Jay-Z is negotiating a sponsorship deal with Samsung, according to The New York Post. The eight-figure deal would reportedly include a streaming music service, as a way for Jay-Z to sell music and Samsung Electronics (005930:KS) to sell phones. Carving out a role for a big-name celebrity doesn’t always make sense for companies—as when, for instance, Alicia Keys kept tweeting from an iPhone (AAPL) even after being paid to shill for BlackBerry (BB:TW).
But the rapper from Brooklyn and the Korean phone maker could make this work, in part because Jay-Z seems to have an instinctive understanding of Samsung’s culture.
He understands diversification: Samsung got its start in 1938, when a man named Byung-Chull Lee started a business selling dried Korean fish, vegetables, and fruit to Manchuria and Beijing. Soon it had its own flour mills. Seventy-five years later it’s making drying machines, smartphones, and flat-panel televisions.
Jay-Z got his start in Brooklyn, moving snowflakes by the O-Z, before becoming the music biz’s No. 1 supplier. But he’s long past songs at this point, and not in the tired “rapper-slash-actor” way. He owns nightclubs and bought part of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team before giving that up to be a sports agent. Even his marriage seems like a savvy marketing play. (Samsung has its own history with Beyonce, of course. Who could forget the B’Phone?)
Now both conglomerates are all over the place. Jay-Z had 22 twos (and later, 44 fours); there are at least that many sizes of Galaxy phones and tablets. Jay-Z himself has said: “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” You could totally see this guy getting into Internet-connected refrigerators.
He doesn’t back down from a fight: Like any rapper worth his salt, Jay-Z is comfortable with conflict. Sure, there’s the beef with other rappers, such as Nas and the Game. But Jay-Z has expanded beyond hip hop to go to war with champagne companies and mediocre NBA players, which could serve him well in the technology industry, where large companies spend an increasing amount of energy battling one another. Some people in tech are saddened by this. Samsung, though, is quite the happy warrior, mocking iPhone users in commercials while squaring off against its main rival in every courtroom from here to the end of the earth.
He knows intellectual property: The feuds in the smartphone industry in 2013 are a lot like those of the rap world in the 1990s. Everyone’s products include something that competitors believe they can lay some claim to. So while Jay-Z is presumably being brought in to market smartphones, it seems like he’d take to patent litigation with little bother. After all, he did spend years attacking rappers who were stealing his style, all the while cribbing ideas from rivals when he thought he could improve on them.
In 2001, Jay-Z had this response to Nas’s complaints that he had ripped him off: “So yeah I sampled your voice, you was using it wrong / You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song.”
I think I once heard Oh-Hyun Kwon say the same thing to Apple in federal court.