Top Dawg & Kendrick Lamar Challenged Spotify’s Censorship & Won

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Hi. We recently created AFH TV, Ambrosia For Heads’ streaming video service, because we believe real Hip-Hop deserves its own dedicated TV home, but we need your help to make it great. Please subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and already features some amazing content, but the best is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support.

Last week, reports began to surface that major names in the music industry were taking Spotify to task for its “hateful conduct policy,” which many viewed as a form of censorship. When it was first announced in early May, the policy was unveiled in conjunction with the news that the music of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion would be removed from its major playlists because of their behavior and allegations of sexually predatory behavior. Immediately thereafter, the music-streaming platform came under fire for the slippery slope it seemed to be climbing and debates about the practicality of such a policy made headlines. As reported by Ambrosia For Heads, Spotify’s founder and CEO Daniel Ek heard from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, according to Bloomberg; however, Top Dawg Entertainment had not confirmed their involvement in the matter.

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TDE founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith has now confirmed the validity of that report. In an interview with Billboard, he says he spoke first with Spotify’s global head of creator services, Troy Carter. “We had a conversation and I expressed how I felt about it, about censorship, how you can’t do artists that way,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right for artists to be censored, especially in our culture. How did they just pick those [artists] out? How come they didn’t pick out any others from any other genres or any other different cultures? There [are] so many other artists that have different things going on, and they could’ve picked anybody. But it seems to me that they’re constantly picking on Hip-Hop culture.”

That initial conversation set something bigger in motion. As Dan Rys explains, Top hopped on a call with Diddy and Tommy Mottola, former Sony Music Entertainment director. Together, the three discussed what they felt was Spotify’s coming dangerously close to censoring music, particularly music of Black artists. Not long thereafter, they were speaking with Ek. “My whole thing with them was, we gotta fix this situation, and if it can’t be fixed, then there’s gonna be a real problem, we’re gonna have to start pulling our music from the site,” Top says. “I was willing to get the whole culture to back out. There were other people in the business, other powerful artists that were willing to back what I was saying, because nobody agrees with censorship like that.”

It appears his pleas worked. Rys writes, “According to Top, Ek was receptive to his concerns, and pledged to make it right, leading ultimately to Spotify’s decision today to back down from its hateful conduct provision and put XXXTentacion back on its playlists, which Top welcomed as a positive decision.” Spotify did indeed make a policy change today (June 1). “We created concern that an allegation might affect artists’ chances of landing on a Spotify playlist and negatively impact their future. Some artists even worried that mistakes made in their youth would be used against them,” the company wrote in a blog post. “That’s not what Spotify is about. We don’t aim to play judge and jury…Across all genres, our role is not to regulate artists. Therefore, we are moving away from implementing a policy around artist conduct.”

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Spotify seemed to be singling out artists in Hip-Hop and R&B when it rolled out the hateful conduct policy, an especially problematic issue considering Hip-Hop’s longstanding battle against censorship. Hip-Hop culture has by and large become so influential and dominant world over that censoring it is nearly impossible, but the world of digital streaming was uncharted territory in this regard. Taking a forthright stance against picking and choosing which artists’ music is amplified and which gets silenced simply threatens too much, not only for artists today. According to Top Dawg, “Censorship affects not only us, but it affects generations to follow. This is for the future. If they censor us now, ain’t no telling what’s going to happen in the future. It’s a slippery slope if you start censoring music. You gotta let artists be artists and speak freely.”

We may never be privy to the full backstory and how many other artists and their representatives were involved in the backlash against Spotify’s hateful conduct policy. However, TDE’s willingness to not only remove the music of Kendrick Lamar and his labelmates from Spotify but to “get the whole culture to back out” is remarkable. Streaming accounts for an overwhelming amount of success in today’s music-industry landscape and taking such a bold position against the status quo could have drastically affected the careers of Top Dawg’s artists. Their willingness to willingly impose such a hindrance to the consumption of their music is a form of activism in the modern era, and it worked.