Last night I had a dream that Jay-Z and I were walking down 57th street in Manhattan. Talking in the most nonchalant and casual manner, as if he were one of the men I grew up with. Random people were awkwardly trying to greet and say hello to him. It wasn’t a circus however; he was only noticed by a few. One lady was arguing about selfishness to someone on her cell as we waited at the light. She noticed Jay, but it was more important for her to finish her conversation than necessarily “fan out.” The look on Jay’s face was one of contentment in that moment.
I thought my dream would go the way most dreams do. Poof… gone in a series of fluid and weird vignettes. Except the vividness of this dream felt real, not just in color, but the feelings I had within it were the same ones that I had back in Jane Addams High School (The Bronx) when I heard Jay-Z on a mixtape for the first time. My conversation with Jay-Z encapsulated his influence on my generation. It felt special. Coming from a generation that was privy to a rich amount of hip hop, from Rass Kass to Nice n Smooth; the wide variety of artists we were exposed to gave the music a deep complexion. For us there was actually a time when Jay-Z was not the man married to Beyoncé or sitting atop a multimillion-dollar company. He was hustler from Brooklyn, NY with a penchant for rhyming. What Jay-Z epitomizes for some is growth of the ideal culmination of hip hop. I left the argument of “best rapper” alone to focus more on his level of achievement, his constant articulation of successes. In this respect the dream felt like a discography of a fan and a creator getting to talk about what it all meant for us both.
Jay-Z’s Samsung Galaxy-partnered release is pioneering. At this moment, the music industry is in somewhat of a flux, and the impact of technology is tremendous. There is freedom to create an opportunity for yourself as an artist to associate with your fans directly. Sell your music to them, build a fan base, and engage in the community instantaneously. With an estimated net worth of nearly $500 million, with approximately 50 million albums sold worldwide, added to the already burgeoning business ventures that range from restaurants to a sports agency, Mr. “Magna” Carter appears to be firing on all cylinders. At the same time music sales have drastically declined, branding has become more important than ever. The totality of Jay-Z’s impact as a name, a business man, and an influencer is very interesting to gauge.
I’ve gathered figures from the music industry, advertising and media, and the youth to corral some responses:
Aisha Winfield (Music Executive & Director)Founder of Junior Music Executive and Executive Director of Jill Scott’s Blues Babe Foundation. A 16-year music industry veteran with a solid reputation in marketing and management.
Kujho Carr (Professional DJ & Radio Host)Kujho Carr hails from Hattiesburg MS and has been DJing professionally for four years starting as a DJ at 105.3 WQID and expanding his brand to the State of Mississippi and beyond.
DJ Schemes (Professional DJ & Radio Host)
DJ Schemes began his professional career in 2004 while attending West Virginia University. He currently spins at various DC hot spots like MOOD LOUNGE, STADIUM NIGHTCLUB, and ULTRA BAR NIGHTCLUB. He also spins for Core DJ Radio on Shade 45 Sirius XM Satellite radio.
Kenji Summers (Advertising Strategist & Youth Organizer) Kenji was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. He is an award winning advertising strategist that recently took a sabbatical from the ad industry to empower youth culture via his current organization Passport Life.
Latasha Alcindor “L.A.” (Music Artist)L.A. began her rap journey in 2010 starting as a spoken word poet with a passion for Hip Hop. She’s performed in a multitude of shows and lineups, including opening for Good Music’s Big Sean at NYU, The Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival (2011), Toronto’s “Yes Yes Y’all” (2012) and a featured on MTV2′s Sucker Free Freestyles.
Aeja Spence (Youth)Aeja Spence is 15 years old. She loves music and working with kids. when she gets older she hopes to become a music artist manager.
Jaivaughntae Hodges (Youth)
Jaivaughntae Hodges is recent graduate of Frankford High School and an aspiring musician. He is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, rapper and producer.
How much of what Jay-Z is doing more technology or culture? If it’s both, what do you think the impact is?
Aisha Winfield: Music is becoming more of a marketing and advertising tool. Jay-Z has an ability to make things grand and larger than life. For years artist have been partnering with brands to release music to fans with limited cost to the artist. More recently it’s been clothing brands or beverages releasing albums and mix tapes for free to consumers. Jay took it to another level, but I’m not sure it will increase the viability of music for consumers. It may cause brands to increase their use of music as loss leaders and advertising tools depending on how many new activations Samsung gets.
L.A.: Jay-Z was more culture before, but because his advisors and him-self are seeing the importance of technology in marketing, he is becoming a face to Hip Hop technology as well. I think there is a beauty and beastness to this because for the younger generations who utilize the Internet on the regular…Jay-Z will never lose connection with the people. Generations will know him for years because he is staying connected to the advancements of the world. However, the beast of this is that underground artists and upcoming artists who were mainly the forefronts in using technology to spread their music and creativity have to look upon more innovative ways to get themselves out there without being clouded by all the mainstream, already established artists. So it’s a give and take.
From the business of branding, music, celebrity influence, and technology, what is the impact of Jay-Z releasing an album in this way?
Kenji Summers: Whew that is a lot of different areas to consider. This reminds me of something I wrote about for Huffington Post and to sum up what I was talking about: Jay-Z has branded being a personal brand and it has transformed the idea of celebrity. Glyn Brown is as much a celebrity within his sub-culture as Jay-Z is in his sub-culture; the only difference is Jay-Z is also a celebrity in popular culture. Jay-Z came in the game with an anti-establishment point of view and regardless of how wealthy he becomes I think he will be best served continuing to find new ways [and technologies] to help him connect with his fans directly and meaningfully.
With the level and amount of independent music, why does a company like Samsung find a strategic alliance with Jay-Z sensible? Does this marketing tactic relate to the listener?
DJ Scheme: Because Jay-Z can command the attention of listeners on a way large scale; you reach out to more people. By saying Jay-Z is releasing his album on Samsung compared to say a Kendrick Lamar. Jay has way more fans old and new in my opinion. I think Samsung is thinking global overall.
DJ Kujho: I think it was a major move on the part of Samsung with the help of selling their smartphone line. It was also an eye opener, I’m sure, to other companies on how big of an influence hip hop culture is. Vitamin Water, Beats, etc. where helped out drastically by the culture and technology is no different. I can only imagine how many people had [Motorola] 2-Ways back in the day because of him and Fabolous.
Aeja Spence: When I hear Jay-Z’s name or see the commercials about him [and Samsung] I think of inspiration and how even though he has money, he’s still just a person…like me.
What’s the impact on hip hop of Jay-Z and Samsung doing this deal? Does it reinforce the culture or commoditize it further?
Aisha: It makes hip hop more appealing to brands. I think the cream of the crop and business-minded artists and labels will benefit. It may counter any hesitation that major brands may have due to the recent incidents with Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Tyler the Creator.
Is it still more important for hip hop artists to express or is selling and the viral nature of hip hop today all there is? Is what Jay-Z is doing going to affect artists coming up on all levels?
LA: I’m not sure because what he is doing is really setting a bar for artists in his lane. And how many artists are truly in his lane? What has been and always will be important for hip hop is the expression, but to make money we need to engage audiences and get them to come to shows etc. All that’s happening now is, what are you going to bring to your table that no one else has brought?
Can every artist do something similar or this just the domain of artists like Jay-Z from a music industry perspective?
Aisha: This is not just any commercial, but an extended hip hop producer super-commercial during a highly televised major sports event! No, any artist can’t do that! In addition to the money Samsung paid for the exclusive downloads, they’ve spent a significant amount of money on advertising because of Jay-Z’s status and influence. I do think the single with an obsessive radio push is dead. Technology is allowing artists and music to reach fans in new ways that don’t require as much emphasis on a single, but strategy and creativity are required!
With the nature of radio today, would Jay-Z still count musically if he didn’t work with Samsung to bring his album out?
DJ Kujho: In the current nature of hip hop I hate to say it, but his effect here would be pretty minimal. Most of the clubs I’m in have a few Jay-Z heads in them to where I can drop a classic track here or there. “N*ggas In Paris” and “Otis” received so-so responses from the crowds when Watch The Throne dropped. Beyond my state, I’m sure the East Coast and metro areas bump Jay pretty tough, so I think the effect should be great if he has a club banger on there.
DJ Shemes: Yes. Jay-z has very loyal fans. I believe he has set his foundation so strong that people will always look for new material from him and be able to appreciate even more since he doesn’t put out a lot of music as he once did. The Samsung situation was a genius move. It’s all about evolving; anyone can release an album so how do you do it differently from anyone else? Go platinum before it even drops! #NewRules
With the amount of independent music platforms, as well artists; why does a company like Samsung find a strategic alliance with Jay-Z sensible when for a fraction of what they spent they could have a litany of artists to distribute in the same manner?
Kenji: Samsung is a company and a brand that has benchmarks or goals they are mandated to move towards every quarter and every year. Placing a bet on Jay-Z is really not a bet, so much as it is a means to guarantee people to buy their phones and use Android Apps for Google Play.
From your perspective does it matter what Jay-Z says from a music stand point or do you see this as just another notch for him in hip hop? In other words, has Jay-Z exhausted himself as an artist?
Jaivaughntae: Jay-Z is a prominent part of hip hop, just as much as Tupac and Digital Underground were. I don’t believe I can fully relate to Jay-Z. His music, however, is relatable, speaking about how he grew up, the trials that brought him to where he is now. I believe hip hop would not be as big without someone like Jay-Z to bring it to the life as an art. I enjoy Jay-Z’s music, but not as much as I enjoy the music of his predecessors.
Aeja: I mostly think hip hop but I do think of his business side too. I love his music. It’s so relatable.
L.A.: I can’t really say because I believe an artist will stop making art when they are exhausted by it and Jay-Z is still making art. It’s not the same as what we knew him for in the Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint, but that’s because he has lived and he has changed. And art is supposed to be life. Before Jay seemed to be more interested in showing his life, now he seems more interested in educating about life; which I am not mad at. It’s just going to take some time for the masses to truly understand what he is trying to engage them into. A new world of thought that’s not really new, but more so not spread.