There’s no going back once you out yourself as a
Jay Z Jaÿ-Z Stan. From then on, any time you defend the man who’s grown to become one of the game’s most divisive figures, you’re dismissed for having a bias rooted in fandom, no matter how valid your points. And yet, despite that, here I am, defending, because oh boy, this Tidal shit is getting out of hand.
Fam is a musician who owns his own music label, owns his masters, and now owns a service to stream all of that music. A streaming service that, from a consumer-facing view, is not much unlike its greatest rival Spotify. Sure, there's a $20-per-month subscription fee for those who want to hear hi-fi audio, but for everyone else there's a tier that streams music at 320kbps for $9.99 per month, the same as Spotify's "premium" tier. Does it suck that there's no free option? Sure, but, #FirstWorldProblems. Despite all of that, here we are at peak Jay Z schadenfreude. If Hov fails, he fails, and while it wouldn’t be his first it would be one of his biggest. But this all reads as deeper than just reacting to the hilarity of his awesomely tone deaf press conference and rollout, which I myself even took part in. Take a peek at The Twitter™ and the wealth of Hot Takes steadily populating the ‘net: there’s an active interest in watching Jay Z fail.
It’s crazy how many old Jay bars, be they peak era or more recent, remain relevant to his life today. But few lines are as incidentally prophetic as the ones he let off on “So Appalled”:
Dark knight feeling
Die, you be a hero
Or live long enough to see yourself become a villain
Jay Z is the rap game Harvey Dent. His trailblazing two-decade run is no longer a story of glory; he lived long enough to see himself become the villain. How, though? When did Jigga transform from the living legend we so endearingly sent off to the rafters, the same one we let bounce back after he returned claiming “30 is the new 20” even though he was pushing 40, to the guy whose every business move is met with the utmost dubiousness and cynicism? We rode with him when he boycotted Cristal (even though none of us were actually copping it), only to watch him release his own high-end champagne a few years later. We thought nothing of it when he partnered with Budweiser to sell us his "comeback" album, Kingdom Come. So, when did it become cool to hate Jay Z? The answer lies with Magna Carta Holy Grail and Samsung. Apparently Hov having a billion-dollar corporation bankroll his 12th album was the straw that broke the camel's back. No pun intended.
But why shouldn’t Jay Z aspire to keep growing his fortune? He's been upfront about his goals from the start. He told us as much when he said he’s in the “race to a billion with his face to the ceiling/knees on the floor, please Lord, forgive him.” But did he actually sell his soul? In the much-maligned Samsung move, dude actually says in the commercial, “we’ll put it out at one time then everyone will share it.” Read into that how you please, but it sounded as if he didn't care if it was illegally shared. Would it have been nice if Jay did the B-Sides concert just for the fuck of it? Sure. But, really, what’s the difference between copping concert tickets and dropping $10-20 for a membership you can cancel at your own leisure? The truth is Jay Z is a master at doing both—satisfying his fans while maximizing his revenue.
And all his Cash Kings peers are doing the same with much less of the backlash. No one slams Puff and Ciroc the same way eyes rolled at Jay’s perfectly fine D’usse name-drop in "Drunk in Love." People weren't wildin' out when Dr. Dre partnered with Jimmy Iovine to sell people $300 headphones. If you want to do a one-to-one analogy, what about Beats Music? It has no free tier, no desktop or web app, and doesn't even offer artist exclusives like Jigga's does.
Jay Z is a master at satisfying his fans while maximizing his revenue.
The truth is, Jay Z isn’t so far from the oh-so championed rebel spirit of Kanye West. He’s just more corporate minded. Albums leak in advance like clockwork? Well, he’ll gas a phone company to give him his platinum plaque in advance and still go gold off physicals the first week. Streaming is the new game? Fuck playing by the pre-set rules, he’ll make his own. The business might not take off in its first 30 days because—shocker!—most don’t. For whatever reason, President Carter’s approval numbers are down. Is it because, as Kanye said last year, with him you usually see the win? Unlike his little brother, he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. He rarely does interviews, rarely uses his live shows to express his mind and frustrations. He comes off, to some, as cold and calculating. Even when he does try to engage, he's met with mockery. Just take a look at last week's #TidalFacts tweet-spree.
To quote the "Grammy Family" freestyle, “Build me up, break me down, build me up again.” His back’s against the wall. New A-list rappers are maximizing the shine. “They” don’t love him no more. The last year made Jay Z face the closest thing to adversity since who knows when. Shit, with so much riding against him, we may be in for a truly great album. Maybe that's what he needs to regain the people: an undeniable body of work, not just an enjoyable B album (though I will defend MCHG forever). But whether through music or some other stunt, at this point it’s beyond foolish to count Jigga out. He told you his own mythology in advance 19 years ago, “I’ll tell you half the story, the rest, you fill it in. As long as the villain wins.” But here's hoping he can reclaim the superhero mantle along with whatever trophies await.