Jay-Z launched a new website last week called Life and Times. Its content offers a range of writing, audio, and video content. There are stories about fashion accessoriesfor the super rich, a paean to the basketball floater, and a spotlight of Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean. But ultimately, looking at Life and Times leaves you with one big question: What’s the point?
It makes sense that the standard band site with tour dates and downloads is a little bit too mundane for Jay. And when you get to his level, a mere Twitter account is like flying in coach.
But the mix of content on this site is a little bewildering, and it’s hard to discern an overarching style or reason. With its range of topics, and brief, punchy writing, it’s a little like Fox’s iPad mag The Daily. Its fashion and design showcases make it—as the Vulture blog noted—quite similar to Kanye West’s old site. As a sort of lifestyle publication, it’s also pretty similar to his pal Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop web publication. With its mix of aspirational object fetishization, style guides, and aestheticized appreciation of sport, the site reads like an issue of GQ.
But all those publications already exist.
It could also be the case that Jay-Z is just carrying on rap’s tradition of consumerism. You can’t control the circumstances of your birth, but it’s part of the American Dream to be able to buy your way into a higher class. Life and Times is another organ of this ideology.
Even though there’s only a vanishingly small number of people who can afford the wares showcased on Life and Times, it seems like a decent number of the site’s visitors are aware of its content and even have critical opinions on them. Similar to how US Weekly outlines the virtually unattainable trappings of celebrity in the public sphere, Jay’s website incites the same aspirational feelings about possessions.
It makes a lot of sense to keep in mind one of Jay’s more memorable lines: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”
What Life and Times really seems to be doing is creating a market.
While Jay-Z is obviously a musician, the things he’s starting to sell range far beyond music. Jay-Z is now selling a lifestyle. He has business operations in top shelf liquor, upscale clubs, and beauty products. Jay-Z’s apex as a rapper may be a few years past, but he’s still expanding as a global empire.
Curiously, there’s no content on the site advocating for Armadale vodka or the latest 40/40 Club. And there are no ads, either. For a businessman of Jay’s degree, this website seems to be a singularly noncommercial endeavor.
This all makes Life and Times both kind of interesting and fairly pointless. Anyone who’d be interested in the kind of life Jay-Z mythologizes now would already be familiar with Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. And anyone who’s shopping for a new Rolls-Royce wouldn’t buy one based on Jay-Z’s new website; he’d probably be disappointed by its lack of specifications and hands-on testing, anyway.
In an odd way, then, he’s diluting his personal brand of cool by launching an admittedly slick website that excels at nothing while writing about everything. It won’t ever scoop a hot new band, and it seems unlikely to start a new fashion trend. If anything, Life and Times collects the latest passing trends and refracts them through the prism of present-day Jay’s affluence. So it’s kind of like The Blueprint III.
There’s practically nothing Jay-Z can do to tarnish his legacy. For every mediocre album, appearance at an indie rock show, or photo op with Warren Buffet, there will always be Reasonable Doubt, The Black Album, and his hundreds of millions of dollars.
Still, with his profound resources and keen eye for cool, it’s pretty disappointing that Life and Times isn’t more hungry, more envelope-pushing. You’d expect a pointless vanity project from a pretender, not a businessman.
Fuse April 12, 2011