“Y’all ’bout to turn shit up
I’m ’bout to tear shit down
I’m ’bout to air shit out
Now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”
– Kanye West
Tonight I was watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Right after the Spurs took a nine point lead over the Heat to end the first half this three minute Samsung ad aired. The ad consisted of Jay-Z in a room discussing his new album with Hip Hop legends Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Pharrell, and Swizz Beatz. The said album had never been hinted at to the general public; no singles, interviews, or rumors of any sort that hinted at Jay-Z’s first solo album since 2009’s The Blueprint 3 would be dropping in just 17 days. Through out the entirety of the video snippets of at least 5 songs can be heard, with the process of the vocals and/or production being showcased along with Jay-Z hashing over the concepts and themes of the albums with cross-genre music genius, Rick Rubin, something that Rubin had also done with Kanye West before Yeezus was released.
In the video, Jay-Z defines Hip Hop as a certain type of emotion, I agree with him but I usually use the word “energy” although I do believe we mean the same thing. This is very central to the point that Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, and Kanye’s Yeezus appear to have the same dark ambient, minimalist, primeval sound, that I privately predicted would blow up when A$AP Rocky blew up. Much like when Kanye blew up about ten years ago, A$AP Rocky’s sound became the most sought after and predominate sounds across Hip Hop and other genres. Rapping for these beats usually comes from a very deep part of a person where only words that carry a lot of meaning with the poet are used. This keeps a very genuine authentic feel that stems from creativity, spontaneity, and discontent (one of the, if not the most common emotion found in Hip Hop) that I and many other Hip Hop heads have been yearning for years. With names such as Jay-Z and Kanye West now using this we can expect much more music that stems from somewhere deep with in the poet. This won’t just be kept in the medium of music but it will spread to other expressions of self, much like when supergroups became even more discussed when Watch the Throne was released. When Kanye West and Jay-Z teamed up to drop Watch the Throne in 2011 many supergroups were formed such as Wu-Block which consists of MCs Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch, and M.A.R.S. which consists of Cormega, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and Saigon, this idea then crossed over to other mediums such as comedy where Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock started planning on touring together but only ended up doing a few shows at comedy clubs. They said they thought of this idea because of the Watch the Throne album.
When discussing the concept and themes behind the album with Rick Rubin, Jay-Z says it deals with maneuvering around one’s life with both successes and failures. It is something that Jay-Z has dealt with in his music his whole career but has been much more predominant with his newest songs. “Open Letter” dealt with him being on the attack while addressing being patronized for his business deals and his private life, on his remix of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” he showcased his political efficacy, on “100$ Bill” off The Great Gatsby soundtrack reiterated the above but on a more aggressive tone.
One other interesting thing Jay-Z said was how the rules need to be rewritten for the digital age. The release of Magna Carta Holy Grail and Yeezus are very similar as both were not promoted until a few weeks before the release date and still little was given away about the projects. Kanye sited his reason for keeping his album under wraps was that he was done with trying to sell records and he just wanted to make music, Jay-Z never directly answered this question but my guess is that he is attempting to rewrite the rules of how music is made and presented in the digital age. Many music connoisseurs like myself really enjoy physical media as its something tactile and can be used to set the mood with the booklet(s), case, and disc(s). Just a few days ago I was thinking about how an album could be released in away that could encapsulate the qualities that are exclusive with digital media. For instance, something that is exclusive to physical media is the fact that their are pieces to an album that you can touch, feel, and hold that can give off the mood of the album, something that can be done with digital music is having a larger focus on the visual aesthetics, where videos accommodate the music much like music videos but take on the easier-to-watch quality that are central to what a gif is. These videos would be more cryptic and have more levels just like the songs it accompanies. It would be more like the visualizer on iTunes, something that is more open to interpretation like the song and can be viewed many times over with a certain cryptic subliminal unpredictable quality. One other exclusive quality to digital media is the financial freedom of no packaging. No cases, booklets, discs, plastic wrap, or distributors to hike up the price of an album. The release of MCHG takes this idea into account, it is free to the first million Samsung Galaxy S III, 4, and Note II users via app three days before anyone else can get it. This financial freedom allows for companies such as Samsung to take control of music releases because they can use their own outlet and give exclusives out to their users much like how they are handling the release of MCHG. More control to corporations is a very bad thing in my opinion but it can be better for the artists and for further exploration of digital media.