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Kanye West’s Donda 2 tops the (piracy) charts

By | Published on Monday 28 February 2022

Kanye West - Donda 2 launch event

Kanye West’s ‘Donda 2’ album has rocketed to the top of the charts since its release late last week. The piracy charts, that is.

The sequel to last year’s ‘Donda’ is, of course, only officially available to those willing to fork out $200 for one of the rapper’s Stem Player devices – an MP3 player that adds the ability to split tracks into four parts, so that users can remix the music themselves.

West said that fans spent more than $2 million buying Stem Players in the 24 hours after it was announced that getting one would be the only way to hear ‘Donda 2’. Still, even when coupled with any previous sales that occurred after the device was launched last year, that still only puts the number of people able to legitimately listen to the album in the tens of thousands.

In his announcement, West said that the move not to release the album to any streaming services was a protest against the royalties that artists receive when their music is streamed.

“Today artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes”, he wrote on Instagram. “It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own”.

Not all artists can sell their music via prohibitively expensive bespoke electronic devices though. Nor can every music fan justify forking out hundreds of dollars to listen to one record. And so, as I think everyone saw coming, the rollout of ‘Donda 2’ has sparked a new resurgence in music piracy.

The album was accessible for free through unlicensed sources within hours of being made available on the Stem Player website and, according to TorrentFreak, it is now by far the most illegally downloaded album in the world, ahead of Avril Lavigne’s new record ‘Love Sux’.

Of course, by accessing illegal MP3 downloads of the album, people are missing out on the interactive features offered by the Stem Player itself. Or perhaps not. Within 24 hours of ‘Donda 2’ being released, there were at least two online emulators of the player, which allow users to grab the individual stems for each track that are available on the official Stem Player website and then use the remixing tools.

Still, the question is, will any sales of the Stem Player nevertheless bring West more income than if he had released the record through the usual distributions channels? Arguably not, particularly given how big a draw he is on the streaming platforms. Although he’ll be helped out financially by the boom in streaming of his other releases on Spotify, Apple Music and the like that has occurred since he announced ‘Donda 2’.

Of course, it’s also not clear if what everyone is listening to at the moment – sourced from official channels or otherwise – is the final version of ‘Donda 2’. What was released last week was referred to as ‘V22.2.22 Miami’ – referencing the launch event held in Miami last Tuesday. Not all of the tracks previewed at that live event are included on the tracklist, and anyone who has listened to last week’s version would be hard put to say that it felt like it was finished.

One explanation may be that West felt extra pressure to release something within days of the Miami event given that a load of fans had just forked out a lot of money to hear it. It may be that there will be another version – or versions – of the album on the way in the coming days.

It may also be that a later version of the record does also make it to streaming services. This would not be the first time that West has said an album would be exclusive to one platform, only to later change his mind. His 2016 album ‘The Life Of Pablo’ was originally only available on Tidal, but later made its way to the other services. That latter decision to distribute it to all the streaming services followed rampant piracy of the record.

The release of ‘Donda 2’ is further discussed on this week’s edition of out Setlist podcast.