Summer 2013 has been lit up by the pair of Kanye West and Jay-Z. Yeezus is easily the most controversial Hip-Hop album of the year so far and Magna Carta Holy Grail‘s still stirs its share of discussion.
Yeezus has bred two schools of thought. People love it or they hate it. There aren’t too many people residing on the fence about it. And while I tend to lean towards the hate side, I absolutely see the artistic merit and the potential that the project has to expand the conventional boundaries of Hip-Hop. In fact, when 808s and Heatbreak dropped, I felt the exact same way: not really liking it, but respecting its value nonetheless.
However, I recently went back and played it from start to finish, and found myself having a change of heart. It could be my second favorite Kanye album now. Yeezus has that same quality. With it being so different, the album is starkly unique that there’s nothing quite like it. By no means is the LP perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Other artists will develop and refine the sound over the next few years.
Earlier last week, Jay-Z gave his take on his The Throne partner’s new release during an interview with Angie Martinez on NY’s Hot97.
“It’s polarizing, and that’s what great art is. It’s polarizing. If forces you to have an opinion. At least you’re not wishy-washy about it. It forces you to have an opinion, which is good. I think it’s needed. What tends to happen is someone has to experiment and go do it first. Artists will sit back and watch and be like ‘Okay I like this, I don’t like that. I like this part,’ and then they’ll perfect the methods. And it all pushes the genre forward, which is good. And that’s what he does. He’s like a lightening rod for the culture. No actually he’s like a cowboy. He’ll runs over the hill and all the Indians hit him with the arrows. And then he comes back like ‘Yo there’s a lotta them out there.’ And then we go over there and conquer.”
A couple weeks after Yeezus, July 4th saw the release of Jay-Z’s twelfth solo studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. And while Hov’s music over the last few years hasn’t been anything that’s necessarily expanded the limits of Hip-Hop, he’s been pushing the culture’s envelope in other ways.
Where artists usually aspire to be the “Rap Michael Jordan” or the “Rap Warren Buffet,” Jay’s elevated his status to such a height people now aspire to the “NBA Jay-Z” or the “MLB Jay-Z.” Enter Roc Nation Sports and Hov’s channel to help Kevin Durant, Robinson Cano, and others climb with him.
And most recently, Jay announced his $20 million Samsung deal, something that I’m willing to bet will be eventually be known as the first of its kind due to the sheer magnitude of it all. The biggest factor in a label setting a budget on an album is the projected return its expected to have. If an artist can guarantee a certain amount up front, the majors would be much more inclined to spend a little extra cash. And especially seeing that the million free downloads didn’t hurt Jay-Z’s first week sales at all, the Samsung promo didn’t cannibalize the CD purchasing fans.
Jay spoke on it during his radio interview with The Breakfast Club last week.
“In that instance I was the cowboy running over the hill. Anytime that you try to anything different and you should always try to push forward, it’s gonna be problems because it’s never been done before. You can’t anticipate all the things that can happen. The thing that happened with Samsung, it was a real problem. It was 20 million hits to the app. We went over a million. You was trying, you couldn’t get through, you hit it twenty times. So that’s twenty million hits for the app. And it broke. There’s no way in the world you can calculate twenty million hits. It’s not even a number you can fathom. It’s twenty times the amount we thought was gonna happen.
So you can’t even prepare service for that…It’s not a great problem because you want the fan to get that experience. The people that waited and downloaded it. You want them to get that experience right away. That’s the only thing that was a little disheartening to me…For me that’s a loss and that has to get better. But again, someone else has to figure that out. The next person is gonna now know how to go into it better. Which is cool, and that’s my job. I took the hit for that.”
Neither rapper is doing what fans often say they want the two to do. Kanye will never go back to the College Dropout days, and Jay-Z will never make The Blueprint again. We can’t go back in time to ’96 or ’99. The sooner we as fans accept this as truth, the less shocking their future endeavors will seem to us.
What they are doing is paving the way for Hip-Hop to go further than even Biggie imagined in “Juicy.” They’re two of the biggest luminaries we have. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, it’s that they’ll continue to push the gauntlet as long as blood flows through their veins.