What does Jay-Z have in common with Arista Records founder Clive Davis, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and Virgin Records founder Sir Richard Branson? Come Jan. 27, he, like those other three moguls before him, will receive the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award.
But unlike Davis, Gordy and Branson, Jay-Z has sold tens of millions of records under his own name. He is arguably the ultimate hybrid of artist and businessman.
And even if he isn’t quite the force he once was as the former, he continues to find new ways to make money as the latter.
The 47-year-old, Brooklyn-born Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter released his 13th studio album, “4:44,” on June 30 as an exclusive available only to subscribers of Tidal, the music streaming service of which he is a majority owner.
The album was next made available to customers of the mobile phone service Sprint, which bought a 33 percent stake in Tidal early this year.
Finally, everybody else received the right to purchase “4:44.”
Throughout the entire process, Jay-Z got paid from multiple directions.
Fellow Big Apple icon Billy Joel long ago let go of the need to release new songs; he’s content to preside over sold-out concerts filled with fans happy to sing along to his deep catalog of hits.
Jay-Z isn’t quite the hip-hop Billy Joel, but neither is he at the vanguard of popular music anymore. His many other pursuits allow him time to craft a new album only every four years or so.
The rapper’s portfolio boasts Tidal, Roc-a-Fella Records, Rocawear clothing, Roc Nation Sports (clients include Kevin Durant and other marquee NBA names), a stake in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and an alliance with Budweiser that includes the Made In America Festival in Philadelphia.
But he wouldn’t have been in a position to build his business empire if he hadn’t first succeeded on the microphone. His 2001 album “The Blueprint,” which helped launch a then-unknown producer named Kanye West, ranks among rap’s greatest. His smash single “Empire State of Mind” is the hip-hop generation’s “New York, New York.” He’s one of the few rappers to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“4:44,” graced with his typically effortless flow, received generally favorable reviews for what was perceived as the deeply personal nature of the lyrics. With Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce, what is real and what is make-believe is never clear-cut. As much as many listeners wanted to believe that Beyonce’s “Lemonade” was her response to a real-life indiscretion on the part of her husband, it’s at least as likely, if not more so, to be a wholly fictional tale.
What isn’t fiction is that Beyonce is now a far bigger concert draw than her husband.
Her Formation World Tour played to full stadiums in 2016, including an audience of 40,000-plus at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In New Orleans at least, Jay-Z's “4:44” tour has struggled to fill an arena. Less than a week before his Thursday appearance at the Smoothie King Center on an in-the-round stage, most upper-level seats remained unsold. On ticket resale websites, scalpers facing weaker-than-expected demand listed upper-level seats for as little as $15, half the price of the cheapest face-value ticket.
Hip-hop concerts tend to post strong walk-up ticket sales, so Jay-Z may wind up filling the Smoothie King Center by show time. He’s certainly no stranger to the building, or New Orleans, in either his professional or personal lives.
In February, he visited the Smoothie King Center to watch the 2017 NBA Allstar Game with Beyoncé and the couple’s oldest daughter, Blue Ivy (Beyonce has since given birth to twins). He has accompanied Beyoncé on numerous trips to the Crescent City to visit her sister, Solange Knowles.
He and his wife’s joint “On the Run” tour played the Superdome in July 2014. He and Kanye West filled what was then called the New Orleans Arena for their "Watch the Throne" co-headlining tour in December 2011.
Jay-Z performed with a 10-piece band at the arena in February 2010 during the tour for “The Blueprint 3.” In April 2008, he brought the "Heart of the City" tour with Mary J. Blige to town. His and R. Kelly's ill-fated "Best of Both Worlds" tour played the arena in October 2004, little more than a year after he sold out the venue during his "Rock the Mic" tour with 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes.
He returns again Thursday, not quite the powerhouse he once was, but an icon nonetheless.