ADJUST: How The Clique Changed The Music Industry


By Thomas Hester II (@thomasahester2)

“Yeah I’m Talking Ye, Yeah I’m talking Rih, Yeah I’m Talking Bey, Nigga I’m Talking Me”


From the phonogram all the way to the iPod, we’ve witness the inevitable change in the music industry. The rise of the digital age allowed music to be way more accessible than it has ever been. Many artists didn’t know how to plan for such a change. Coming from CD to mp3, how do you clearly define unit sales? While everyone acted as sheep, one artist built an empire that allowed him to become the shepherd and sway how and when the the industry changes. With the help of his clique, Jay Z defined how we listen and consume new music & content.

Let’s start with Drake.

Drake was the hottest upcoming rapper in the 1st wave of the internet, of course there were others who were championed like Kid Cudi, Wale, Charles Hamilton and later on people like Tyler The Creator but in the first decade of the new millennium all eyes were on a young actor from Canada. After aligning with Young Money & Lil Wayne, Drake released his 3rd mixtape So Far Gone. Drake with So Far Gone in 2009 showed his potential and proved that fans will invest in artists they connect with. He turned a free mixtape into a Grammy nominated, Gold seller with a 3x Platinum hit song, ‘Best I Ever Had’.

After interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs & leaving the country in 2010, Kanye began GOOD Friday from Hawaii, releasing content for free which changed the market.  Even a few years ago, the industry never would’ve imagined there would be a Pete Rock/Jay Z collaboration being given away without payment. Through the GOOD Fridays model it helped expose the world to Nicki Minaj. The fact that Monster, released on the internet charted on Billboard was still new to many. Some say Kanye  he did this to help his sales of his magnum opus, MBDTF which was certified Gold in a week & later Platinum.

After Kanye West’s resurgence there was talk of a collaboration album between two of the biggest rap stars, Ye and Jay Z, in the game under a moniker aptly titled ‘The Throne’. The album early on was panned by some as ‘luxury rap’. The fact was the industry was changing, no one had to rely on MTV’s TRL or BET’s 106 & Park anymore. If you connected with the fans they will support. This wasn’t just in hip hop though, Justin Timberlake, after seven long years away from music after his successful album ‘Future Sex Love Sounds’, announced he was coming back via a video from his YouTube page. After releasing Suit & Tie with Jay Z, doing skits with Jimmy Fallon and reuniting with Ellen he did N*Sync numbers, selling 900K+ first week. After Justin Timberlake’s success it was Jay Z’s turn.

Originally ‘Watch The Throne’ was going to be released as a whole piece of content, meaning no singles but since that didn’t work out ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ was the logical next step. The promo for the album came in a three minute video during the NBA Finals informing the public Jay’s brand new album will be released July 4th which was only weeks away. The motivation for this album amongst many other things was #NewRules. He was partnering with Samsung for the album which raised a problem with the major industry heads.

“The Internet Is The West, The Wild Wild West, We Have To Write The New Rules”

— Jay Z

The problem is RIAA & Billboard didn’t agree with the decision. Samsung released it via the app which would essentially give away one million copies of the album to the fans. Now, one million sales were purchased which means it could be considered platinum but instead of brick & mortar stores it was digital & instead of fans physically purchasing the content a company bought them.

Now there were debates: Did Jay Z really go Platinum in a week? Why wouldn’t RIAA certify honor the sales?

So in the midst of Billboard says the deal wouldn’t count towards the sales figures used by SoundScan to compile their charts Jay Z sent out this tweet:

“If 1 Million Record Gets SOLD and Billboard Doesn’t Report It, Did It Happen? Ha #newrules #MCHG Platinum!! VII IV XIII”

— Jay Z

Though Jay Z didn’t succeed in getting them to change their rules ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ still went Platinum and won Grammys but, it sparked the conversation and laid the groundwork for what is currently happening. Shortly after at the end of 2013 Kanye’s album, after using non-traditional marketing like Ustream with MBDTF and with the live projections for New Slaves, ‘Yeezus’ was featured on GooglePlay for free which helped it become Platinum.

After Justin Timberlake, Yeezy & Jigga’s success all eyes were to Beyonce. During interviews it was revealed that Justin Timberlake and Jay Z’s album were formed and started because of the work they were doing for Beyonce’s album. Speculation was running rampant about what the sound would be, if it would live up to expectations after ‘4’. Her fourth album, though good, wasn’t as well received as the global phenomenon ‘I Am/Sasha Fierce’. Released on iTunes with any warning, it was critically and commercial received with praise. It went Platinum and also nominated for Album of The Year.

There was only one problem – three years later, the goal of changing the rules wasn’t happening even after the use unorthodox marketing through new media and successful partnerships with companies to release digital content. The Gold Single award was altered to include streaming, one hundred streams would count as a single download but the impact of what they did wasn’t felt until the release of Rihanna’s ANTI.

With the emergence of streaming with companies like Spotify, the birth of Odd Future & ASAP Rocky from Tumblr and YouTube, Bryson Tiller & Fetty Wap getting signed from their popularity on sites like Soundcloud, there was a general consensus that something needed to change. Jay Z bought Aspiro, a streaming company & rebranding it into TIDAL partnering with various independent & major artists like J Cole, Alicia Keys and Madonna teaming with Live Nation for touring.

After Apple bought Beats for three billion & relaunched Beats Music as Apple Music, Drake signed a nineteen million deal to create content and give exclusivity to this company for a specified time. So with Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’ it was first test to see if the “New Rules” would take effect. Released exclusively on TIDAL & Samsung and essentially followed the same plan as ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’. Samsung bought one million units but this time RIAA recognized the certification of Platinum, as well as, counting streaming towards certification sales milestones now, 1500 streams = an album unit.

After Jay Z lauding the members of his inner circle at Roc Nation, Rocafella & now TIDAL we see the impact of a snowball that was rolling for at least six years. They changed the narrative with the fans on how music & content is consumed. Streaming is how many receive media & it’s a billion dollar industry.

#NewRules indeed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s