What is power? At its base, it’s the ability to reshape the world around you according to your vision. And who in the music industry did so better in the last year than this power couple?
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Leveraging their star power to release new albums in unprecedented ways—Jay Z through Samsung and Beyoncé through iTunes—they instantly changed how the industry and fans thought about interacting with music. He gave his album away; she charged a premium price for hers. But they both used the element of surprise to restore the excitement that used to accompany a new release, before that impact was dulled by the endless thunder of carefully plotted promotion.
In short, they proved that content truly is king. Or, in this case, king and queen.
For years, Jay Z has been building the most powerful artist-driven empire in music, ever since he founded Roc-a-Fella Records in 1996 to bypass a music industry uninterested in his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. By 2004, he’d become president/CEO of Roc-a-Fella distributor Def Jam, and his concert stage would feature an Oval Office set (in a few years, his friendship with Barack Obama would get him much closer to the real thing). A major investor in Steve Stoute’s Translation Advertising, he left Def Jam and founded the multifaceted entertainment group Roc Nation in 2008, in partnership with Live Nation. The company oversees a varied roster that includes Rihanna, Shakira, Stargate, Calvin Harris, Timbaland and Deadmau5, and, in partnership with Creative Artists Agency, has added sports to its oversight. And though he’s cashed out his stake in NBA team the Brooklyn Nets, Jay Z remains an influential presence at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which he helped open in 2012 with a series of concerts.
Since parting ways with father Mathew Knowles as her longtime manager in 2011, Beyoncé has proved through her Parkwood Entertainment just how powerful—and productive—a self-managed artist can be with Beyoncé. When the album arrived just before year-end 2013, it silenced months of whispers about delays, scrapped songs and missed deadlines, and it did so with 14 critically acclaimed songs accompanied by 17 jaw-dropping videos, all meticulously curated and co-edited by Beyoncé herself.
“Artists have always had the power but courage is in short supply. It’s just that the hip-hop generation believes in the possibilities,” says Lyor Cohen (No. 74), a longtime associate of Jay Z’s from his days running Def Jam in the mid-’90s, and founder of new music venture 300. “Jay and Beyoncé don’t listen to the noise—they make the noise.”
The decision to release Jay Z’s Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail for free exclusively for five days to 1 million Samsung customers was hailed as a major coup for Samsung to build buzz against rival Apple as it launched its Galaxy S4 smartphone. But the deal wouldn’t have happened had Jay and a Roc Nation team led by business managers John Meneilly and Desiree Perez not been actively seeking a partner to help them forge “#newrules,” as the rapper famously tweeted from his rarely used Twitter account on June 17.
“We’ve got to continue to find ways to put music in the hands of the fans, and I think this is a great way to do it,” Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta (No. 41) told Billboard at the time of the Jay Z announcement. “You’ve got to have cutting-edge ideas with cutting-edge companies who are ready, willing and able to reach a mass audience. It’s great Jay Z is forcing all of us to think this way.”