Last week, the twelfth solo studio album by the rapper Jay-Z, Magna Carta … Holy Grail, burst forth from a cloud of calculated obfuscation. The release came with little of the usual promotional buildup: no radio single, no Rolling Stone cover. Instead, it was announced via a three-minute commercial during game five of the NBA Finals. Shot in vérité style, the ad purported to show the artist in his studio, his Brooklyn Nets cap slung backward, as he made gnomic pronouncements to producers Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, and the graybeard Rick Rubin. “We need to write the new rules,” Jay-Z declared.The AY mention
The nature of those rules was revealed in the spot’s final second, when the words SAMSUNG GALAXY flashed on the screen. Viewers were directed to a website, where they could make out—amid stylized redactions—directions that allowed Samsung users to download a free app, which would in turn give them the album five days ahead of its general release. Samsung paid $5 each for a million digital copies, assuring the album of platinum status before it even appeared, while also giving Jay-Z the benefit of free advertising. The Wall Street Journal valued the partnership at $20 million—a figure that shocked an industry battered by piracy and declining revenues.
The deal was about much more, however, than solving a distribution problem. Before the release, the free app worked as a machine for data-mining and promotion, trading scraps of information, like lyric sheets and cover art, for access to users’ social networks...
“Jay-Z is bulletproof,” one prominent rock-band manager said with wonder two days after the commercial aired. “I don’t think anyone even cares how good his records are.”
In any event, the critical reception was lukewarm and the downloading process buggy. But that can subtract little from the legacy of Jay-Z the musician, a virtuoso whose evolution traces a broader societal progression. When he started out, his lyrics reflected a life not far removed from drug dealing. A few years ago, he and his wife, Beyoncé Knowles, were photographed in the White House Situation Room, with Jay-Z occupying the chair of President Obama, a fan. To a degree that rivals any entertainer, Jay-Z has managed to reconcile the dualities of black and white cultures, Bed-Stuy and Tribeca, art and commerce. There’s a reason why he likes to call himself, among many other things, J-Hova. But behind the bombast and heroic couplets, there is a man named Shawn Carter. His success is not just a metaphor: It is the product of a canny commercial intelligence.
Carter the businessman is working at a creative peak this summer...
The article states:
The developer took Carter to the top of a tall building overlooking the state-owned Atlantic Yards, a prime expanse of Brooklyn real estate. He feared he might lose the site if it went to open bidding, so he had come up with the Nets as a unique anchor tenant.As I commented:
Not so. The state owned an 8.5-acre railyard, the Vanderbilt Yard"Atlantic Yards" is the developer's brand name for a 22-acre development site that includes that railyard, private property (some still private, the rest purchased or taken by eminent domain), and public property (streets and lots since conveyed to Forest City Ratner).The arena/Nets
The arena could never have fit on the railyard. The only part of "Atlantic Yards" ever put up for (belated) bid was that railyard, and, given that Forest City Ratner had an 18-month jump on anyone else, only one bidder emerged.
That bidder offered more cash, but, according to the MTA, fewer overall benefits, so the agency--controlled by the governor and mayor--decided to negotiate exclusively with Ratner, who, of course, won the site. Ratner later renegotiated the deal:
The article states:
As it prepared for the relocation to Brooklyn, Carter exercised influence over the new logo and color scheme.My comment:
That's accurate, but it fails to point out how team/arena promoters, notably CEO Brett Yormark, credited Jay-Z with designing the logo. In fact, the article glosses over how Jay-Z was used to hype the Nets and the arena.The nod to criticism
There is a slight nod to criticism:
Some discerned a political calculus: Ratner was facing a tough public-approval process. “He was kind of their minority poster child,” says L. Londell McMillan, who knew Carter growing up in the projects and went on to become an entertainment attorney and a fellow Nets investor. He added, “You look at his business model, it is very similar to Magic Johnson’s.” In fact, before sealing the deal with Carter, Ratner unsuccessfully wooed Johnson.Note, however, that a Jay-Z supporter, not a critic, gets to call him a "minority poster child," and there's no elaboration.
The merging of sports and entertainment
The article describes some evolution:
Jay-Z has, in my view from the outside, figured it out: how the sports and entertainment business has changed and merged,” says Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan professor and co-author of the book Sports Finance and Management. “It’s no longer about the team on the field; it’s really about the real estate and entertainment that swirls around it.Indeed. And that's why teams might be referred to as "sports entertainment corporations," in the words of Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York.
And it closes with an account about how Jay-Z is the Ratner group's weapon in the bid for the Nassau Coliseum. One excerpt:
Ratner’s group, meanwhile, brought in a surprise guest, who inspired a cascade of flashbulbs when he entered, fashionably late, in the midst of a speech.Bulletproof, as long as celebrity trumps all.
The art-world video
Jay-Z conquered the art world--or, rather, enveloped selected boldface names in his ouevre--in a much-covered episode. As the Times reported in Jay-Z Is Rhyming Picasso and Rothko:
“I have no idea why I’m here,” the artist Marilyn Minter said, as she sat in a temporary V.I.P. room at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea on a steamy Wednesday. “I’m just a fame whore.”And yes, some saw it, like Jay-Z's Barclays Center concerts, as a thing to celebrate, because symbolism of a sort trumps all:
Ms. Minter was one of hundreds of fans and art-world types — Kalup Linzy; Lawrence Weiner; Andres Serrano; George Condo; Yvonne Force Villareal; Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum; and Agnes Gund, MoMA’s president emerita — invited to take part in a live filming of Jay-Z’s music video for “Picasso Baby,” the art-centric song off his new album, “Magna Carta ...Holy Grail.”
The rap marathon was inspired by the performance artist Marina Abramovic’s 2010 MoMA exhibition, “The Artist Is Present,” said the art dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who is Jay-Z’s art adviser and was a host of the event along with the film director Mark Romanek. “Jay has been wanting to do something durational for some time.”
To some spectators, it was particularly bracing to watch a hip-hop god colonize a white cube world that must once have seemed as distant as Mars from the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn, the projects where Jay-Z grew up (and where he was known by his given name, Shawn Carter). “For a young black man in America to be on his level of success and rapping about art, and not what he’s wearing, is the coolest thing,” the artist Mickalene Thomas said.Writer Guy Trebay batted back the cynics in his close:
Here it seems proper to resuscitate both Andy Warhol’s famous observation that “being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” and to paraphrase an aphorism often attributed to the actual Picasso: mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal.The New York Magazine critic wrote a first-person account, in ‘Picasso Baby’ Live: Jerry Saltz Goes Face-to-Face With Jay-Z, which segued from cynicism to wonder:
My heart started beating like mad. I went blank. I was led to the bench and told to sit. I heard cheering from the room, and looked around: The crowd was about half art-worlders, and half fans who'd gotten a mystery text that morning. And then Jay stepped down from the platform and stood right in front of me … and the instant before the music started, I heard these words come out of my mouth:Saltz faced some harsh criticism in the comments, including:
"I'm an art critic ... so watch out."
And then boom! The music started and he said, "I just want a Picasso, in my casa," and I replied "Picasso is great." He nodded. At Rothko I said, "Him too." He nodded again. Then his line about wanting to make love on a bed covered with a million dollars, and I said, "No." He laughed. Wow, I was getting to be an art critic to Jay-Z.
He started dancing. So did I, or at any rate what passes for an older balding Jewish man trying to bust some moves. When he got to Koons, I said, "Yes, even though he really is annoying." At George Condo I went, "Eh, okay." I gave a big no to Art Basel; at Christie’s I said, "I hate auctions." By then, somehow, he'd taken me around my waist, and we were strutting around the room. My hands were ice cold. I was shaking. My reactions were shot. The entire time were together, there was no doubt in my mind that he was controlling me, taking my energy and giving it back, manipulating the space around us. I felt like my internal ship was on fire and useless. I loved it. And him. And this.
Maybe I was smitten by fame. I stayed for just about the whole six hours, and all I can say is that I don't think I saw one instance where Jay-Z was not totally there, in the moment, working the energy.
...I went in doubting. I left elated. Any performer who can get a room full of strangers chanting, "Picasso baby" over and over again is good in my book. Better yet, Jay-Z even got me to actually start liking Marina Abramovic. That's art.
--A number of mechanisms are at play, creating the frissons and contradictions so beloved in the naughty apex of the art world, where money, power, status, class and - yes- race play out in a stew of passive aggressive circle jerking. Let's look at Jay-Z himself. From the street, and with imagery/presence still very raw and street. Yet he is also a star. He made it on his own terms by being a genius of the street. And now he is best buddies with Obama and has so much money that he can buy and sell the art world. So he is not just a "dangerous" rapper. He is also a collector, a potential client, a player in the high art marketplace. If you are an art dealer anxious to curry favor with Jay-Z, to cater to him as a client, you would be pleased as punch to be in that room, and call on the experience in the future when trying to make a sale.
--My point is that I think that it's interesting how much projection goes into these responses. I can't see into Jay's mind, but my guess is that this isn't completely a hustle or a "pure" artistic expression. It's probably more straightforward. He (like most of us) doesn't have access to a massive bank of context from art history or even contemporary visual/performance art. The way art people are responding seems to be split between rebelling against art snobbery and a sort of defense of standards position--which manifests in the Jay/Jerry hate responses.
--Is the coverage in the New Yorker better than what we see above? Notice the difference in approach. Emma Allen gives more feeling for the room and appears more accurate and comprehensive. To her credit, she is content to report on the action from the outside, as a journalist, and doesn't try to insert herself into the performance she is recording. She doesn't have Saltz's continual need to grandstand and pretend to be an art world action figure. Saltz's preoccupation with himself - how HE felt, what HE said - prevents him from encompassing the story objectively. He is too busy trying to be the star himself.
--It's not that Jay Z is a rapper, it's that Jay-Z has nothing to say about art other than a vague appreciation of it because ownership of it represents vast wealth or having "made it." And that's fine, if you appreciate shallow consumerism. Whatever. The real problem is that Salz seems so caught up in it as well. Critics are more than welcome to have fun, and he seems to have had fun doing this, but he is in somewhat of a position of authority on matters of art and should work towards an aesthetic rather than a financial appreciation of art. He of course can do as he pleases, but when public figures do stupid things in public they deserve to be called on it.
Hyperallergic was more acerbic, in Jay-Z Raps at Marina Abramović, or the Day Performance Art Died:
Just when Kanye West thought he had monopolized the title of art-world rapper, Jay-Z goes and throws down. With Marina Abramović, no less! Yesterday gallerist Stephanie Theodore jokingly suggested on Twitter that Ai Weiwei divorce his wife and marry Marina in the interest of forming a mega-cult (although, let’s be real, having a wife has not stopped Ai from seeing other women). But now it looks like maybe the optimal mega-cult would be something entirely different. Could Marina, Jay-Z, and James Franco form a celebrity performance art trinity? Visitors to the planned Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art could be indoctrinated in the new religion’s ways.
...By creating a safe environment for a notoriously unsafe art (whose perilous reputation is due in no small part to Abramović herself), these measures seem designed to clamp down on the raging id of Performance Art like an equally monstrous superego.
Safe environment and monstrous superegos, indeed. That’s probably why most of the reactions I’ve seen range from unenthusiastic to apocalyptic.