"We need to write the new rules."
That's the way Jay-Z, in a promotional video about the making of his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, describes his creative process. He needs new rules, he says, because the Internet is "like the Wild West," and the old rules no longer apply. And as he talks with producer Rick Rubin about all this change, we see him flicking through lyrics on a tablet computer.
Hence the first new rule: Use commercial partnerships to sell your music.
Magna Carta Holy Grail will be released on July 4, but only to the first million fans who download a special app onto their Samsung Galaxy smartphones. The rest of the world will have to wait until July 7, when the album is released through more typical channels. Take that, iPhone owners.
Although it's not unusual for artists to enter into special marketing deals with specific retailers – for example, Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift releasing special "bonus-track" versions of their new albums, to be sold exclusively through Target – Jay-Z's deal with Samsung is noteworthy in several respects.
First of all, it was announced not through a press release or even a tweet, but in the course of a commercial during Game 5 of the Miami Heat/San Antonio Spurs NBA playoff game.
Second, it's not completely free – Samsung is paying $5 (U.S.) apiece for each of the million copies. Galaxy users, who will not be charged, will receive an app later this month that will allow them to download the album.
Finally, the deal gives Jay-Z's brand unexpected buzz at a time when the biggest hip-hop news was supposed to be Kanye West's Yeezus album, and at the same time allows Samsung to dampen the buzz around Apple's iTunes Radio launch with an entirely new twist on customer rewards.
Whether this million-copy advance sale means that Magna Carta Holy Grail becomes the first album ever to go platinum before it was released remains to be seen. Neither Soundscan, which tabulates album sales, nor NARAS, the recording industry group that actually gives the platinum awards, has commented on the deal.
Either way, Jay-Z walks away $5-million richer, which proves that at least one of the old rules still stands: Everybody wants to get paid.