If you spent a month away from the internet, you could have missed the release of two solo albums from rap heavyweights: Kanye West and Jay-Z. Kanye's Yeezus album largely benefits from the rushed recording and release. The album's unfiltered focus is only matched by its pure ballistic energy. The album is a ferocious and flawed snapshot in time: Kanye at his most unfettered.
Jay-Z's new album Magna Carta... Holy Grail meanwhile, was longer in gestation (months rather than weeks), but its release was announced just two weeks in advance.
The big news was really about the mechanism of how it came out. Samsung paid $5 a pop to release the album exclusively to a million of their customers. $5m in guaranteed sales on the day of release? Shawn Carter is one savvy synergistic businessman who once released the album American Gangster to tie-in with the film of the same name.
Everybody wins. Jay-Z. Samsung. The fans? Maybe not. Magna Carta... Holy Grail is a disappointing release.
Both Kanye and Jay are at interesting points in their lives: their partners have pop culture ubiquity and both are new dads. While Kanye uses some of that new energy to make the most searing album of his career, Jay-Z rarely goes beyond the safe surface.
While Kanye rallies against his corporate overlords on New Slaves, Jay seems content in his corporate complacency: from the tired use of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion to try-hard references to Instagram and predictable artists like Picasso and Warhol, Magna Carta... Holy Grail doesn't do offer much evidence to convince us that Jigga is at the top of his game as a rapper.
And maybe, with the Samsung deal in his pocket, it matters little to him.
He's already got paid and he wants a trillion, as he says on album's opening track. It's his fans that have to jump through hoops to own the album. With Kanye, his art comes first. With Jay, his state of mind is all about his empire.