Jay-Z stole everyone's thunder.
Date: June 16
Man, Big Brother didn't give Yeezus even a second to breathe. In one of the great rap sneak moves of all time, Jay dropped a very-expensive-looking three-minute ad during the Game 5 of the NBA Finals for his forthcoming album,
The Branded Content Album Magna Carta Holy Grail. The spot doubled as a Samsung commercial and featured Jay announcing that the album was dropping July 4.
It was brilliant business strategy. In one fell swoop, Jay sucked all the air out of the room right when Kanye, Cole, Mac Miller and Wale (who, lest we forget, is still managed by Roc Nation) were all hoping to have a moment. He was nice enough to take the time (over a span of five minutes) to shout them out during a Twitter rant later that night wherein he also asked, "If 1 Million records gets SOLD and billboard doesnt [sic] report it, did it happen? Ha."
That's a little disingenuous. He was referring to the stipulations of his deal with Samsung. The electronics giant has technically "purchased" a million advance orders of the album in MP3 form, which they will install in, and so give away with, the first million versions of their new Galaxy cellphones to be sold starting July 1st. (Three days prior to the album's official release.) Again, you can't knock the hustle. It's genius. Five million dollars worth, at the least. (Samsung got a discount for buying in bulk.) But counting cell phones sales in the stats game stretches that old line about numbers not lying. (Prince tried a similar stunt nine years ago.)
We're wondering how the marketing will affect the music. Optimists hope that the spotlight Jay has put himself in will inspire him to great performance heights. An artist in his position needs to find new ways to challenge himself, and inviting the disdain of everyone with even a smidgen of distaste for the corporatization of hip-hop is certainly one way of going about that. On the other hand, might a cool five milly up front be cause for creativity-killing contentment? And what about compromise on behalf of his Fortune 500 partners? This year has already seen several rappers cause a shitstorm for their financial connects. We're assuming present day Jay won't say anything as outlandish as Rick Ross or Lil Wayne did. Then again, we're talking about a guy who once threw a slick reference about the going rate for a kilo of cocaine ("If Jeezy's playing Lebron, I'm paying Dwayne Wade") into his biggest Billboard hit ever. You can imagine every activist group in the country putting Samsung's PR department on speed-dial. And if Jay imagines that, too (and one would expect he would; this is not a man who doesn't see bigger pictures), it could be stifling. Playing it safe never made for great art.
Finally, let's take a second to appreciate what an amazing troll the album title is? Seems like Magna Carta would have been enough. (And we credit Jay for withstanding the Borscht-belt temptation to go with Magna "Carter. We're not sure we could have.) Throwing that Holy Grail in there is so ridiculous. And surely intended to give all the Illuminati conspiracy theorists something to riff on for months. "IT'S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE CAN'T YOU SEE!!!" (Big Brother, always watching.) Either that or you see Jay sitting in a room staring at two dry erase boards, one with Magna Carta written in red marker written (in Beyonce's handwriting) and another with The Holy Grail in blue marker (in Ty-Ty's writing.) After hours of deliberation and a couple of games of Bejeweled on the iPhone (natch!), Jay finally looks up and says, "Yes." —Insanul Ahmed