I personally think that the real genius of Jay Z isn’t as a musician as much as it is for his work in branding and non-traditional advertising to promote his projects. Three years ago when he released his autobiography ‘Decoded’ he didn’t just use traditional advertising but launched one of the most innovative books launches I can think of by putting all 320 pages in various unexpected surfaces like a rooftop in New Orleans, a pool bottom in Miami, cheeseburger wrappers in New York City, a pool table in Jay’s 40/40 Club, and many more. (You can see images of 32 of the pages here).
Now with the recent release of his latest album Magna Carte Holy Grail he has unleashed two new marketing concepts. First was the pre-release of the album through a partnership with Samsung where 1 million copies were given to Samsung Galary S3, S4 and Note II owners 72 hours before it was available to the public. It got him a lot of free advertising, PR and created a huge buzz off of such a huge album release being done so differently than anything else. I think it was an interesting approach but I didn’t like it nearly as much as some of his other concepts since it was so blatantly commercial that it felt to me like it cheapened his brand.
But for the release of the track ‘Picasso Baby’ Jay Z didn’t just want to make a music video but wanted to elevate it into something more. He took the gallery space at New York City’s Pace Gallery and made himself and his rap performance into a living work of art by spending 6 straight hours performing the song live and unscripted for influencers in the arts community and his fans. Jay used the small space and the audiences reaction to each performance influence his performance so no two performances were the same. The results are documented a 10 minute short film, which is the perfect length of our social media consumption habits, called “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film” which is now available on YouTube. I like the video so much because he uses it to challenge perceptions of rap as an art form, challenge the rules of art and how inaccessible it can feel, and challenge what a performance from a superstar can be. By adding this conceptual underpinning to what is really nothing much more than a music video he was able to debut the video on HBO which I think speaks to the power of his brand and his vision that allows it to remain fresh and innovative.
So while I like the lyricism and tonal qualities of Magna Carte Holy Grail, I thought as a whole it wasn’t a very good album. But the reason why I admire Jay is because he continues to show how in this modern age the power of a brand and its ideation can overcome everything to the point where the quality of the product almost doesn’t matter.