By Maurice Bobb
With his 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z set out to write some “new rules” in the hip-hop game, launching his ingenious partnership with Samsung, which releases his LP to one million smartphone users on July 4. But a look back at his discography, influence on popular culture and acute entrepreneurship proves that he's already reinvented the wheel and taken the art of rhythmic lyrics laced over dope beats to places it’s never gone before. Let’s take a look back, shall we?
From the outset, the Roc-A-Fella upstart had a plan. Rap wouldn’t just let him in, so he’d knock down the door, then, once he was in, he’d blaze new trails, the kind the music industry hadn’t seen since the Sugar Hill Gang became the first rap act to land a Top 40 hit with “Rapper’s Delight.”
Coming up in the age of excess and overzealous consumption of new wealth, Hov, put off by the makers of Cristal’s blatant exclusionary remarks about African-Americans, made the bold move to ditch the bubbly that had been synonymous with hip-hop, for Ace of Spades. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find rappers or their fans drinking Cristal. Taking it further, his promotion of the liquor paved the way for others like Rick Ross to build similar relationships with Rosè, and not to mention his latest partnership with D'USSE Cognac.
And what of the athletics jerseys? With one simple line, “And I don't wear jerseys I'm thirty plus/Give me a crisp pair of jeans ni—a button ups,” the “What More Can I Say?” MC ended the trend in one fell stroke, causing fellow rappers and, more notably, rap fans worldwide to step their fashion couture game up. And on the same track, he piqued everyone’s international travel interests with the line, “Friends they roll/Private jets down to Turks and Caicos.” It wasn’t until then that people who had never been anywhere besides Cancun and the Bahamas had ever thought of visiting the British Overseas Territory.
Rolex has always been the watch of choice for rap’s moneyed elite, but Jay took it up a notch, ditched the gold version and reached up for the platinum. Soon, all rappers were opting for the more precious metal when choosing their bling. Jay did it again with Audemars Piguet, not only with his own signature watch from the brand, but after he namedropped the Swiss watch on Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” it was everywhere. And just the mere mention of Hublot on Watch the Throne’s “Otis” propelled the brand to dizzying new heights among rap’s top brass.
Jay’s signature cool and penchant for the next great thing made him a virtual E.F. Hutton of hip-hop. If Jay said it was “in,” it was in. That went for Hermès, big face Rollies, yachts, private jets, trips to the Amalfi Coast, six-star penthouse suites, heck, he even made wearing a Yankee hat more famous than the Yankees.
Then there’s the business ventures, the way he’s found synergies between rap and brand endorsement. He’s almost single-handedly made hip-hop a hot commodity among brands looking to attract the same demographic. From Hewlett Packard’s hands-only “CEO of Hip-Hop” campaign to the album cover reenacting Rhapsody spot to the Duracell Powermat ad to the NBA2K13 video game he executive produced, to the current 3-minute clip showing the behind the scenes look at the making of MCHG that played during Game 5 of the NBA Finals--Hov has permeated brand ambassadorship like no other. He’s paved the way for Swizz Beatz, Rick Ross and countless others to do the same.
Last but certainly not least is his rhyme style. So many emcees have tried to duplicate the master of the double-entendre’s intricate and subliminally startling flow that he made it easier for them to “decode” in his memoir, "Decoded."
The “MJ of recording” has influenced every facet of hip-hop and beyond, and he keeps initiating new law into the fold, from ownership in the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center to artist management and development in Roc Nation to his latest venture, Roc Nation Sports.
What will he do for an encore? That’s anybody’s guess, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll be progressive, influential and legendary.