For the Record: Spotify Shouldn’t Cancel Kanye. It Needs to Crack Down on Another Star 

Now that Kanye West has been dropped by the talent agency CAA and lost his deal with Adidas, Spotify needs to remove some problematic content from its platform. West’s music isn’t the issue, though. 

On the Oct. 6 episode of Joe Rogan‘s podcast, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters says that Palestinians are concerned “that the Israelis seem now to have a policy of murdering so many of them that they are absolutely trying to create another intifada so they can make it an armed conflict,” in Waters’ view, “so they can just kill them all.” Rogan did not ask Waters for any evidence of this. Waters accused Israel of behaving “like people in the past behaved toward Jews in northern Europe” and complained that the Jewish community uses accusations of antisemitism to “smear anyone who dares to suggest there’s something bad about Israeli policies.”

Roger Waters
Roger Waters attends the “Roger Waters Us + Them” Photocall during the 76th Venice Film Festival at on Sept. 6, 2019 in Venice, Italy.

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. But over the years, Waters’ advocacy for Palestinians has curdled into bigotry that features comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany and antisemitic conspiracy theories about media control. In a recent Rolling Stone interview that he complained to Rogan made him look bad, Waters says that Jewish Israelis “are not the descendants of indigenous people who’ve ever lived there” and suggests that some Jewish people in the U.S. and U.K. bear responsibility for the actions of Israel, “particularly because they pay for everything.” (Neither Spotify nor Waters responded to requests for comment on this matter.)

This kind of overblown rhetoric that feeds into antisemitic stereotypes is dangerous, and Spotify should edit or remove this interview and either drop Rogan’s podcast or make sure he’s prepared to ask hard questions of controversial guests.

But it shouldn’t remove West’s music — or Waters’ for that matter.

Weeks ago, Twitter and Instagram did the right thing by locking West’s social media accounts, while Revolt, Diddy’s media company, was wrong to show a lightweight interview with the rapper — and right to take it down afterward. West has the right to free speech, of course, but private companies also have a responsibility not to amplify his antisemitism. (West intends to solve this by buying his own social media company, Parler, which seems like a really bad idea for everyone involved.) Finally, on Tuesday, even Adidas dropped him. West’s deal with the Gap ended last month, but the company said it’s now taking “immediate steps” to remove his products from stores, Balenciaga ended its partnership with him, and stores like TJ Maxx and Foot Locker have also pledged to pull his shoes. At this point, West no longer even has a label (his recording contract with Universal Music ended last year) or a publisher (his administration deal with Sony Music Publishing expired earlier this year, although it will continue to administer his work for some time).


Now questions are being raised about what should happen to his old music, just as they were with R. Kelly and others. I object to West’s recent behavior about as much as anyone could: I’m Jewish (although I certainly don’t think one has to be to in order to object to antisemitism), and I think we all have an obligation to stand against racism (which West’s “White Lives Matter” shirt represents). But there’s nothing objectionable about West’s music. President Obama had it right: “He is a jackass. But he’s talented.”

There are two main reasons why activists usually call for the removal of music, or other work, from online platforms: It promotes hate, or it will benefit someone who promotes hate. Neo-Nazi bands fall into the first category, which is why almost all major platforms have a policy to take their music offline. For the same reason, Spotify should edit or remove Rogan’s interview with Waters.

West’s music isn’t hateful, though. And removing his music would also punish his label, his publishers, and numerous collaborators and songwriters who haven’t done anything wrong. (I think it behooves companies that own or distribute his music to condemn his behavior, but both his former label and publisher have done so.) That doesn’t mean other steps can’t be taken in order to put pressure on him: Apple pulled its West “Essentials” playlist, while Spotify leaves editorial playlist decisions up to individual editors, some of whom seem to have removed West’s music. These seem like smart decisions – and hopefully, if West apologizes, temporary measures.

Until West commits to changing his behavior, the music business should refuse to give West him platforms to spew his hate — and it should do the same with Waters (who should continue to advocate for his politics without crossing into hate or conspiracy theories). But it seems self-defeating to pull their music offline. If nothing else, it reminds fans of what great art they made before their genius was eclipsed by hate.

For the Record is a regular column from deputy editorial director Robert Levine analyzing news and trends in the music industry. Find more here.

Marc Schneider