Kanye West And Jay-Z: Two Albums, Two Very Different Arcs

What Yeezus and Magna Carta say about Kanye and Jay, in Bigger Than The Sound.

Kanye West has spent the past few months railing against corporations and the constraints of the boardroom . Meanwhile, Jay-Z has presumably spent the same period of time cooking up marketing strategies with the suits at Samsung . Both will release new albums over the next month, though each is clearly doing so at very different places in their respective career arcs.

First, consider Yeezus, West’s latest snarling missive, an album full of vitriol and vices (and no official singles). In just about every conceivable way — from the loading-dock listening sessions and lack of a pre-order to songs like “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” — West has seemed determined to make it an exclusive thing, a piece of art that cannot be confined by the constraints of commercialism or comprehended by the casual listener.

It is a willfully difficult work, from an artist who, by his own admission, is willfully difficult by default (in his fascinating New York Times interview, West described himself as “forever the 35-year-old 5-year-old”). In some ways, it seems like Kanye doesn’t want you to enjoy Yeezus at all; instead, he’s decided to make you feel his pain, see the world through his eyes. That defiant attitude extends beyond the music, too, touching everything from Yeezus’ anti-marketing campaign to the fact that it doesn’t even come with a proper album cover. In that regard, then, it’s the most defining work of West’s career; his most unapologetic album. He’s the enfant terrible of hip hop (well, either him or Chief Keef ), and fans be damned, this one’s for him.

On the other hand, there’s Jay’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was unveiled via an elaborate (and, one can assume, incredibly expensive) three-minute spot aired during halftime of the NBA Finals. It’s coming July 4, though, in a rather inspired bit of corporate synergy, the first million copies will be made available early, to users of Samsung’s Galaxy III, S4 and Note II devices.

It’s not like Jay hasn’t partnered with companies to promote his music in the past — Budweiser helped hype Kingdom Come in 2006 — but this seems like a particularly massive stroke: not just a way to rush-release a hotly anticipated album, but do so in direct collaboration with a corporation (Samsung reportedly purchased those million copies of Magna Carta at $5 a pop), rather unabashedly so. If you think Jay was conflicted about the deal in any way, well, remember his famous line from back in the day: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

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