“What’s Free?”: Jay-Z Shares Lessons in Business and Ownership on Meek Mill’s New Album

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Just months after being released from prison for violating probation, rapper Robert Rihmeek Williams, best known as Meek Mill, released a much-anticipated album last week. The album, titled Championships, features hardcore beats, a rotation of hip hop superstars, including Cardi B and Drake, and a powerful message about Meek’s road to redemption.

On the standout track “What’s Free?” Meek teamed up with hip hop heavyweights Jay-Z and Rick Ross, who rap about their definition of freedom over the beat from Biggie Smalls’ 1997 classic “What’s Beef?” Jay-Z, however, outshines his cohorts with an exceptional verse, using his lyrical prowess to drop knowledge about the struggle for black liberation and allegedly take shots at the MAGA-loving Kanye West. In addition, the Brooklyn-born rapper boasts about his lucrative business investments and the massive accumulation of wealth he’s built over the years.

Here are eight lessons Jay-Z shared about business, ownership, and financial freedom on “What’s Free?”

Meek Mill

Spotify Fans first event for Meek Mill’s new album, Championships, in New York on December 1, 2018 (Photo Credit: Francis Montoya / SlingShotMenace, LLC)

“I’m 50% of D’usse and it’s debt free”

In this lyric, Jay-Z raps about his profitable stake in D’usse. The hip hop icon tapped into his personal savings to purchase equity in the cognac brand back in 2011. Because he did not have a need for financing, he was left with no debt and has reaped tremendous profits. In addition to being a partial owner, the mega-mogul also serves as head of global strategy for the brand.

“100% of Ace of Spades, worth half a B”

Jay-Z brags about his ownership of Armand de Brignac, a champagne popularly known as Ace of Spades. He expressed his affinity for the brand by featuring it in his rhymes and videos long before he bought the champagne from Sovereign Brands for an undisclosed amount in 2014. His brilliant marketing has, in turn, made Ace of Spades one of the most popular Champagne brands on the market and a staple at high-end clubs, bars, and establishments. Today, the luxury champagne can cost up to $1,000 per bottle, while the value of the company has skyrocketed.

“Roc Nation, half of that, that’s my piece”

Here, Jay-Z shouts out another part of his business empire, Roc Nation, a multi-platform entertainment company he founded in 2008. The company specializes in artist management, music publishing, concert touring and production, and film and TV production. It also serves as a talent and sports agency that represents A-list clients like Shakira, Rihanna, NBA star Kevin Durant, and NFL player Victor Cruz.

“100% of Tidal to bust it up with my Gs”

The successful rapper and entrepreneur goes on to highlight his music platform Tidal, a subscription-based streaming service he purchased in 2015, along with a variety of other high-profile music artists. Last year, he sold 33% of the company to Sprint for $200 million, raising the valuation of the company to $600 million.

“We made the project a wave; You came back, reinvested and gentrified it”

This line is a reference to the gentrification of low-income communities, an epidemic that disproportionately hurts people of color. The invasion of real estate investors, who are often wealthy and white, in these areas drives up rents and the cost of living, which leads to the displacement of working-class residents as well as the erasure of the neighborhood’s character. That’s why Jay is stressing the importance of ownership — without it, people of color can be stripped of their land, culture, and identity.

“I ain’t got a billion streams, got a billion dollars”

A large part of Hov’s discography has been removed from Tidal’s music-streaming competitors, like Spotify and Apple Music. The move cost the rap mogul tons of streams. Nevertheless, its smart business moves like this that have made him the highest-earning rapper of 2018. The decision also speaks to his acumen as a businessman who is willing to make a personal career sacrifice for the ultimate benefit of his business.

“Them people stole the soul and hit ni—s with 360s”

Jay-Z addresses how hip hop, which began as a medium of expression for African Americans, has been co-opted by big businesses and major record labels who earn major profits from artists who sign 360 deals. These notorious contracts give labels a stake in the revenue an artist generates from touring, performing, selling merchandise, endorsements, and appearing in movies and television.  According to Jay, the deal is equivalent to someone selling their soul.

He, on the other hand, has bought the masters rights to his music. This ownership gives him leverage to use the masters to bargain the terms of a contract with a company or platform that wants access to his catalog.

“My accountant’s so good, I’m practically livin’ tax-free”

Like many wealthy elites, Jay-Z uses loopholes and provisions in U.S. tax law for his own financial advantage. The mogul raps about how his tax advisors prevent him from unnecessary taxation and allow him to submit the minimum amount on his tax returns. For example, in 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West donated the Maybach used in their “Otis” music video to auction and used the proceeds to benefit the drought crisis in East Africa. As a result, the donation was tax-deductible.

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