Kanye West took to Instagram on Tuesday to question a Billboard report that his “camp” has been quietly shopping his song catalog, writing via Stories: “Just like Taylor Swift… my publishing is being put up for my sale without my knowledge.”
Billboard reported on Monday that members of the rapper’s team “have met selectively with prospective buyers to explore what kind of valuation his song catalog could fetch,” estimating that they are seeking $175 million. In another Instagram Story, West posted a screenshot of a text message with an unnamed person, with West asking, “Can you ask Gee who is selling my publishing,” likely referring to his manager Gee Roberson.
“Fake news,” the person replies. “Of course every publisher wants to pitch there [sic] hardest to buy. Smh.”
Representatives for West and his publisher, Sony Music Publishing, did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
As is often the case with West, there’s a lot to unpack in the situation.
First, it is difficult to imagine anyone in his camp shopping the rights to his music without his knowledge, although with the frequent and rapid turnover of his management staff and his multiple ongoing projects, there is certainly potential for miscommunication. As the value of publishing and recorded-music catalogs has soared in recent years, virtually every major artist has explored such sales — sources say Bob Dylan sold his publishing for nearly $400 million and his recorded-music for around $200 million — so it’s not surprising that reps for West would test the waters, especially as rising interest rates and fears of inflation have cooled off the market in recent months.
Second, although West compares himself to Swift, the situations are drastically different, even if someone were shopping his publishing without his knowledge. Swift’s publishing catalog was never for sale; instead, a consortium led by Justin Bieber/ Ariana Grande manager Scooter Braun paid a reported $300 million for the rights to the masters owned by her former label Big Machine, which included her first six albums (adding another twist, Braun managed West for a couple of different stints in 2016-2018).
While Swift has said she was initially unaware of a potential Big Machine sale and much about that situation remains unclear, she attempted to buy her masters from the label before the Braun-led deal closed, but found the terms unacceptable. Instead, she is two albums into the process of recording new versions of those Big Machine albums (adding multiple bonus tracks) and releasing them via her own company, and licensed to Universal Music Group’s Republic Records. Just 17 months after acquiring Big Machine, Braun sold his interest for a substantial profit.
West has made noise about acquiring the rights to his publishing and recorded-music at least twice in the past, even going so far as to post excerpts from his contracts on social media in 2018. In September of 2020 he wrote on Twitter, “I’m not putting no more music out till I’m done with my contract[s]” and in a different post included a screenshot of a text from an unnamed adviser apparently claiming that his masters are worth more than Swift’s. (He has released two versions of his “Donda” album and multiple other songs since he made that statement.)
Additionally, the documents he posted in 2018 showed that not only was he still legally bound by those contracts, but that they had been renegotiated more than once at terms very favorable to him, by current standards. It also has become clear that West apparently already owns the rights to many of his recordings: The copyright on all of his albums from 2016’s “Life of Pablo” album onward is credited to his company Getting Out Our Dreams II, LLC (a variation on the name of his earlier label, Getting Out Our Dreams, often abbreviated to G.O.O.D.) and licensed to his longtime label Def Jam, while the rights to his previous recordings are credited only to Def Jam.
From Variety US