(Jay-Z Won/Jay-Z Lost)
If it isn't already apparent, I'm very interested in the intersection of Hip-Hop, Economics, & Society. For that reason, Rocafella Records always stood out as an example of the bridge between good business and quality art. No matter where you stood on the subject matter, it was obvious that there was care & effort put into Jay-Z's music. As far as business practices, RR always seemed to see beyond the pitfall and traps of HH economics (e.g. Demanding true ownership vs. Being the owner of a "vanity" label).
However, by the time the play ended, Jay, Biggs, & Dame broke up, the music started to suffer, and RR served as yet another example of HH relationships gone bad.
Well in a nutshell, Jay-Z won & Jay-Z lost. Below, I will explain how he could do both at the same time.
How Jay-Z Won
When RR first broke up, I looked at the conflict as 2 different business styles, with Jay leaning towards corporate partnerships & Dame charting a course of serial entrepreneurship. At that time, I saw the differences as surface. Now, we know the cause was precipitated by Jay feeling that Dame's business whims (signing everyone w/ pulse, a foray into movies, buying pro-keds) were destroying the brand. Additionally with Steve (Puffy don't break my neck) Stoute at his side, Jay began moving into uncharted waters as far as HH, Marketing, & Brand Identity, Jay didn't have as much need for the aggressive, loud-talking Dash. One other thing that put the nail in the coffin was that many of Jay's business partners (Stoute, Lyor Cohen) weren't too fond of the way that Dash got busy.
When Jay-Z & friends threw Dash out of the matrix, I thought it was a pretty cold move to do to a person that you got paid with for the last 7 years. In reality, Dash was left without a home & without a identity due to being pushed out of RR. Most of the artists on Rocafella went with Jay, leaving Dash with Rell, Sizzla, & Beans (Who has since left dash). After being thrown under the bus, Dash tried to start his own thing, to no avail. Fast forward to 2006: Jay sells 700,000 units first week out, & Dash is more known for doing reality shows & stalking Jay. Also, for all those who are into this sort of thing, Jay's promo push is the last of the mohicans as far as the big corporate variety (More on Steve-o Stoute in another post). Right now, Jay is on top of the world, & Dash is most known for being bitter & his wife's budding fashion career. In this way, Jay won.
Jay Z Lost
Although Jay's on top of the world in one sense, in another way, he's tarnishing his legacy & image. Although Kingdom Come sold well, it will go down as one of his least well received albums from a critical perspective. When listening, you can't help but see the Jordan in him (post-Bulls,that is).
Kingdom Come finds Hov in a zone where he wants to show the world he's got it, b.u.t. make it look effortless at the same time. Instead of leaving when he (& his squad) were on top, he comes back to show that he's the best that ever did it (A title he's been chasing since HH memorialized Big as the best thing since the Hula Hoop). In this sense, I like to compare Jay/Mike with Bird. Bird knew when it was time to roll and did it gracefully, moving to the front office so that his career in basketball could take it's natural course. We don't have any Larry Legend's in HH because unfortunately, it's a bit too ego driven for that. Rapper are always forced out after their prime by a new generation (HH eats it's young & it's elders).
I do applaud him for trying to create a new zone in HH, if you will: The "Old Head" HH album. You know, the HH album for older grown & sexy, upwardly mobile types. If you're going to do that, you have to be consistent: You can't talk it, and then do bad odes to strippers ( True Old Heads are much more discreet & subtle). The other thing about KC is the preoccupation with "Young Niggas". Instead of leading without having to lead, he tries to bully the youth into taking his lead,however beneficial that road may be.
Which leads me to his issue with Jim "The Workman" Jones. You see, although Jones is outwardly flashy & arrogant, in reality, he's a hard worker with alot of initiative and drive who's taken himself from hypeman to star in his own right. He also actualized what no other rapper was able to do: create a true "movement" based on gang affiliation (The Red Team) & pavement pounding. Say what you will about his music, b.u.t. the diplomats are one of the few NY crews that have country-wide appeal. Jones has been the most outspoken in coming at Jay for sometime because in the eyes of the constituents that Jones serves (New York & Youth), the legend of Jay-Z lost some of it's luster. Along the way Jones manages to come up with a hit song, only increasing his visibility & annoying Jay even more. So now Jay finds himself in a battle of sorts with a moderately talented rapper who keeps firing shots. What does he do?
He makes a diss song over Jones's song, which only shows that he's as vulnerable as people think he is. If you are truly above the fray, then you shouldn't be pulled in by Jim of all people. On the other side, if it was a publicity stunt, then o' how the mighty have fallen. Either way, it's a lose-lose situation that he never should
have put himself in.
Finally, there's this thing about being the president of Def Jam. Without hating or anything, the question has to be asked: How can you run the label & record an album at the same time? Doesn't that seem like a huge conflict of interest where you'll turn in two half-assed efforts instead of one good one? How can a president be focused on the strategic plan for the label when the focus is on a huge corporate rollout for your own album? You can't be the president & be on your own tour at the same time. On the real, Jay had to do this album to make the numbers look right for Def Jam this year with a strong 4th Q push, in the face of a steadily declining market share for his company. In doing so, he has sacrificed the artists on the label, many of whom came to DJ because he was going to run the ship.
The best thing Jay could do for HH at this point is to prove that we can manage it just as well as we do it in a changing marketplace. In a interview Jigga noted "70,000 is the new 150,000"m b.u.t. if we buy that, how in the hell did you sell 700,000? The same way it was done in the past: promotion, marketing, & product placement. I don't knock the hustle, I knock the application