Yesterday, in the midst of a beautiful game of basketball between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, Jay-Z, with the help of Samsung, revealed to the world a teaser of his upcoming album, Magna Carta Holy Grail.
That Jay and Samsung chose to drop the news during the NBA Finals — with Jay wearing a Brooklyn Nets cap with a prominent NBA logo — is telling, for hip hop and the NBA has always gone hand in hand.
It is worth noting, that at first glance, Jay’s promotion of his album is the complete opposite of Kanye West’s approach to his album, Yeezus. The latter hit store shelves with minimal promotion — only that random street broadcast and that SNL performance — while Jay has teamed up with a billion dollar corporation (a foreign one, at that) to push his album on the biggest stage (at least for his demographic), the NBA Finals.
Heck, that deal between Samsung and Jay practically turned Jay’s album platinum before release — Samsung reportedly purchased a million copies of Manga Carta at five bucks a pop, to be released to Samsung Galaxy users (eh, I’ll stick with my superior iPhone and just download that shit and purchase a hard copy later). For a self-proclaimed hustla, this was yet another hustle by Mr Carter.
But different approaches to marketing aside (or at least so they claim), are the two albums that different? I’m not talking about the way it sounds — I’m sure Jay won’t be doing his Marilyn Manson thing, and being married to Beyonce and all, has toned down the stupid misogyny — but is Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail actually on the opposite end of the spectrum?
Much like the supposed differences between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, I say no.
Jay and Ye have equal size egos (they both think they’re the Michael Jordan of hip hop), they enjoy similar pleasures, and the two have been musically linked since wayyyy back to H to the Izzo. Their different approaches to marketing — one, supposedly, by not marketing, and the other by over marketing — is, to me, another ploy for these two to live up their respective personas: Ye, the sensitive artist, the Terrence Malick of hip hop; Jay, the global icon, the mega hustler, the man who, if skills sold, would rhyme like Common Sense, but since that five mil, hasn’t been rhyming like Common since.
And this superficial “difference” applies to the two teams in the NBA Finals too. While mainstream media want to portray these two teams as polar opposites, specifically at how these two teams were built (the Spurs’ big three grew organically; the Heat’s big three planned in advance to game the free agency system in order to join forces), the truth is, these two teams have a lot more in common than we’d care to admit.
Both the Heat and the Spurs operate by the same motto: consistency and culture. There have been no snap decision coaching changes, not even for the Heat, when Erik Spoelstra was supposedly on the verge of being fired all of 2010 and 2011. Both teams are cohesive units that place emphasis on veteran leadership and continuity, and both, like Jay kept insisting in his Magna Carta/Samsung corporate milking teaser, are out to “make new rules.”
For Jay, the new rule is selling a million records (more importantly, pocketing that five mil) without having a CD printed. For the Heat and the Spurs, it’s to continue the trend of forgetting conventional basketball wisdom and go small.
As I wrote about the Sports Illustrated last month, the NBA is undergoing a sea change in offensive philosophy, with teams foregoing size and post play for a spread the floor, pick-and-roll, three-point-heavy attack. These Spurs and the Heat are spearheading the movement.
Though these two teams seem to be the yin to the other’s yang, they play the same style of ball. Manu Ginobili (!!!) and LeBron James have thrown more beautiful skip passes and pocket passes than a whole season of shitty Clippers basketball. The same can be said for Magna Carta and Yeezus. They want to appear completely different, but the same guys and same philosophy, are involved: Rick Rubin, Chief Keef, Pharrell, who just worked with Daft Punk who just worked with Ye. Jay was at Yeezus‘ listening party; Ye was surely aware of, and okay with, Magna Carta‘s release date being so close to Yeezus (a typical no-no in entertainment franchises from same company). Jay and Ye have discussed this. They know what each other is doing.
This reminds me of the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, when Batman tells The Joker they’re nothing alike, to which the Joker responds:
“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me. They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
Throughout American culture over the past century, Batman and Joker has perhaps been the prime example of two sides that look to be complete opposites, yet they are really the same. DC’s books and Christopher Nolan’s films have touched on this issue — that, if there is no Batman, perhaps there would be no Joker, and vice versa.
And so, back to the third act of The Dark Knight, the final thing the Joker says to Batman is this:
“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
And they should, and will, though watching the scene knowing Heath Ledger is gone bums me out.
(Also, notice that, when Batman asks Joker of Dent’s whereabouts, the Joker insists on telling Batman he has to break his rules in order to solve this dilemma. Basically, like Jay, Ye, the Heat and the Spurs, the Joker is making Batman make new rules.)