Jay-Z has gone head-to-head with the best of them.
The rap titan popularized Italian luxury clothing line Iceburg only to take it all back and start Rocawear after they failed to give him an endorsement deal. He's championed Ace of Spades over Louis Reoderer's Cristal champagne, made hip-hop fans tuck their beloved Mitchell & Ness jerseys in favor of button-up shirts and forced New Yorkers to choose between the Knicks and Nets.
He's battled against Nas, Mobb Deep, Ma$e and Jim Jones, but now, with his new Samsung deal and the release of his 12th LP Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay may be taking on his biggest challenger yet: the iPhone.
On July 4, Jay will drop Magna Carta for free via a music app accessible only to Samsung Galaxy phone users. Samsung purchased one million digital LPs at a reported $5 per album just so they could obtain the rights, and non-Galaxy users will be able to buy the album three days later. The window of exclusivity that Hov and Samsung offer has created heavy buzz, but is it enough to push Samsung into the forefront of a smartphone market led by Apple?
"One pattern with Jay-Z and a lot of the companies that he does deals with is that they're basically trying to buy cool. A lot of the time he goes with brands that are not necessarily the #1 in the category," says Zack O'Malley Greenburg, Forbes magazine senior editor and author of "Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office." He went on to liken the deal to his 2003 partnership with Reebok to sell his S. Carter line of sneakers.
As Allthingsd.com tech writer Peter Kafka pointed out, Jay himself seemed to have ditched his iPhone too. According to his Twitter feed, Hov recently started tweeting from an Android-based phone.
"Everyone is talking about Samsung first of all, and people are identifying it with Jay-Z and music. Apple has been doing that for years with its celebrity ads — the music in the advertisements," said Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm editor and noted author of "Burning Down the House: Ripping, Recording, Remixing and More." "I think it's a clever move by Samsung and branded exclusives are a big part of the future of music."
Kyle Bylin, a researcher and tech analyst for Live Nation Labs, says that Samsung serves as little to no competition to Apple because the two companies are reaching for two different goals.
According to Bylin, Samsung's plan to hand out one million digital albums through the Magna Carta app isn't at all comparable to Apple's planned streaming service, iTunes Radio, which will directly be available on 6 million iOS devices. "There's no doubt that Samsung is a tech giant on the scale of these companies, whether or not it's an actual rival when it comes to Apple in the music business is very questionable," he said.
The Jay-Z/Samsung deal and their "#NewRules" slogan is revolutionary and can potentially alter how the music industry conducts its business. Already the RIAA has changed one of its rules and will make MCHG eligible for platinum certification immediately after it is released based off of the one million digital copies that Samsung has pre-purchased.
The method is one that fellow hip-hop fans are taking note of. "I'm a big fan of Jay-Z's and straight up he showed us how to do it, man, so I can't lie and say I'm not tryna following his footsteps," 2 Chainz told us.
Still, for all of its inventiveness, Samsung isn't in a position to take down the mighty iPhone — at least not immediately. "It's not going to be overnight — you can't just drop a couple of exclusives and no one wants the iPhone anymore," Van Buskirk reasoned. "But I think it's in that direction for sure. It will be a real factor if they keep this up over time."
"I don't think that Samsung was really expecting this to be the death nail for the iPhone, but to have somebody like Jay-Z do a promotion like this with Samsung just gives it so much more attention and buzz and puts it more on the cutting edge," O'Malley Greenburg added. "In some ways it's about improving perception and it's a battle in a pretty long war. Clearly with all of the press that they're getting on this deal, both Jay-Z and Samsung are winning here."