When Jay-Z stepped down as president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings in 2007, he explained to reporters, "It's time for me to take on new challenges."
He may have meant he was hoping to start a family, which he eventually did this year when his wife Beyonce gave birth to their daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. Or maybe it was to search for a new musical direction, like the supergroup album he finally made last year with Kanye West, "Watch The Throne." But now Jay-Z has added another line to his resume — on top of owning clothing lines, record labels and sports teams, the 42-year-old rapper and media mogul is officially entering the videogame industry as an executive producer for "NBA 2K13," the game's publisher announced in a press release this week.
"This has been a unique opportunity to collaborate with 2K Sports and be a part of one of the best sports video games in history," Jay-Z said in 2K Sports' official statement. "'NBA 2K13 will be the next evolution in sports and basketball culture, and I'm ready to usher in the new era of the franchise."
Jason Argent, vice president of marketing, said 2K Sports aims to make sports videogames far more culturally and artistically relevant. As an enormously successful musician and part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Jay-Z seemed like a natural fit for the company's expanding brand identity.
"We aren't content with just being the best, and we will continue to grow the NBA 2K franchise into one of today's premier entertainment experiences," Argent added. "Jay-Z's role in NBA 2K13 represents a unique fusion of basketball, music, art, and entertainment, and illustrates the evolution of NBA 2K into something much bigger than simply the best basketball video game series ever made."
The press release promises that Jay-Z's presence "will permeate the experience" of the game, "from the overall look and feel ... to the hand-picked soundtrack, interactive in-game menus and more." But while Jay-Z has been credited with curating the game's soundtrack and contributing some of his own music to it, what exactly "executive producer" means is otherwise unclear.
Speaking to the videogame website Kotaku, Argent assured readers that Jay-Z was not simply placed atop a finished product as a figurehead. "I don't want to get too into detail right now, because we've got a lot of stuff coming down the road," he said. "But when we got into this, we really wanted everyone's expertise to lead us, so the things Jay-Z is an expert at are what we weighed the most."
"We're looking on it as NBA 2K, but through the eyes of Jay-Z," Argent added. Sadly, that doesn't mean that gamers will be able to play as Hov himself in "NBA 2K13"; Argent explained that "didn't feel authentic to the game of basketball." Nor is the rapper involved with the design of the actual gameplay. Rather, Argent stated, "We chose each other as partners on this to add to the presentation side of things."
While Jay-Z joining the production of an AAA videogame title is indeed novel, rappers partnering with game development is not entirely unprecedented. Oftentimes, the musicians lend their image to what is essentially a rebranding of traditional gameplay mechanics. Def Jam itself partnered with EA Sports in 2003 to produce "Def Jam Vendetta," for example, which was essentially a wrestling game that starred the music label's stars (though not Jay-Z himself, curiously) instead of WWE stars. Two sequels," Def Jam Vendetta: Fight for NY" and "Def Jam: Icon," were released during Jay-Z's tenure as president of the titular music group.
Talib Kweli voiced the protagonist of the 2006 adventure game "Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure." And fellow New York rapper 50 Cent has starred in two shooters — "50 Cent: Bullet Proof" and "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand" — that cast the musician as the star of his own Rambo-esque exploits throughout New York City and later Iraq. Critics, when playing the games, were generally confused.
Other popular artists such as Beck and Trent Reznor have begun lending their music and image to various videogame projects as well. If musicians of this stature are so openly interested in games, more involved collaborations such as Jay-Z's may well become the standard in the coming years.