When Spotify officially announced its new hate content and hateful conduct policy on the morning of May 10, it effectively caught everybody by surprise: label executives, artist managers, the teams of the very artists affected and even some high-level executives within the company were previously unaware of the new guidelines, which effectively removed the music of R. Kelly, XXXTentacion and Tay-K from its owned and operated playlists, though their music remained on the service.
One person who was particularly concerned was Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, the label home of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, SZA and more. Last week, Bloomberg reported that Spotify would be restoring XXXTentacion's music to its playlists after pressure from some within the music industry, including representatives from Lamar's label. Now, after Spotify officially rescinded the "hateful conduct" provision of the new policy, Top Dawg tells Billboard about how those back-channel conversations led to the policy change.
"I reached out to Troy [Carter, Spotify's global head of creator services] over there, we had a conversation and I expressed how I felt about it, about censorship, how you can't do artists that way," Top explains to Billboard. "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."
After the initial conversation with Carter, Top spoke to Diddy and former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, which led to them getting on a phone call with Daniel Ek, Spotify's founder and CEO.
"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 recalls. "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."
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.
"His intentions were good in terms of what they were trying to do, but it just came across wrong," Top says about that conversation with Ek, a sentiment which Ek himself shared earlier this week when acknowledging that the policy was "rolled out wrong" during the Recode tech conference. "He understood where I was coming from and he wanted to help change or reverse that decision. They understood where I was coming from, I understood what their intentions were and we cleared it up. So it's not no bad blood, it shouldn't affect anything going forward.
"People come to streaming sites for the music not the technology," Top adds. "The music is more important than anything else. That makes us the stock."
In a blog post today, Spotify acknowledged that the policy's "language was vague and left too many elements open to interpretation. 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. 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."
For Top Dawg, the reversal of the conduct policy was about avoiding setting a precedent that could be used against artists in the future.
"Censorship affects not only us, but it affects generations to follow," he says. "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. That was the main thing."