Jay Z had himself a weekend in terms of breaking news. First there was the news that his wife, up and coming singer/songwriter Beyonce, had given birth to twins. No sex or names yet, but if one is a girl, I think they should call her Wonder Woman.
Well the next bit of news was more of a confirmation of sorts. After rumors and posters started showing up and 4:44 was being whispered through the wind like pollen, it was confirmed Monday morning that Jay Z is dropping a new album, 4:44, set to be released on June 30. This will be Hov’s first release since Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was released in 2013.
A new Jay Z album should be cause for celebration. It’s not every day we learn that one of the greatest rappers alive is dropping a new album. But let’s be honest, the devil in the release’s details are a massive bummer.
According to a press release that came out this morning, 4:44 will be an exclusive release for both TIDAL members and prepaid Sprint customers.
“New and existing Sprint customers can take advantage of the complimentary six-month trial of TIDAL HiFi at Sprint.TIDAL.com or by visiting a Sprint store.1 New Boost Mobile customers can subscribe during the activation process in-store or online at boostmobile.com. Existing customers can add the monthly subscription online via My Account (web and smartphone), in store, or by phone. New TIDAL members worldwide can visit TIDAL.com/Try-now.”
Paraphrased: you’re only hearing 4:44 if you’re a Sprint customer or one of the handful of people who subscribe to TIDAL. Well, at least at first. There’s no mention of whether or not us regular folk will ever get the chance to listen to it.
New and existing Sprint customers can take advantage of the complimentary six-month trial of TIDAL HiFi at Sprint.TIDAL.com or by visiting a Sprint store*. New Boost Mobile customers can subscribe during the activation process in-store or online at boostmobile.com. Existing customers can add the monthly subscription online via My Account (web and smartphone), in store, or by phone. New TIDAL members worldwide can visit TIDAL.com/Try-now.
(*After 6 months, pay $9.99/mo. for Tidal Premium. Sprint plan sold separately.)
That’s right. No mention of future plans for the album, but there’s definitely a fun mention that yeah, you can sign up for this free trial, but you best be prepared to be automatically subscribed to TIDAL premium at $9.99 a month once the trial is over.
This album announcement was less of an album announcement and much more of a commercial, in which the carrot they dangled was Jay’s new album. It’s a sad day when a new Jay Z album is essentially a marketing tool. Everyone hated on U2 when Apple dropped the band’s album onto their phones without telling them, but at no point was there any pushing for you to purchase an iPhone. Or maybe there was. I don’t know. There was a lot of anger when that happened, a good junk of which was misdirected at U2. It’s not like they wrote the code to put the album on your phone.
What’s especially sad about the whole situation is that this is the second album in a row in which Jay Z has partnered up with a big company, offering up exclusive rights to his music to it’s subscribers. Magna Carta was released via Samsung in 2013, with it showing up on Samsung’s customers phones before anyone else. The real bummer was that once everyone got a chance to listen to it, everyone was collectively kind of disappointed in it.
Hey, no one is going to hate on Jay Z for furthering his business interests. I mean, after all, he is the guy who once rapped “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man.” You thought he was lying? Please. This is a guy who owned part of the Brooklyn Nets, as well as Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc Nation, Roc Nation Sports, Rocawear and the 40/40 Club. Dude was just being serious. He’s actually more of a business, man now than he is a rapper, man.
Given the sorry state TIDAL is in, trying to inject some life in the streaming service, a service that Jay has a stake in, is a smart move. TIDAL lost a reported $28 million in 2015 and claimed to lack funding to continue in 2016 and this is despite being able to drop exclusive releases by people like Kanye West, Rihanna and Beyonce. Earlier this year Sprint came in and threw the streaming service a life raft in the form of purchasing a one-third stake in the company. So this move is a win/win for everyone involved.
Well, unless you’re a Jay Z fan with a Spotify subscription and an iPhone.
Maybe this new album will be amazing and maybe it’ll totally usher in a new phase of Jay Z’s career, a phase in which he’s suddenly relevant for being a musician first, a businessman second? Hey, maybe it’ll even drive people away from Spotify and Apple Music and into the welcoming embrace of TIDAL? I mean it’s doubtful, but I guess it’s possible.
What’s not doubtful is that you can’t help but feel slightly turned off by this new album given the way it’s release has been announced. The story isn’t the new album, it’s the corporate synergy that comes with it and how grossly blatant and shameless it is. This isn’t even something new. It’s not as if no aging musician before has ever tried to get creative when it came to making money before this morning. It’s why the Rolling Stones have had tours sponsored by Citi Bank and Jeep and U2 has embarked on tours sponsored by Salesforce and Live Nation. Cashing in, or more accurately, getting someone else to foot the bill for your artistic endeavors is the goal of every musician. But you know, you never want it to be so glaringly obvious.
When we look back Jay Z’s career, this announcement and the release of 4:44 will probably be just a footnote. He’ll be remembered as the great lyricist and rapper he is and the guy who gave us classics like “99 Problems” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” Perhaps his transition from rapper to mogul could be seen as a cautionary tale, especially for those who wish to have it both ways. Like hey, Chance, you want to go ahead and buy a stake in the Bulls and partner with T-Mobile? Go for it. Just now that any music you release won’t be taken as seriously.
It’s not fair, but life’s not fair.
Even for someone like Jay Z.