"You ain't gotta count it … I can add/1 million, 2 million, 3 million, 20 million/Oh, I'm so good at math/Might crash ya Internet/And I ain't even into that," Jay-Z boasts on "Somewhereinamerica."
The lofty prediction, which appears on his new album, "Magna Carta Holy Grail," came partially true when the rapper released
1 million copies of the record for free through an app for Samsung smartphones.
Ambitions of technical innovation notwithstanding, the release didn't come without its set of frustrating glitches.
With the album set to go live on Samsung phones (the rapper signed an unparalleled deal with the electronics giant) at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Independence Day, I fired up a Samsung Galaxy S4 and waited.
The countdown timer on the app's landing page, which had teased fans for days, finally rolled to zero.
But for many, including me, downloading (or even streaming) the album directly to a sleek, feature-rich smartphone wasn't as instantaneous and seamless as the Digital Age's traditional method of file sharing links, which is how most of the world will ultimately consume the rapper's 12th solo disc.
As I cursed and refreshed the smartphone I had in one hand, and quickly cued up the album on a laptop with the other, I realized that despite the glitches, Jay had achieved a rarity in today's culture of music consumption: He turned an album release into an event.
Jay started the hype just a few weeks ago in a commercial during the NBA Finals. In the clip, he discussed an album no one saw coming alongside heavyweight producers Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland (all but Rubin contributed beats) and previewed album tracks.
He also pondered new business models, calling the Internet the "wild, wild West" and making a bold proclamation that, "We need to write the new rules" - even giving his new way of thinking a Twitter-friendly hashtag, #NewRules.
Part of that model came with how he'd release "MCHG." The hip-hop mogul teamed with Samsung - the electronics giant pre-purchased the copies for a reported $5 a pop - to roll out 1 million downloads of the album to fans through a smartphone app, three days before the official release date.
While game-changing in a time where more artists are aggressively working harder to interconnect music and tech, Jay's move was also a genius marketing coup.
Through the Samsung app, he built in just a few weeks the sort of fan anticipation that artists spend months doing via traditional methods. All without divulging much information. In the days leading up to the release, the app unveiled only breadcrumbs - mostly song lyrics and tiny video segments discussing song meanings, shot at the same time as the commercial.
Still, there were no music videos, no radio singles, no TV performances or interviews, and even finding information on guests and producers was difficult. This only amplified the curiosity over the project, and the need to have your hands on it when it rolled out.
Jay's unusual release dominated music blogs for days as the debate over the album's instant platinum status raged on (the album will be officially released with platinum certification, but the 1 million copies won't count toward first-week sales through SoundScan). Writers attempted to decode the lyric sheets as they were released daily through the app.
This sort of high-concept unveiling echoes similar tactics used by Kanye West and Jay's protege, J. Cole, to get their fans directly involved in building the hype around recent releases.
West sent fans to random addresses in various cities to see a video of his new track, "New Slaves," which was projected onto the sides of buildings, while Cole used a smartphone app to hold a virtual listening session of his latest album that could be unlocked only within specific geographical coordinates.
"MCHG" had its own scavenger hunt, with fans flocking all over random locations in New York City and Los Angeles to get their hands on a sleek, limited-edition black book with pages that revealed song titles for the disc. The lyrics were blacked out, though, forcing folks to tune into the app if they had a Samsung phone or wait for blogs to repost the lyrics.
As I wrote in a previous dispatch highlighting West's and Cole's ambitions of innovation, at a time when album leaks are expected and eagerly awaited, being able to drum up high anticipation for a project is a rarity - especially in rap, where mixtape culture has left fans both insatiable and impatient when it comes to new tunes.
By the time Jay's album leaked to the Internet, he had already reaped the rewards of his innovation, including a hefty paycheck, weighty bragging rights and endless promotion for both himself and his brand partner. How many acts can say they went platinum without having a single unit on store shelves?
For an artist as highly acclaimed as Jay-Z, the age-old methods of promotion in search of a No. 1 album have likely become trivial - besides, he already surpassed Elvis Presley's record for most No. 1 albums by a solo artist in 2009.
With "Magna Carta Holy Grail," Jay-Z aimed to write his own set of rules by reinventing the wheel. And he did. But this is, after all, the man who famously bragged, "I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man."
Distributed by MCT Information Services