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Jay-Z blames failed business model on racism, freestyle raps his sour grapes

Jay-Z takes the stage, blaming racism for Tidal’s failed model – is this really the example we want to set for future entrepreneurs? Sales fall, blame racism?


Jay-Z’s Tidal brand is failing

In March, Jay-Z-backed music streaming service Tidal launched on stage with music’s biggest names touting the revolution, and by this month, the buzz has already died down, many calling the service a failure. The irony is that as I write this, Jay-Z’s music is streaming in our offices, but not through Tidal.

People continue to ask why they would pay more for the streaming music service than competitors just for some exclusive content (which is the standard for streaming music, just ask artists featured every day on Spotify) and the chance to give artists more money.

Freestyling his sour grapes

As the buzz has died down, Jay-Z is steaming mad, and like any company owner, he’s taking to the stage to get his users pumped back up. But it might backfire, because he freestyle rapped his sour grapes and blamed his failed business on racism instead of re-asserting the merits of his young brand:

As an “independent,” he used to blast other rappers, but he’s a mogul now, so he’s attacking Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and Apple (directly criticizing the late Steve Jobs’ wealth) during an exclusive concert for Tidal subscribers. Some call it a defense of his brand, we call it abuse of the race card and sour grapes.

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“So I’m the bad guy now”

Jay Z addressed his subscribers Saturday, saying in a freestyle rap, “So I’m the bad guy now I hear, because I don’t go with the flow,” adding, “I feel like YouTube is the biggest culprit. Them n–gas pay you a tenth of what you supposed to get. You know n–gas die for equal pay, right? You know when I work I ain’t your slave, right?”

Tidal was designed to put music back in the hands of struggling artists, but was introduced by Kanye, Beyonce, Rhianna, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Deadmau5, Alicia Keys, and others who aren’t exactly in the “struggling” category. When we think of Tidal, the idea should be the thought of streaming music, not of Jay-Z – starpower is not enough (I mean, do you know what color skin Pandora or Spotify’s founder has, and did you chose to pay for it based on that? No? We didn’t think so).

That was strike one for Tidal. Strike two is the model (pay more, get the same as competitors). Could callously asserting that Tidal’s failure is the equivalent of the deaths of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin be strike three?

Sure, Jay-Z is pissed – ponying up $56M for a brand, firing a bunch of staff (including the CEO), and bringing star power to the launch hasn’t worked. Rumors are flying that Apple is poaching talent from Tidal for their own streaming music service, and Madonna who was on board at launch is using Meerkat to debut videos, not Tidal. Mumford & Sons have called them a plutocracy, and Lily Allen has said publicly that the business model will push people to the pirating sites and bypass legal streaming altogether (which is exactly what Steve Jobs worked so hard to stop). Kanye has deleted all mentions of Tidal from his Twitter stream. Talk about jumping ship.

If your brand is failing, what do you plan on doing? Throw a tantrum, or pick yourself up by the bootstraps? Is this really the example we want to set for young black entrepreneurs like 13 year old Moziah Bridges whose product is already in Neiman Marcus stores? When sales are down, blame racism?

Dr. Watkins analyzes Jay-Z’s reaction

Dr. Boyce Watkins from Your Black World offers his insight below, and we find it to be one of the more insightful reactions to Jay-Z’s performance:

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In conclusion

The truth is that literally nothing Jay-Z can say will make us hate his music – even this misguided freestyle rap debacle.

His reaction to this failure, however, makes us want to run as far away from Tidal as possible and hope that our children aren’t listening to his rant, because his abuse of the race card is the equivalent of falsely accusing someone of rape, as it diminishes real instances of racism. We want this and the next generation of entrepreneurs to learn from their failures and rise above them, not believe that they’re entitled to success because they came up with an idea.

In closing, let us remember the words of Colin Powell: “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”


Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Bob LeDrew

    May 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I find the idea that he puts the looming failure of his crappy plan on the same plane as Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin utterly offensive. He can write off his losses and walk away. They were written off and walked away from.

  2. Gabe Sanders

    June 20, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I find it surprising that he's using the racism card for this. Ill advised as there's plenty of real racism around.

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