Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’ Is Now On Amazon, Revealing A Lucrative Tidal-Sprint Bluff

Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’ Is Now On Amazon, Revealing A Lucrative Tidal-Sprint Bluff

In his younger days, one of Jay-Z’s favorite pastimes was playing cards–more specifically, a poker variant called Guts–as hip-hop legend Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite recalled after spending some time with the rapper in the early 2000s.

“There’s a connection between that and business,” Fab told me in an interview for my Jay-Z biography, Empire State of Mind. “It’s all a gamble. And I guess the thing that makes one gambler better than the next is those that understand when they have a better chance to win.”

Get It: 4:44 Explicit Lyrics by Jay-Z

That seems to be precisely what Jay-Z has done with the roll out of his new album, 4:44. Moments ago, on the one-week anniversary of the launch of the record–supposedly available only to existing subscribers of Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service, and to newbies who signed up for a Sprint cellular plan–4:44 slipped into the music platforms operated by Apple and Amazon.

“We are excited to share that Jay Z’s latest album, 4:44, is now available on Amazon Music Unlimited,” a statement from Amazon confirmed. “4:44 joins the albums like Magna Carta…Holy Grail, American Gangster, Kingdom Come, The Black Album, The Dynasty and more by the multi-Grammy award winning rapper on Amazon Music Unlimited.”

The announcement doubles as a proclamation that Jay-Z has successfully bluffed his way into a uniquely successful album release. Likely because of his long-held business-first attitude, many were willing to believe that he would keep 4:44 exclusive to Tidal and/or Sprint subscribers indefinitely, luring new users while perturbing some observers.

4 44 Explicit Lyrics by Jay-Z

4 44 Explicit Lyrics by Jay-Z

Get It: 4:44 Explicit Lyrics by Jay-Z

Though the record was widely praised by critics on the musical front, Pitchfork lamented the “disconnect between Jay selling his darkest, most personal album to a corporation, and the added contradiction of championing black-owned business while recouping profits for a telecommunications giant.”

Yet he also reaped considerable gains for himself and his Tidal investors, at least on paper: Sprint paid $200 million for one-third of the fledgling streaming service in January, valuing Tidal at more than ten times the $56 million Jay-Z initially paid for it. A 4:44 exclusive was likely a part of that negotiation.

So, rather than take a traditional window deal for his album–a chunk of change for a one-week exclusive on a streaming service–Jay-Z bluffed his way to turning seven days of 4:44 into a boon for Tidal and his own bottom line, thanks to Sprint and, it seems, Amazon and Apple (though not Spotify, where 4:44 has yet to appear).

All of this sounds a lot better than holding his music off mainstream platforms for extended periods of time, as the likes of Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks once did. It’s certainly an improvement over a standard deal from a major label, where windowing has been discouraged of late.

Or, as Jay-Z says on “The Story of O.J.”: “Y’all out here still takin’ advances, huh? / Me and my niggas takin’ real chances, uh!”

That sort of move takes Guts.

Get It: 4:44 Explicit Lyrics by Jay-Z

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