Like many rappers, Jay Z writes songs that have a paranoid streak. He lashes out against conservative cable news anchors, overzealous cops, lazy music critics, and less talented lyricists, all of whom, he insists, are out to get him because he’s famous. On May 16, Jay Z uncorked one of these bilious anthems, Say Hello, from his 10th studio album, American Gangster, at an exclusive performance for people who’ve signed up for Tidal, his subscription-only streaming-music service. Stalking the stage at New York’s Terminal 5, Jay Z addressed critics of his new venture, who have savaged it as tone-deaf, unimpressive, and—perhaps most wounding for a celebrity who famously boasted “I’m a business, man”—a lousy investment.
In a black baseball cap cocked to the side, several large gold chains, and a dark tunic with white stripes that looked like something a fashion-conscious crossing guard might wear, the mogul complained about how he’d been mischaracterized by his detractors. “They say I’m a bad guy,” he rapped. “That’s the picture they paint. They say a lot about me. Let me tell you what I ain’t.”
Jay Z unveiled Tidal at a press conference in late March, flanked by 15 of the biggest acts in the music business, including his wife, Beyoncé, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Jack White, and Kanye West, all of whom were introduced as equity shareholders. Many seemed awkward and unprepared. Another owner, Alicia Keys, quoted Nietzsche and gushed about Tidal’s cultural significance: “We’re gathered … with one voice, in unity, in the hopes that today will be another one of those moments in time, a moment that will forever change the course of music history.” There was a lot of utopian rhetoric about restoring the value of music in the digital age. Less time was spent on new features, technology, or other reasons for listeners to try—and pay for—a Tidal subscription.
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