Jay-Z’s “exclusive” album is not nearly as exclusive as you think

I’m a business, man.
I’m a business, man.
Image: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Jay-Z—or JAY-Z, if we’re honoring the rapper’s latest personal rebrand—has released his 13th studio album, 4:44, exclusively on Tidal, the streaming service that he bought back in 2015. Like previous drops from Rihanna and Beyoncé, 4:44 is available today only for Tidal users (and Sprint telecom customers in the US, thanks to a massive deal with the phone company that Jay struck in January).

Or is it?

To compete against bigger streaming players Spotify and Apple Music, Tidal has negotiated a series of exclusive album releases in the last few years, unveiling new music from artists like Rihanna, Lil Wayne, T.I., Kanye West, and Beyoncé only to the platform’s paying subscribers. But a source told Variety that there are plans to put Jay-Z’s new album on Apple Music, Spotify, and others after just one week of exclusivity on Tidal.

Fom a business perspective, giving 4:44 an eventual wide release is only smart. Exclusive music is a fast-dying breed. The biggest reason is that they just backfire.

In 2016, Beyoncé’s exclusive Lemonade drop led to rampant piracy, and Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, which started as a Tidal exclusive but later wandered its way to rival streaming services, drew a lawsuit from users complaining that Tidal tricked them into signing up for subscriptions under false pretenses. Frank Ocean even gamed the idea of exclusives in November when he released one album to finish out his label contract and a second, hugely successful surprise album he owned as an exclusive on Apple Music, causing his label to ban artist exclusivity contracts in the future.

Tidal itself isn’t in too great a position. The company—though worth 10 times its original value, thanks to Jay-Z’s savvy strategizing—has said goodbye to multiple CEOs and is quickly losing its gleam in the eyes of music fans and potential buyers alike. Few people are likely to take out a new Tidal subscription just to listen to Jay’s new music. The rapper knows this—and it’s why his album is already available via internet-radio service iHeartRadio.

When 4:44 goes wide next week, millions more will have easy access to the album, letting it rake in much more money than it would have if it sat forever as a frustrating Tidal exclusive. As Jay prophetically raps on his new album, “niggas will rip your shit off Tidal just to spite you.”