sony/ATV Music Publishing. He continued his efforts on Tuesday morning with another battery of tweets — one of which features a screenshot of a text from an unnamed adviser apparently claiming that West’s masters are worth more than Taylor Swift’s.
The adviser writes that he and West can argue that Universal and Sony Music, with whom West has longstanding recorded-music and publishing deals respectively, did not support him fully and can be sued for breach of contract, potentially freeing him from his deals.
“We can argue that Universal and Sony have not supported you fully,” the text reads. “And that as a result they have breached [the contracts]. This is the lawsuit/ termination nuclear option.
“If we went that route we would litigate and ask for your masters as part of a settlement. This is high risk but high reward strategy,” the message continues. “Re masters ownership we can look into buying. But if Taylor’s cost $300 million yours would cost a lot more I assume. Remember that if you re-recorded these songs you could own these new masters outright.”
The adviser is referencing the 2019 acquisition of Big Machine Records — which includes the rights to the master recordings of Taylor Swift’s first six albums — by Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings for a reported $300 million, as well as Swift’s stated plan to record new versions of those songs and thus create new master versions, devaluing the old ones.
That deal also included the masters of several other artists as well as Swift’s — who is one of the most commercial successful recordings artists in history — so the claim is questionable, if not patently false. The adviser then explores the possibility of a joint venture.
“A much more radical consideration would be to propose an entirely new relationship or joint venture with Universal. One that is equal and not one sided. I am not sure you are interested in that. But if could be a Yeezy Media/Universal joint venture play but one where you have the power.”
While the terms of West’s deals are not public, standard recording and music-publishing contracts typically do not allow artists to withdraw from the deals whenever they want.
West’s timing may not be coincidental: Vivendi, Universal Music’s parent company, held an investor meeting at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference on Tuesday morning.
Along with the text exchange, West tweeted, “No one from Universal or Sony has responded so it’s Go time,” and later posted another screenshot of a text from someone claiming that a representative for Vivendi had reached out. An hour later, West posted that the initial phone call with the Vivendi executive “went great … this was a perfect first conversation.”
Reps for West, Universal and Sony did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
West has publicly stated that he wants to get out of his label and publishing deals in the past, and even sued the companies in January of last year. One suit was against EMI Music Publishing, with whom he signed in 2003 and which is now owned by Sony/ATV, and the other was against the Universal Music Group companies Roc-a-Fella Records (the formerly Jay-Z-owned record label that released his early albums), Def Jam Records and UMG’s merchandising arm, Bravado.
Both companies countersued a few weeks later, and sources say the publishing suit was settled for an undisclosed amount last September — presumably with terms more favorable to West. The Universal litigation is ongoing.
While West’s first several albums have all been certified multiplatinum, his more recent releases have met with less commercial and critical success. His most recent albums “Ye” and “Jesus Is King” were both certified gold but were uneven creatively; the latter album reflects his turn toward Christian-based music, as does his delayed album “Donda: With Child,” which West said would be released over the summer but has not yet materialized.
His erratic release schedule reflects his unpredictable behavior, related to his bipolar condition, in recent years: He also said he would be issuing an album in 2018 called “Yandhi” that remains unreleased.