Kanye “Ye” West and the Stem Player saga

Like Star Wars, the sequel comes first.

words by: Kayla Carmicheal
Feb 25, 2022

Did you know that Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, was sitting on an album to come out February 22? Or that he changed his name last October? I surely didn’t.


The rollout for Donda 2 has been exceptionally interesting, to say the least. You know how album rollouts work traditionally, right? The artist drops a single, some cover art, maybe does a couple interviews, and releases a music video. Rinse and repeat.


Ye, on the other hand, chose to take to Instagram, post memes of friends, family, and enemies, apologized, scrubbed his account, then reminded us that Donda 2, his new record, would be dropping soon, only available with Stem Player.


If you’re anything like me, you were wondering, amongst other things, what the hell a “Stem Player” is.


Stem Player: The Sequel

Apparently, released in August 2021 on Twitter (and to coincide with OG Donda), Stem Player is a handheld device the beige-nude color of Yeezy apparel. The concept is pretty dope—the Player is an on-demand Garage Band app. Modify a song’s frequency, looping, sound, pitch, everything—all with the slide of a finger.


Not to mention all the techy features. According to the co-creator of Stem Player, “It has 8GB of storage, connections via USB-C, Bluetooth, or 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 97db speaker.”


Stem Player currently comes pre-loaded with selections from Donda, but you can upload and remix other music, too. It honestly sounds like a great way to not only enhance the listening experience, but introduce music production to a new audience.


So let’s recap, everyone: According to Ye’s IG, for the low-low price of $200 USD, you have exclusive access to Donda 2, as well as a device that lets you play producer.



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A post shared by ye (@kanyewest)


Whether or not users had to pay for the album separately, what time it dropped—that was unclear. But here’s what was crystal clear: Donda 2 will never be on Spotify, and definitely not Apple Music, who apparently offered Ye $100 million for…streaming rights. But was turned down.


So…why is this Stem Player a thing? Why is Ye being so stingy when it comes to how his music is streamed?


It’s actually part of a larger issue.


Ye and Streaming: The Prequel

If you’ve been following our music posts (you should—they’re dope), then you know that streaming platforms are in hot water right now. This is because when podcaster and noted racist, Joe Rogan, was criticized over the content of his podcast, Spotify opted to keep his $200 million dollar deal intact—simultaneously, musicians currently earn less than a cent per stream.


Streaming service exclusivity isn’t a foreign concept to Ye, now that we’re on the subject. In fact, it was supposed to ring true for a previous album as well, but that doesn’t seem to have panned out well. In 2016, Ye announced that The Life of Pablo would only be available on Tidal—like, forever.


He was later sued by a fan who signed up for Tidal just for TLOP when it was announced that the record wasn’t going to be an exclusive deal anymore. On the subject of Tidal, in 2017, Kanye severed ties with the streaming platform, claiming the company owed him copious amounts of money.


While Ye wasn’t one of the artists who came down on Spotify’s unfair streaming payout, his reasoning for Stem Player—with it, Donda 2’s exclusivity—is similar. In an IG advertisement, he wrote, “Today artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own. Go to now to order.”


And if you want one for yourself, you better get going. Ye mentioned that, at the time of writing this post, there are “67,000 available and are making 3,000 a day.” The unit seems to be selling extremely well—already surpassing $2.2 million in sales, according to Ye. Additionally, he noted that to make the same amount from streams, it would take 500 million.


Donda 2 is Ye’s first independent release. This time, Def Jam/UMG aren’t involved at all. To celebrate the record’s release, Ye held a livestream event on Stem Player’s website. I didn’t catch it, but according to Twitter, the audio problems (ironic, seeing as the Player controls audio), made the event a disaster.



So, questions: Will Donda 2 stay exclusive? Why didn’t it drop at midnight? Will there be more iterations of the Stem Player? Is the premiere event accessible after the fact? (Yes, see below.)



Who’s to say? Until we know some answers on this front, check out other news including how NFT platform Hitpiece got into trouble stealing music from artists.


Photo via Amazon Music