The Story Behind Kanye West’s Stem Player: Alex Klein Interview

Kanye West has influenced a lot of changes in the music industry throughout his career, and with his latest invention, he wants to revolutionize the way people actually consume music. 

In August, he launched the Stem Player, a device created in partnership between Yeezy Tech and Kano Computing. The pocket-sized music player, which was first teased on Kanye’s Twitter account, promises to give consumers the ability to “customize any song.” 

By sliding your finger across touch-sensitive controls on the face of the Stem Player, you can isolate and manipulate various aspects of a track—including vocals, drums, bass, and samples—to create the perfect remix. Advanced tools include the ability to create loops, raise and lower pitch, and even combine stems from different songs. The device is pre-loaded with songs from Kanye’s Donda, an album that was released with multiple versions of several tracks but you can also upload music of yourself, allowing you to customize any album (or even recordings of your own). 

The Stem Player has been in the works for quite some time now. Alex Klein, CEO of Kano and a friend of Kanye who has collaborated with the rapper for years (he even earned writing credits on Jesus Is King), tells Complex the device took a lot of inspiration from Ye’s Sunday Service, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, and forward-thinking architecture. “The technology intent was always clear: How do we make a device that’s super small, loud, that brings people together, and allows you to take the music and hold it in your hand or in your pocket?” Klein says. 

Since its launch, the Stem Player has received positive reviews from customers. Throughout the streaming era, we’ve seen many apps and features that have enhanced the listening experience, but there’s never been a device quite like the Stem Player. “One of my favorite quotes was a customer who said, ‘This is the best first-generation technology product I’ve used since the iPhone,’” Klein recalls.

Just as much thought went into the actual design of the player as its technology. The device is circular and sits comfortably in the human hand, with a goal of “feeling like an extension of your body.” As Klein puts it, they set out to answer the question: “How do we make technology that doesn’t feel like it’s from an evil alien world?” Klein says he has a vision for a world “where people can create, not just consume.” As he explains, “It’s a world where the stuff that surrounds us is transparent and simple to understand, and people can make it themselves.”

Alex Klein hopped on a call with Complex to discuss the Stem Player, his vision for Kano, meeting with Elon Musk, and much more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below. 

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