September 28, 2009

Jay-Z Is A Genius

blueprint 3.jpg

Q: What do the three red lines mean? A: Wrong.

The three red lines mean "3," as in "Blueprint 3." Ok, so why aren't they blue, like Blueprint? You should now start to suspect that what the lines mean isn't the right question (the medium is the meaning.) The question is, why are they there?

Look at the cover again. Making the rounds is this video, it is the making of the cover of Jay-Z's new album, Blueprint 3. Read that sentence again and reflect before you watch the video.

It shows the musical instruments being stacked, the sculpture being constructed. Then, at the end, the designers apply red color onto the sculpture itself.

So while it looks the lines were digitally added, and it would have been much easier to digitally add them, they're actually on the instruments. They're actually real.


Some have seen resemblances/sampling from such pictures as these:

secret machines u2.jpg

(From idolator)


or this one:

dan tobin smith.jpg

The "E" is the most relevant, as it was the "inspiration" for the cover. By inspiration, I mean it was created and shot by the same photographer, Dan Tobin Smith.

But as you saw in the video, this cover is not a "sampled" version of those pictures, it's not cut, paste, and recolor. It may look like, be inspired by, those others but-- just like he doesn't sample "hey hey hey, good bye" but actually sings it-- everything you see and hear is strictly Jay-Z. Jay-Z is saying, I'm a real artist. I don't take shortcuts. This is anti-Photoshop, death of the thumbnail. This image was entirely assembled, it took a long time, it took a lot of work. Even the red lines are real, not CGI.

So now the point of releasing a "Making of The Cover" video becomes clear: it's to show you how authentic he is.

The red lines are there to lead you to discover that they are actually there.


out and up.jpg from Axel Peemoeller

Look closely/take my word for it, the colors are not painted/photoshopped onto the photograph, but are actually painted into the walls/ground/railings/etc. Cool, huh? It's alright, you're allowed to like it, you don't have to be metafilter smug all the time.

While this style of art has been around for centuries, today it carries a different implications: it is always conscious of the existence of CGI. Whatever else the art says or is, it is also saying, "it looks like CGI, but it isn't." Usually CGI is used to fake reality, but in this case the very point of the realism is to make you think it's CGI, so that you can be awed by the fact that it isn't. Its authenticity is reinforced by the work you have to do to discover it. "Holy crap, that's real!"

To repeat: this is something real that is designed to look fake.


What does it say, however, that this technique is regularly found in commercial art?

It says the same as Jay-Z wants it to say: "if this packaging art is real, then for sure the product inside is completely real. And the artist is 110% authentic."

But this kind of authenticity is the most manipulative kind of fakery, because "the illusion" masking the reality only occurs if seen from one specific perspective, chosen by them.

up and out unmasked.jpg

From any other perspectives decided by them, you don't see the illusion.

blueprint 3 cover shoot.JPG

The illusion masking the authenticity-- the red lines that look CG'd, the illusion you're supposed to work through to appreciate the authenticity even more-- never materializes. All you're left with is the one level of real, and it is real boring.

Here's what is absolutely vital to understand: for the commercial part of the art to be effective, not everyone can be in on the trick. You need some people who say, "what's the big deal? Some idiot painted some colors on the walls. I don't get it." You need them so that the people who see it from the right perspective are motivated to dig deeper. "Wait, are you serious?!" You've created us vs. them. You've branded it.

Our postmodern society thinks it is clever for always looking deeper, for knowing there are always two levels. It "knows" appearances are lies, it knows the real truth is beneath the appearances. It tries to uncover.

We're not as smart as they are. Commercial art, Jay-Z, all of TV, all of the news, reverse the order of the levels. They hide the lie they want to tell you one level deeper, let you dig for it. And when you find it, after all the work, you accept that it must be the truth. "Backstage", "behind the scenes", "the making of", "investigative reporter", "obtained documents", "leaked"-- now we're getting to the truth!

You're not.

Commercial art
of this kind works because it is able to control the perspective. You think you're making your own judgment about what you see with your own eyes, but it has already been decided how you will see it, why you will see it, in what context... so that you "uncover" only what it wants you to uncover.


If you can't understand the emo kid with black lipstick, or the white kid in baggy jeans flashing gang signs, or Jay-Z pretending to be Italian, or any of a billion different obviously fake identities-- and if you can't understand why, despite the obviousness of the fakery, some girls who are not complete idiots fall for it-- it's because you're not seeing his fake identity from the right perspective. He's showing the fake symbols of something (toughness, intellect, etc) so that you try to look deeper, and whoever responds to what those symbols mean (toughness, intellect, etc) will do so.

He's dressing himself in red lines, tempting you to see if they're real or not.

If you are tempted to look more deeply (if you're watching it, it's for you)-- like the smitten girl does-- you'd see this appearance first, then through it: "if you got to know him, you'd see he's really a...!" And then you'd pat yourself on the back for having intellectual courage to not judge by appearances! But you've been fooled by the commercial art illusion, thinking that because you saw through the illusion, therefore the deeper level must be authentic.

Those who don't come to it from exactly the right perspective are infuriated, "this guy is a douchebag!" You think you see something more real than she does, but you aren't supposed to see more deeply-- she is. You are supposed to be infuriated-- that's why she looks more deeply. She doesn't like him, she likes what liking him says about her. She likes what your hating him says about her.

"How the hell come she can't see through this poser?" She does see through it, you don't. She sees something fake, then something "real" underneath, and falls for him; you see something fake, stop there, and hate him.

That's exactly what he wanted, both times.

That's what Jay-Z wants, too.

We are all commercial art.


More on Jay-Z 1 2



Thanks for giving me a posi... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 2:32 PM | Posted by Xianhang Zhang: | Reply

Thanks for giving me a position that allows me to feel superior to those who have fallen for this obvious deception. Give me a few days to mull over it and I'll figure out the correct position to feel smug over you.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 17 (17 votes cast)
I just like looking at the ... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 2:51 PM | Posted by Mae: | Reply

I just like looking at the art and wondering how they make it. I can only hope this does not mean I have a diminished intellect!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 5 (5 votes cast)
That was legitimately insig... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 3:02 PM | Posted by Basil Valentine: | Reply

That was legitimately insightful. So, once you've become aware of the recursive semiotics of everyday life, there's no way to recapture any feelings of unconscious, unforced authenticity. It's like Veblen meets Nietzsche.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (3 votes cast)
My head just exploded.... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 3:27 PM | Posted by James Bressi: | Reply

My head just exploded.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
On a more serious note, thi... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 3:30 PM | Posted by James Bressi: | Reply

On a more serious note, this post is brilliant - as is usually the case. Keep up the great work on here.

I think you need to disclose just how many Jay-Z albums or songs you own. Admit it, he is more than a fascinating case study for you.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Blew my mind here, Alone. I... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 3:46 PM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

Blew my mind here, Alone. I actually laughed when I got it, because once you realise what's going on, it actually seems insane that you've never figure it out beforehand.

A question, however: how do we separate narcissism from simply determining one's own personality? For example, the entirety of the Self-Help genre owes a lot to ideas like "I am a good person", etc. Narcissism seems to be the same decision to be something specific, and yet these two apparently quite similar processes would appear to have vastly different results.

And a final question: if Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers of all time, is married (?) to a woman widely considered one of the most beautiful alive, has total artistic freedom and absolutely no financial worries -- what is the issue? It may sound like an odd question, but if narcissism really is the cause of so much chaos, why isn't Jay-Z suffering in some way? If he isn't happy, he's doing one hell of a fucking job of not giving it away.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 8 (10 votes cast)
The answer to that is what ... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 4:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Rob's comment, by Roger: | Reply

The answer to that is what happens when the narcissism isn't reinforced from the outside? What happens when people choose to ignore him(narcissistic injury)? He is happy because his career is feeding it, what happens when the monster doesn't get fed?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Yes, that's a good point, a... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 5:24 PM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

Yes, that's a good point, and at that point of course there arises a problem. However: would he have become famous without the personality traits fostered by narcissism? I mean, say what you like about unfounded, grandiose self-confidence, but it's a fantastic tool for achieving success. (As long as a certain amount of talent, or the capacity to benefit from the talent of others, exists alongside it.)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
You equate fame with succes... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 5:51 PM | Posted, in reply to Rob's comment, by Denis: | Reply

You equate fame with success, even though you just agreed with Roger that once people stop paying attention the jig is up. What does happen when the monster doesn't get fed? The 'success' will vanish. It's only there as long as people pay attention.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
I'm almost sure those lines... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 6:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm almost sure those lines were intensified with photoshop - not just the depth of the red but also the crispness of the musical objects.
That's the ultimate irony. You are lead to believe it is fake, only to discover it is real, but what you don't know is that it's realness has probably/certainly been enhanced by software even still. It represents something real, basically.

But maybe that is his point after all and we are too dumb to see that. Ideas are fake, always, because sensory input assembled into thoughts are never real as we are limited by knowledge. What you think is real, isn't real, even if you think it is. We're always seconds behind learning something new which destroys our concept of reality? Why is painting real and photoshop fake anyway? What is reality and why do we value related concepts like being "authentic" and "consistent", why is fluidity bad?

Heh, probably not. The photo is clearly adulterated by photoshop, it really doesn't matter if there was a sculpture with some red paint on it or not. As an attempt to make a statement about being genuine, he defies his point. Epic fail.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Would you argue that fame i... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 6:26 PM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

Would you argue that fame isn't success? In what way is fame, in music, not success? How could one possibly differentiate between musical fame and success, except on a nebulous argument regarding personal definitions of success?

And yes, it is only there as long as people pay attention. If people stop buying Jay-Z's records, if they stop paying attention, he will cease to be successful at what is clearly his goal.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
In fact, screw it. I'll jus... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 6:31 PM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

In fact, screw it. I'll just put this whole thing up here. I'd like to apologise in advance for two things, and sincerely hope that this doesn't get deleted or flamed into non-existence, because these are questions I'd love to see the answer to. Just because I am taking a position counter to Alone's, doesn't mean I'm not a big fan, nor does it mean that I don't respect him. Mommy and Daddy aren't breaking up, we're just talking real loudly.

*covers head and runs* DON'T YELL AT MEEE!

Apologies: A) Sorry for taking up a huge amount of space in the comments section. B) Sorry for my tone. I got kind of carried away, and I hope my argument makes some kind of sense regardless. If it doesn't, let me know and I'll try to explain myself. Don't take it personally, Alone, my food consumption today would make a Beduin cringe, and that always makes me a cranky fucker.


The subtext of his theory is as follows: we cannot attribute simple laziness, lack of discipline, simple (not narcissistic) selfishness or even just generally being a bit of a dick, to people's problems - they are all linked by a single thread: narcissism.

Jay-Z is successful, but at the same time he is completely fake? Notice how TLP succumbs here to his own accusations: "everyone is fake, everyone is pretending, I am the only real thing." Narcissists accuse everyone else of being fake and "phoney" (Holden Caulfield leaps abettingly to mind), as does TLP. Jay-Z's success can be completely discounted; it was a fluke. The real question is, what if he was not successful?

The fact that we're presenting a damning hypothetical analysis when in fact the reality is that he is immensely successful, apparently quite stable and, whilst clearly still trying to impress people he's probably terrified of alienating with his success (wanna prove it to me? yeah, just get viiiolent), not necessarily massively unhappy.

The evidence for TLP's theory is patently fucking absurd. Much more likely, he was copying a method of street-art he'd seen before, as a reference. People like to make things interesting, to add a level of depth. Anthropomorphizing an album cover is surely a symptom of twitching, devil-eyed insanity if there ever was one. "Look! this album cover is not what it first appeared! Truly, this is ample evidence that Jay-Z is a lying, scheming, manipulative bastard. Who Alone will deseat him?" Har.

"So why aren't they blue, like Blueprint?" Hey buddy, ever try to make a series of album covers with the same goddamn album name? A colour change is probably the only thing he could do besides actually coming up with a new naming idea to make things interesting.

Besides, TLP answers his own question: the album art is similar to the work of the man who designed the album art. Hmm. A conspiracy?

As for various niggling observations like "Jay-Z sings Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye", maybe he felt the sample didn't work for the song. Maybe their was an incongruity of tone. Maybe it just didn't fit. Your Occam's Razor must be blunt as a motherfucker, huh TLP?

"This is something real that is designed to look fake."

And? How on earth does this reflect Jay-Z's personality? This is the same wobbly, groundless "literary critique" nonsense I bullshitted my way spotlessly through in English class. This is not a valid psychological analysis.

" because "the illusion" masking the reality only occurs if seen from one specific perspective, chosen by them. " So what you're saying is, from the use of a street art Jay-Z didn't create or even have a part in developing, you've seen straight through to the real purpose: ... what?

Here, a clever trick has been pulled: the subtle disguising of random conjecture as evidence. "A specific perspective, chosen by them" doesn't actually say anything, does it? It just described the nature of a drawing on some instruments.

I think your implication is that some people see the fakery, some see through to the next level, and that's the point. But really, you're just describing the perspectives one can take relative to a drawing. It's no great shakes.

"From other perspectives decided by them, you don't see the illusion." = "From other camera angles, you are shown that it isn't really a solid line, because otherwise THE ENTIRE FUCKING VIDEO WOULD BE POINTLESS."

To paraphrase: "You need some people who see the outside and accept it, and some who see beyond it and are motivated to dig deeper. You've branded it by polarizing opinion. You've created Us vs Them."

Is anyone not seeing this? I'll translate.

"Some people see straight lines, others go on wikipedia and are told that it's not straight lines. In the mind of one man and perhaps eight or nine obsessive superfans, this is a life-changing moment. For most people, it's just a thoughtful "ah, clever" and a click to the next page."

Now, as for the real meat of the article, the point about how the manipulation of appearance versus "reality", and the creation of a "reality" underneath a purposely artificial appearance which is the real fakery.

TLP's point here is effectively that people use defence mechanisms (socially dictated personality traits - the Trademark Bastardness of Dr. Cox, the Oversensitive Artistry of the Emo subculture, etc etc etc), but underneath are not in fact real people. To this, I answer as follows.

Who is a "real person" in your books, TLP? Does anyone reading actually know exactly who they are? Who on earth DOESN'T at times find out something new about themselves, or pretend to be someone they're not. Identity isn't a fixed fucking variable, not should it be. You aren't fully grown by age thirty, you're still learning. Any failure to keep learning is much worse than Narcissism, it is arrogance. We use personalities to explore.

Your take on the Emo kid, for example, is particularly malevolent. Emo kids aren't just teenagers exploring culture through identities - playing at a higher level than just trucks and barbies - oh no. They're evil tricksters, hiding their true devilry behind a socially dictated outer shell. And the people who like them? Even worse. They're juse using them for social status and the thrill. It appears to be inconceivable in your world, TLP, that someone could simply like someone without there being an agenda.

The simple fact is, people's motives are ultimately very confusing. They cannot be justifiably tied together and presented to us as the symptoms of a personality disorder whose definition escapes us.

Simply, there is no Narcissism. There are some of the symptoms: excessive self-interest, self-love even. But the Narcissism of which TLP speaks, this awe-inspiring social epidemic which is conspicuously capable of reducing everyone to either total bastards or just confused children, doesn't exist.

Jay-Z probably chose the Italian Restaurant idea because Italian Mob/Mafia shit is kind of cool to some people. He has a lot of money, he can do whatever he wants. He probably chose that album cover because he likes the art and wanted to do something interesting.

Maybe people should be allowed to play, TLP, without you traipsing into their sandbox, taking their toys and accusing them of mental illness. Maybe the symptoms of Narcissism are really just the results of emotional withdrawal into the self like first suspected, and as such maybe the solution is simply to help people come out of their shell and slowly de-atrophy the mental tools necessary to connect to other people.

A final question: one of the main problems people have with psychiatry is that every process has an ends, declared or undeclared. What is your ends, TLP? Where does all of this lead?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (5 votes cast)
Alan,Listen to <a hr... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 7:50 PM | Posted by Sasha: | Reply

Listen to - it has an analysis of Jay-Z's latest album and matches your post very well.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
@robJesus dude, co... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 8:18 PM | Posted by assdasdasdasdasdd: | Reply


Jesus dude, condense

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (3 votes cast)
Hmmm, isn't the idea that t... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 9:25 PM | Posted by Mr Weston: | Reply

Hmmm, isn't the idea that the cover design of Jay-Z's album is actually Jay-Z saying something about Jay-Z (at whatever level) the real illusion here?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Rob, you're making a couple... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 10:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Rob's comment, by Basil Valentine: | Reply

Rob, you're making a couple of errors here. Basically, you're confusing the metaphorical implications of the album cover, as described in this post, with what Alone chooses to call "narcissism". Since I have a sense of restraint w/r/t long comments, I'd just suggest re-reading the earlier stuff.

The metaphor is: commercial art achieves its purpose by presenting an inauthentic layer to be peeled away leaving behind another layer that, by virtue of its obscurity, is judged to be more authentic, with all the wonderful feelings of product-consumer interaction that you'd expect. The point is that, the business of art is business, and that at the end of the day there is no authentic layer. You can make arguments about the real meaning being the interface between message and receiver... to learn about that, maybe buy a book?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
"But, he turned out to be t... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2009 11:36 PM | Posted by Horrible: | Reply

"But, he turned out to be totally sweet. Sometimes people are layered like that. There's something totally different underneath than what's on the surface."

"And sometimes there's a third, even deeper level, and that one is the same as the top surface one."


"Like with pie."

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (3 votes cast)
"This is anti-Photoshop, de... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 12:29 AM | Posted by Dman: | Reply

"This is anti-Photoshop, death of the thumbnail." :D

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I'm afraid I got lost in th... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 12:32 AM | Posted by Meat Robot: | Reply

I'm afraid I got lost in the levels of meta in this post. I'm sure there's wisdom here, but it got too much like the iocaine powder scene in The Princess Bride: "Therefore, I can't choose the glass in front of you!"

If anyone's interested, there is a very talented Chinese artist who uses paint and perspective to make himself nearly invisible in photographs:

That is all.

Hey, TLP, anything to say to those of us who basically ignore US popular music and culture? It's a big world out there.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Best way out of a paradox i... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 2:08 AM | Posted by Diego: | Reply

Best way out of a paradox is avoiding the paradox altogether.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
1. Sometimes a cigar is jus... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 2:36 AM | Posted by David Johnson: | Reply

1. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
2. Sometimes talking about the symbolism behind the advertising behind the person behind the selling of the cigar is like creating yet another smoke screen.
3. Sometimes you just gotta smoke the cigar.
4. Sometimes you even have to talk about the music because until you do, you're just blowing smoke up everyone's ass.
5. Sometimes everything looks ironic, like a white man discussing a white set used to promote a black artist flashing a lot of symbols from the heart of NYC. Huh.
6. Sometimes it's good to end a post with some perspective:

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (3 votes cast)
oh my god!... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 4:37 AM | Posted by jesus: | Reply

oh my god!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I try, damn you all, I try.... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 7:09 AM | Posted, in reply to assdasdasdasdasdd's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I try, damn you all, I try.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
They painted musical instru... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2009 9:27 AM | Posted by fraise: | Reply

They painted musical instruments? Sigh. A school could have used those instruments (pre-paint). Now no one can.

I thought the three lines might be the trigram for "The Creative".

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)