Monday, July 20, 2009

Jay-Z unveils latest "Blueprint" for success

So Jay-Z took his time, and let his hair grow out -- as he usually does when he's in the studio -- and came back with collaborations with producers Kanye West, No I.D. and Timbaland, as well as musician contributions from MGMT, Drake, Mr. Hudson, Rihanna and Kid Cudi. (As of now, there are no collaborations with Beyonce, although he doesn't rule out the possibility.)

The album's first single, "D.O.A. ("Death of Auto-Tune)," entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 24. On it he rhymes "I know we're facing a recession, but the music y'all making gonna make it the great depression ... this ain't politically correct/This might offend my political connects/This is the death of Auto-Tune, moment of silence" over a sample from Janko Nilovic's "In the Space."

"In hip-hop our job is, once a trend becomes a gimmick, to get rid of it. We've done that since the beginning of time. This isn't some newfangled thing," Jay-Z says about the track, which criticizes the overuse of the pitch-correction technology. "When people were wearing the black medallions Ice Cube came along and said, 'Get it outta here!' When Hammer was selling 50,000 records, Q-Tip came and said, 'Get it outta here!' Then Biggie Smalls came and said, 'Your life is played out like Kwame in the f---ing polka dots. Get the polka dots outta here!' It's just a part of hip-hop."

Oddly enough, the song was inspired by West, who used Auto-Tune on his most recent album, "808s and Heartbreak." "He actually sparked the idea," Jay-Z says. "When he heard the beat he said, 'Man, this is just so hard! This has to be against everything. No Auto-Tune. None of that type of stuff!'" He adds that he and West recorded one track with Auto-Tune for the album that didn't get used.


Despite his reputation as one of the masters of the music industry -- or maybe because of it -- Jay-Z still finds himself a target for rappers looking for beefs. One longtime naysayer is the Game, who recently attempted to call out Jay-Z during a show overseas.

"I hear it all the time -- 'Yo, he should let the young guys, the new generation of guys come in.' But you don't become the front-runner in music because someone lets you. You have to claim your shoes," Jay-Z says. "If you grow up listening to hip-hop, you love hip-hop and that's the end of it. But if you're a 30-year-old rapper still trying to make music like you're 15, then you're making it narrow. At my age, I can't relate to a 15-year-old. I deal with mature and relevant topics for my age group -- it has to all be based on true emotions. The more diversity and the more mature we make hip-hop, the bigger the net you cast."

Jay-Z criticizes some new artists for passing the buck and blaming others for their lack of popularity, but he acknowledges that more successful rappers need to serve as mentors to help develop the genre.

"Kanye is really the father to the next generation -- he's from the school of Q-Tip, and now Drake and Kid Cudi are from the school of 'Ye," he says. "And, when you look at Kanye, you have to look at Lil Wayne. I think they're like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James."

As the new album's release date approaches, Jay-Z will put out another single that he hopes to introduce in a nontraditional way. He first generated buzz for "D.O.A." by performing it live for the first time at WQHT New York's 2009 Summer Jam concert, and last year he debuted the promo single "Jockin' Jay-Z" at West's New York concert. But neither "Jockin' Jay-Z" nor "Brooklyn Go Hard," another promo single released last year, are on "The Blueprint 3."

Any strategizing about singles is just one more part of the promotional power of Jay-Z Inc., which constantly hums in the background. Jay-Z also has a deal with Iconix, the company that purchased his Rocawear fashion line, and a partnership with Scion, which bought the clothing line Artful Dodger in 2007. "We bought that for $15 million, and we'll continue to build that company. It hasn't been active in the last year because of what's going on with the recession, but, when everything bounces back, we'll focus on it. We're also looking to buy other companies together as well," he says.

Then there's Roc Nation and its various departments, which are practically a full-service business for musicians, from the label to management and publishing. The company also has a deal with Pollux, through which Roc Nation will soon release Rihanna and Kanye West fragrances.

Jay-Z is perfectly aware that this kind of branding -- done for years in the hip-hop world and only now gaining recognition in the overall music business -- is key to his success. "All these things are just part of the culture -- it's part of living your life," he says. "It's not really separate, and if it all has some type of synergy and is all in one place, it has a cohesiveness that it wouldn't normally have if the guy from Arden was doing your fragrance deal and then this guy was doing your movie deal. They're not really conversing with each other. If the conversation is happening all in one place, then there's a more organic and natural thing."

When Jay-Z speaks like this, it's easy to imagine him as a full-time mogul, especially since he threatened to retire from hip-hop in 2003. But don't expect him to leave the stage any time soon. "One day you'll wake up and say, 'Man, it's been five years since this guy has put out an album,'" he says. "Then you'll realize that I'm gone."

For now, though, he's just getting started.

(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

No comments:

Post a Comment