Are White People Trying to Keep Jay-Z’s Streaming Service Down?

“You may want to give Tidal a try. It sounds like the future.” — The Verge

“ If you love music, then really this is an easy one. Yes, cancel your current subscription, and go for Tidal.” — Forbes

“… are you willing to lay down $20 a month for pure sound? You should. Because your life will change.” — Bob Lefsetz

As others have wisely pointed out, this is what the mostly-white media was saying about Tidal back when Aspiro, a company based out of Northern Europe, quietly launched it last fall.

In January, Jay-Z, a black man who used sheer talent and grit to make it out of the squalid housing projects in Brooklyn — before the whole borough got turned into a bike lane — to become one of the most successful musicians in history, bought the company.

He relaunched Tidal with a star-studded press conference in late March and then the narrative suddenly changed.

“It’s dead on arrival.” — Bob Lefsetz

“I don’t think you’ll see the average music lover subscribing given what’s available for a lot less or even free.” — Forbes

“Tidal has always felt like a wave that was about to crash…” — Jezebel

“This thing is going to fail miserably.” — Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie

“Tidal costs too much: Even the free trial I received felt like a ripoff.” — Gawker

I’m certainly not suggesting that the people writing these things are inherently racist — although in some cases, they could be — and Jay-Z invited extraordinary levels of attention to the service and himself by holding that grandiose press conference a few months back.

But you can’t help but wonder how the narrative might have been different for Tidal had say Trent Reznor or Thom Yorke or even Taylor Swift been the face of this thing.

I presume they might be getting applauded. Remember, it was all “Fuck Spotify!” when Taylor Swift asked people to pay for her album a few months back, and you hear nary a bad word about her these days.

Then Jay-Z launches a streaming service and it’s all “Heil Spotify!”

Back when it had money in it, the music business — and entertainment, generally — was a way for poor people, black or white or whatever, to use their talent to make something of themselves. When opportunities were scarce, they could at least entertain. Maybe they’d get rich doing it.

Jay-Z was one of those people. And he became wildly rich. And powerful. Which is a problem for some people.

Now, the money in the traditional music business is gone. Music has become an expensive playground for an elite group of people to play around in, where making money doesn’t mean as much, because the people with the power don’t even really need it. Kind of like the media business. And the tech business.

So when critics shit on Tidal, maybe Jay-Z should ask the same question the legendary bluesman Syl Johnson once asked.

Is it because I’m black?

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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