Will Jay-Z lose street cred with new Samsung deal?

Like he once said so fervently, Jay-Z is not a businessman, he’s a business, man, and now he’s proving his industrial scope in a bold new partnership with Samsung.

On Sunday, the Roc Nation head broke news during a three-minute-long commercial at halftime of the NBA Finals that he would be releasing his next album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, via Samsung Mobile. The commercial led viewers to the record’s website, where virtual posts explained how the album will be free for the first one million Galaxy mobile phone owners who download it through a custom app on June 24. It will be available for regular sale on July 4th.

Immediately, Jay-Z, Samsung, Magna Carter and HOV were trending on Twitter, as talk of the 43-year-old rapper’s ability to push album sales, upstage marketing trends, and conveniently detract from Kanye West’s new release (out today) flooded social media.

For a guy who’s previously rapped about an “uncontrollable hustler’s ambition,” it seems like the next move of his chess piece.

“Twenty years ago no one would have predicted hip-hop would be this global and corporate force,” Simone Pratt, Director of Account Planning & Strategy at SpikeDDB, tells theGrio. “When you ask people who are masters at their craft like Jay, why do they continue to achieve these amazing goals, it no longer becomes about money. It becomes about silencing the critics, broadening his catalogue, not being just a rapper.”

Building the dynasty

Truth be told, Jay-Z’s deal with Samsung marks only the latest in a line of brand initiatives that the artist has embarked upon over the years. It began in the music business, a forum where he couldn’t even sell a record until he established his own label. Hence, Roc-A-Fella Records was erected, followed by an accompanying clothing line, Rocawear, and film company, ROC Films.

The “Empire State of Mind” rapper eventually bought out his stake in the company, and opted to partner with Live Nation to create Roc Nation, a music management firm and label. More recently, he expanded the venture into sports.

In addition to his day job, Jay-Z’s co-owner of the 40/40 Club in New York, and formerly part owner of the Brooklyn Nets (his decision to open a sports agency forced him to relinquish his stake in the NBA team).

As far as sponsorships go, he became a co-branding director for Budweiser Select during the release of his album Kingdom Come in 2006 after cutting ties with Cristal. The beer company went on to spearhead his Made In America Tour in 2011, now in its second year running.

In other news, he patented his own color: “Jay-Z blue.”

Altogether, the rapper and wife Beyoncé are reportedly worth over $1 billion, a sublime sum for a man who got his start dealing crack on the streets of Brooklyn.

“Everybody craves authenticity, and that is what hip-hop is all about,” Pratt observes. “What gives Jay-Z credibility is he has lived what he raps and writes about. His hits & units give him an incredible reach. Interviewing with Oprah, the cover of Fortune with Warren Buffet, hanging with Obama, singing with Coldplay, his collaborations with Linkin Park, even adding a beloved Broadway soundtrack (Annie), gives him further access.”

Could Jay-Z jeopardize his street cred?

Yet money, power, and unlimited domain often bring scrutiny to figures in the public eye. Jay-Z’s boy from the ‘hood appeal began to change years ago when his lyrics shifted from talk of poverty to gush about lavish living.

Now a billionaire, five million extra dollars from Samsung doesn’t sound that grandiose, making his corporate ties questionable to some.

“This a loss for Jay-Z,” Darwyn Metzger, CEO of Phantom Media, believes. “Sometimes what happens when a celebrity or a brand blows up, they become incredibly powerful and influential, and then they may try to go to the well a few too many times. I think this might be Jay-Z’s reverse tipping point…He does have an incredibly powerful brand and he’s the sort of person that people will buy something simply because he has signed off on it. This may end up cutting some of that brand power out.”

Or conversely, the star musician could be pulling tricks on the trade.

“Perhaps, he’s now playing a game against the Fortune 500, and wants to see how high he can climb the list,” Metzger notes.

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