While Kanye West may have salvaged his relationship with King Jesus this year, the same cannot be said about his tenuous agreement with EMI, the record label that has owned the publishing rights to West’s music since 2003.
A tentative resolution forged between West and the British-based conglomerate in September recently fell apart, causing EMI to reopen the contract dispute over the rights to his catalog, according to TMZ.
The rapper/producer first sued EMI in January 2019, claiming his contract with the record company is a form of lifetime “servitude” (the significance perhaps being that California, where West filed his claim, has broadly defined anti-servitude laws). But EMI countersued in March, filing a claim in federal court that West couldn’t break his contract because he already “signed multiple extensions for the company to handle his publishing,” writes Pitchfork.
EMI told the court the two parties reached “an agreement in principle” to settle the dispute in the fall, but company lawyers say EMI and West “have been unable to finalize the terms” of the agreement.
West’s legal fight mirrors that of other major artists who have battled to own their music through the years, including his “Famous” nemesis, Taylor Swift. But lexically, West’s dispute echoes Prince’s clash with Warner Bros. While protesting his contract with Warner Bros., Prince changed his name to a symbol, even going so far to perform onstage with the word “slave” on his cheek.
“Record contracts are just like—I’m gonna say the word—slavery,” the artist told Rolling Stone in 2015.
West, however, is nowhere near as sympathetic a figure as The Purple One. A man perennially unaware of irony, West has invoked slavery in several incendiary comments over the last couple years, telling TMZ in 2018 he believed some enslaved African Americans chose their servitude. After attempting to walk his comments back, West dipped back into his bottomless-pit-of-trash-takes again this summer, calling a lack of black support for Donald Trump an example of “mental slavery.”