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3 Top Hip-Hop Names Rewrite the Rulebook

Hip-hop legend, former CEO of Def Jam, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records and the founder of Roc Nation, Jay-Z announced his latest album, Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail on a Samsung commercial. It became available for download for Samsung smartphone users first, on July 4, ahead of the proper release date of July 7.

Critics have been unimpressed. Musically, Billboard's reviewer Jeff Rosenthal sums it up best:
When Kanye is heaving bombs from across the court, you can't clap so loud when Jay lobs lay-ups. That's not to say it's not good -- it is -- sometimes you just want to see some sweat.

That's one of the more favorable reviews. Washington Post reviewer Chris Richards was scathing. Here's a sample:
Over 16 joylessly professional tracks, our hero laces up his sneakers for his bazillion-thousandth victory lap around the hip-hop universe. There's no mood, no verve, no vision to this music. It's the sound of champagne being sprayed around an empty locker room.

The deal with Samsung involved a million copies of Magna Carta for which the company paid $5 million. An additional $15 million went to support the rollout, including those commercials showing Jay-Z and his pals bantering over beats in the studio. The music was offered to Samsung users a few days in advance of the album's public release date, via an app on its smartphones.

As a marketing campaign, it was great: Lots of publicity and it guaranteed a million sales for the album off the bat. There is speculation that Jay-Z's profit from the deal was greater than if he had sold a million copies outright.

In the end, though, more went wrong than went right. A large body of Samsung users found they couldn't download the album. The well-crafted music has so far impressed pretty much nobody. The black-and-white redacted-text concept behind the album art seems tired, uninspired.

But it's the music we keep coming back to. Everything else could be forgiven. Absent the artistic triumph, the deal with Samsung no longer looks brilliant. It looks like a simple corporate sponsorship. A sellout, by another name.

Jay-Z, to his credit, admits there were "disheartening" mistakes with the Samsung deal, but insists the model will be emulated by others. In a radio interview quoted by the New York Daily News, he says, "The next person now knows how to go into it better, which is cool and that's my job. I took the hit for that."
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