Jay Z turned 50 at midnight and celebrated by doing something unexpected: he put his whole album catalog on Spotify for streaming. He also put it on Apple Music.
Since buying the Tidal streaming service, Jay Z had taken his music from other services and put it only on Tidal. But no one uses Tidal, or not enough to make it a competitor in the streaming world.
Has Jay Z waved the white flag? Or just accepted a simple truth. To make money off streaming himself, the self proclaimed first billionaire rapper must have his music where people can hear it.
I broke the story in March 2015 that Jay Z was buying the Swedish streaming company Aspiro and turning it into his own streaming service. He organized a meeting that included Madonna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Nikki Minaj, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Jack White and of course, wife Beyonce. “Rihanna came in at the end,” one source said. “They all kept saying, Where is Rihanna?” At least two country music stars attended as well.
In time, the so called partners drifted away as it became clear they weren’t going to make money with newly named Tidal. Exclusivity wrecked early sales of albums by Kanye, Rihanna, and Beyonce. Their record companies were freaking out, too. So eventually only Jay Z was exclusive to Tidal.
And that seemed fine for Jay, who has a lot of businesses and wasn’t really concentrating on being a recording artist. But Jay Z at 50 has probably lost a lot of audience by staying off the main streaming services. His most recent album, according to Buzz Angle Music, called “4:44,” has sold a total of just 400,000 copies split into half streaming/half CD and paid downloads. It was released in June 2017, about two years into the launch of Tidal. Before Tidal, Jay Z used to sell in the millions.
Why today? Maybe it’s because of the 50th birthday. Or maybe Jay is getting ready to drop something new, and he wants everyone to hear it. But without his music exclusive to Tidal, the service has little reason to exist. Their main lure was hi-def music downloads. But those are available in many places now.
So happy birthday, Jay Z. And welcome back to streaming.