When 'Gangsters' collide: Shawn Carter vs. Steve Jobs?

This just in: Jay-Z put out a new album this week! Yes, yes, you’ve already heard all about his American Gangster CD, which has been on shelves in brick-and-mortar retail outlets for a couple days now. But don’t bother looking for it on iTunes — as far as the digital-music giant is concerned, the last thing he put out was last year’s Kingdom Come. What gives?

Apparently that’s exactly how Hov wants it. "AMERICAN GANGSTER WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE ON ITUNES," a press release from his label trumpeted yesterday. The statement goes on to include a quote in which he explains that is a matter of artistic integrity for him: "As movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles." Call him the anti-Radiohead.

I respect what he’s trying to do — one of the great things about American Gangster isthe way that its beats and lyrics fit into a powerful, overarchingstoryline. Jay’s said repeatedly that he set out to make a real conceptalbum with this one, not just a collection of hot tracks, and hedefinitely pulled it off. But what’s the point of pulling it from sucha major music provider? A lot of people just don’t consume albums ascohesive start-to-finish experiences anymore these days, and Jay can’tforce that genie back into the bottle single-handedly. Besides, thenarrative flow of this particular album should speak for itself. Jayshould probably just trust his fans to figure that out on their own,even if they start by hearing his new songs out of order.

Then again, he also premiered a cameo-packed video for AGsingle "Roc Boys" on BET yesterday — that is, an individual "scene"that you can view out of the album’s context for free. So who knowswhat he’s really thinking? (By the way, will you lose respect for me ifI say that that five-minute video is a more fun, fully realized viewingexperience than American Gangster, the cool-but-sorta-patchy Ridley Scott movie?) Your call: Is Jay’s iTunes snub a canny move to protect his creative vision, or a short-sighted stunt? 

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  • Jason

    Why didn’t Jay-Z just make it so you have to buy all of the songs on iTunes? Can’t it be “Album Only?”

  • Marci

    Jason, that’s what I was thinking too.

  • Dave

    I bought the album on iTunes at 2AM on Tuesday right when it came out. Guess, there were problems removing it quickly. Anyway they’ll never remove this:

  • John

    Who cares what he does…he needs a reminder not all appreciate the “gangsta” motif.

  • Ellipsian

    Marci and Jason: I believe it’s against Apple’s policy to require someone to purchase an entire album. They make certain songs “Album Only” but I’ve never seen a whole album follow this model. I’d like to know definitively though: can anyone prove me wrong and show me an iTunes album that requires the entire album be purchased, or shed some more light on the subject?

  • daisyj

    Re: The album-only question, I’d be interested in knowing the answer to that too. My gut says there’s something more going on here, because I can’t see why Apple wouldn’t make a deal to suspend their policy (if it exists) for such a major album.

  • Fatima

    Well John, then how bought you just don’t buy it?

  • Fatima

    But anyway, I find this funny because I don’t have any record stores anywhere near my campus and I want this CD so bad in a legal way that I actually considered buying my first full length album off iTunes. Guess that’s not happening!

  • Fatima

    AND because I can’t stop commenting, I am FAIRLY certain that itunes had a pre-order that they were advertising before the tracklist even came out in its correct form. There has to be something we’re not hearing, otherwise I don’t know how it could have switched so fast.
    Roc Boys (And The Winner Is) is seriously my favorite song of the year right now.

  • JP

    Kinda reminds me of when Prince released Lovesexy way back when. The CD didn’t have individual tracks; it was just one long track. I understand he wanted the songs to be listened to in a certain order, but it made it a pain in the a__ if you ever had to stop the CD and resume where you left off.

  • Ben

    What’s awesome is my pre-order already went through and I have the album via iTunes. H to the izzo!

  • Phil

    There’s def. an air of behind the scenes shade going on here, since YES, iTunes did sell & advertise the “American Gangster” disc as a pre-order. This def. has deeper ties to Universal’s reluctance to renew their contract with iTunes & this was their first opening salvo to really make a dent against iTunes. Jay masquerading behind the “artistic integrity” mask is actually highly comical. Anyone who has ever purchased dance albums off iTunes can tell you, that YES, in fact iTunes does sell full albums by albums only & not just individual songs. The only donwfall to this, is that they are usually one continuously long track, with no track list, which kinda sucks when buying dance mixes by DJ, considering you have various artists, titles and song mixes to go through! But I digress, there is DEFINIELY more going on with Def Jam NOT releasing this highly anticipated album to Itunes for sale. Jay can claim whatever excuse he wants, but there are moves being made in a boardroom somewhere!

  • Steve

    Let’s face it. Itunes and download-able singles are killing the music biz. Yes, Kanye benifited from having 300,000 people buy his entire album on Itunes the first week. But it is not Itunes policy to sell only the album without making each track available seperately. They make most of their money from the 99cent single. Young consumers don’t know what it means to buy entire albums. They’re on Itunes singles shopping. It’s unfortunate but true. Gone are the days of MJ selling 25mil/Alanis Morisettte 20 mil/Usher 10mil. Today you would buy Billie Jean or Beat It and wait to see what the other singles would be. Today you have Soulja Boy at #1 and artists putting out 2 or three singles before thier albums come out, because it is a singles driven market place. So I applaud Jay. I went to buy it on Itunes, couldn’t find it and went to Virgin Megastore. They were so happy to see me : )
    (Ironically-rumor has it that Jay is [was] in talks with Apple to run their new record division) hmmmm!

  • Dan TO

    Steve, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say iTunes and singles are killing the music industry, when far more tracks are still downloaded for free through file sharing. Even with the Radiohead thing, 62% paid zero. It’s a bit of a conundrum because iTunes is quickly becoming the most powerful retailer in music, but it’s also the only model that’s had any success against P2P. Personally, I think Jay-Z is dumber than that guy from Metallica, but if he wants to cling to the concept of the whole album, let him. I won’t have any remorse about pirating if he’s not going to sell to me in the manner I prefer.

  • Charlie

    Even with an iPod, I still get excited about buying CDs when they’re released. I like pouring over the packaging and hearing the CD in the correct order. And for people like me, I respect Jay-Z’s decision to try to protect the integrity of his music as he chooses to present it. But still, it does seem silly to ignore iTunes, especially when CD sales are sluggish, at best.

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