In an unexpected announcement for most, Jay-Z announced he would be teaming up with Samsung to release his 12th solo album Magna Carter Holy Grail for free download to the first one million Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung Galaxy Note II users. On my timeline, I saw someone who said Jay-Z sold out. This puzzled me. I asked why and they followed up with the following response
@me I don’t trust commercialized art. Doesn’t seem genuine to me and once you take the truth away you’ve sold out.— Sebastian Zar (@sebastianzar)
I found this statement problematic. For starters, isn’t any art released by any recording artist today commercialized art? Even Yeezus in its anti-commercial messaging and branding is commercialized. Why? Because a new artist could not get away with such a relaxed promotional plan. It may not rely on a corporate brand (outside of Island Def Jam) but, its 2013 and every (smart) artist is a brand. Surely, Yeezus rests on the current popularity of the Kanye West’ brand to promote itself. With his name attached to sneakers, a clothing line, and various multiplatinum albums, Kanye West, without a doubt, is a commercial brand. As the late great Whitney Houston said, “Anybody who tells you “I’m makin’ a record ‘cause I want to be creative” is a fucking liar. They want to sell records.”
Back to the tweet above, I’m prompted to ask: What’s selling out in 2013? Particularly in Hip-Hop, a genre that for a long period of time applauded “selling out” as “making it”, because it was a sign of the genre’s legitimization and acceptance by corporate and mainstream America.
When you saw Biggie and Diddy in shiny suits and Versace shades, I don’t think anyone thought they were corny sell outs. It seems as if most hip-hop fans applauded them for making it out of the hood and being able to be as opulent as rich white folks. Everytime any hip-hop mogul cuts a big deal, its often seen as a positive for hip-hop and pushing it to the mainstream.
Flash forward a couple years and now Hip-Hop is the mainstream. Is it no longer held to the standards that it once was? Despite its ability to compete with rock and pop on the charts now, can we now apply the same standards to a Rap star about selling out that we do to a Rock star?
Lastly, its 2013. Piracy is still real and the majority of people who call themselves Jay-Z fans aren’t gonna legally purchase this album. Its a reality that we’re all aware of in this business. So what’s selling out about teaming up with a brand and playing fans, real and fair-weather, at their own game and getting the money you would’ve lost from piracy while doing something innovative?
The after effects of Napster and the proliferation of iTunes have all but destroyed the traditional model. Those who accept that can move on and find new ways to fund their albums and release them. The way we receive music will continue to evolve: and it should. Physical sales are down, in the U.S at least, and digital provides us many cool ways to get music to fans. The method of delivery,however shouldn’t and most likely won’t take away the truth in the music. If its there, its there. Unless the brand you partner with somehow tries to censor your message. If that’s the case, you’re partnering with the wrong brand.
The thing about music marketing, is that as much time and thought goes into it, as much as I respect the art behind it and appreciate it as a fan in the moment, 10, 15, 20 years from now, odds are we may not remember the super amazing marketing plan for one of favorite artist’s album(s). BUT if the artist and producer(s) do their jobs right, you’ll always remember the amazing music. That’s all we really want in the end anyway, right? Judging by the video below, that’s all Mr. Carter seems to be concerned about anyway.