Jay-Z has taken on a fairly ambitious release plan for his new album Magna Carta Holy Grail; the album is first available through an app on Samsung devices, and Samsung will be giving away a million free downloads. Missing out on the free albums isn’t a problem: The album’s worth every cent. But what about the app?
The app’s content is interesting because it’s essentially a more complex set of liner notes. Most songs have a brief video featuring Jay-Z explaining what they’re rooted in emotionally, shot in a documentary style as he works with his collaborators. It sounds like fluff, but it isn’t: Some of them are almost as long as the songs themselves and the videos feel natural and engaging. Everything is tastefully arranged and, more importantly, simple to use. It turns the album into a richer, more engaging experience than just listening to it.
You can also get the lyrics for each song just by clicking on the opening lines while the song is playing, which is a nice touch. On the other hand, even if you request the explicit version of the album, any profanity will be crossed out in the lyric sheets, which is a bit annoying. Golly gee, you mean a rapper might swear? And use racial terms some might find offensive?! We’d better keep the public away from that!
The only real problem with the app is that it’s oddly intrusive. You won’t just need a Samsung device to get the app; you’ll also need to fork over your Facebook or your Twitter, and you have to give the app full access to your phone. Furthermore, until the Fourth, you had to share lyric sheets on your social media feeds to unlock them. And if you scan the app’s permissions, it wants pretty much every piece of data your phone churns out. It’s annoying, not least because as far as I can tell it’s utterly unnecessary to any of the app’s functions; the app doesn’t require most of the data it wants. It just wants it because… who knows?
The app itself is well-designed, full of useful content, and turns listening into the album into a more engaging experience. You just have to ask yourself if it’s worth handing over everything about yourself to get that experience.