Jay-Z and the Future of MusicPublished: June 19, 2013I was in a bar in Brooklyn watching the NBA Finals on Sunday night, when Jay-Z’s now infamous three-minute-long Samsung commercial first aired. Barely able to hear the spot over the di...
Jay-Z and the Future of MusicPublished: June 19, 2013I was in a bar in Brooklyn watching the NBA Finals on Sunday night, when Jay-Z’s now infamous three-minute-long Samsung commercial first aired. Barely able to hear the spot over the din of gathered basketball fans, a friend pulled out his phone and headed to the URL displayed at the end of the ad: MagnaCartaHolyGrail.com. And it was there that we learned that the world’s most famous rapper would be dropping his 12th studio album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” on July 4. If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, that is.
The news brought up a number of questions:
1) How was Jay-Z able to keep this so quiet? The album’s release was just over two weeks away, making the turnaround between the announcement of Kanye West’s “Yeezus” and its official release today look downright sluggish in comparison.
2) Was Jay pulling a total big brother move on Kanye, stealing his thunder by announcing “Magna Carta Holy Grail” days before Kanye’s album was set to hit stores?
3) Wait, you have to have a Samsung Galaxy phone if you want to get the album on July 4?
To answer the first question, I have absolutely no idea. I guess if Jay asks you to keep a secret you do it, right? In regards to the second, umm, yeah, most definitely. “Yeezus” was cloaked in mystery before leaking, but one of the few concrete things everyone knew was that it was due out yesterday. There’s no way Jay didn’t give thought to the fact that he was announcing his new album, with its similarly grandiose title, less than 36 hours before the release of “Yeezus.” And as for the third question, apparently! Which is interesting if you are curious about the direction the music business is going in.
Here’s how it works: If you want to get “Magna Carta Holy Grail” on July 4, you’ll have to own a Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S 4, or Galaxy Note II, with which you will have access to the album for free, three days before everyone else, via an app that can be downloaded on June 24. That’s because Samsung graciously purchased the first one million copies for $5 million. The arrangement is great for Jay, because it guarantees that his album goes platinum before it’s officially on sale, and for Samsung, because their phone, the only real iPhone competitor, becomes even more of a “must have” — for people who absolutely can’t wait three whole extra days for the record, that is. But as mutually beneficial as the deal may be from a money standpoint, it also stigmatizes the album — this is the album Samsung paid for — regardless of when the partnership was reached. Yes, all major label releases involve monetary transactions, but here another layer has been added to the mix, and it feels a little gross.
This is the direction music and marketing are headed in, though. As Daily Intel’s Kevin Roose points out, Zooey Deschanel, Alicia Keys, and Gwen Steffani have all promoted smartphones before (Keys was actually named Blackberry’s Global Creative Director). Jay-Z’s taking it all a step further by giving his most die hard fans that much more of an incentive to buy the product he is endorsing — it’s not just about having the same phone as the rapper, it’s about having it and also getting a little extra reward. We’ve already seen the sponsored tour, music video, and single, but those all felt like one-offs. But even in the iTunes era, the album is still supposed to be a cohesive artistic statement, something we rarely associate with corporate underwriting. Regardless, we’re sure this marketing ploy will work out for both parties, and those million free copies will be downloaded (whether or not Billboard recognizes them).
The partnership really should come as no surprise either, as Jay has proven himself uniquely talented at personal brand expansion (the Budweiser Select deal, buying into the Brooklyn Nets, then selling his stake to start his own sports agency, just to name a few). After all, this is the same guy who once rapped, “I’m not a busines