Jay-Z is armed with and weighed down by an immense back catalog. Any given track is bound to be compared to a past highlight. The MC indeed can’t help sounding more mechanical than novel and, as a 43-year-old referencing Internet memes, he’s possibly a little desperate to relate to younger listeners.
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When I was a kid growing up in black New Orleans in the 1960s, O.J. Simpson was a god. We imitated his moves, his swagger. We didn’t want to just play like him. We wanted to be him, gorgeous and running in the California sun. We practiced his juking moves in the mirror, our hands too small to hold the ball loosely, the way he did. We even wanted to go to U.S.C., where he led the nation in rushing two years in a row. We were angry when he lost the Heisman Trophy to the white, All-American, clean-cut U.C.L.A. quarterback Gary Beban, known as “The Great One.” We were triumphant when he won it the next year.
But O.J. was not a perfect hero for young black boys, even though he launched himself from poverty in San Francisco to superstardom. He was racially ambivalent. At a time when other athletes were starting to make their blackness a cause, he was trying to make his a footnote.
So when I was invited to interview Jay-Z, I wanted to talk about his song “The Story of O.J.,” from his most recent album, “4:44,” in which he quotes the legendary, maybe apocryphal, Simpson line “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
I was less engaged by the rapper’s marital troubles or his infamous, caught-on-video 2014 elevator dust-up with his sister-in-law. But I did want to try to understand how, with an $88 million Bel Air mansion a freeway ride from neighborhoods where black people endure with so little, Jay-Z holds onto his younger self — a black man who grew up in the ’70s in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn. It seemed from his new body of work that examining this high-wire act of straddling two places had been stirring more deeply within him — much the way it stirs in me, a Southern black man who grew up revering O.J. and whose own success is infinitely greater than anyone in my early life would have imagined for me.
What is it about the story of O.J. Simpson that moved us both?
O.J. must have locked down part of himself when he presented himself as the noncontroversial star who never talked about race, the perfect foil for his fellow football player, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, who seemed more threatening, angry. I had to wonder if the pressure of that denial caused him to explode decades later.
All of this was on my mind when I met with Jay-Z for two hours in an executive office at The Times this past September. Besides O.J. and racial identity, we talked about his mother’s sexuality, and how he could possibly raise socially aware children who shuttled between mansions: After years of rapping about growing up in the ‘hood, he has produced an album that sounds like a middle-aged black man’s deeply introspective therapy session put to music.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Annotations by Wesley Morris, critic at large for The New York Times, and Reggie Ugwu, pop culture reporter for The New York Times.
BAQUET The things I want to talk to you about: I want to talk a little bit about race. Your music some, too. I thought the song [‘The Story of O.J.,’ from the album ‘4:44,’ 2017] was particularly powerful. I took the message as, ‘You can be rich, you can be poor, you’re still black.’ Who were you speaking to? Who did you want to listen to that and be moved by it?
JAY-Z It’s a nuanced song, you know. It’s like, I’m specifically speaking to us. And about who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing it forward and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions. Because in America, it is what it is. And there’s a solution for us: If we had a power base together, it would be a much different conversation than me having a conversation by myself and trying to change America by myself. If I come with 40 million people, there’s a different conversation, right? It’s just how it works. I can effect change and get whomever in office because this many people, we’re all on the same page. Right? So the conversation is, like, ‘I’m not rich, I’m O.J.’ For us to get in that space and then disconnect from the culture. That’s how it starts. This is what happens. And then you know what happens? You’re on your own, and you see how that turned out.
BAQUET Was it a reminder, too, that the thing O.J. forgot, maybe, was that as rich as he was, as entitled as his life was, he was reminded very forcefully when he became a subject of racial debate that he was also a black man, whether he accepted that or not?
JAY-Z That’s right. Absolutely. And for us, like I’m saying, to speak to that the point is, ‘Don’t forget that,’ because that’s really not the goal. The goal is not to be successful and famous. That’s not the goal. The goal is, if you have a specific God-given ability, is to live your life out through that. One. And two, we have a responsibility to push the conversation forward until we’re all equal. Till we’re all equal in this place. Because until everyone’s free, no one’s free, and that’s just a fact.
BAQUET When you’re as amazingly successful as you are, your kids will live in a very different world from the world you grew up in. How do you go about making sure that they understand the world you grew up in?
JAY-Z There’s a delicate balance to that, right? Because you have to educate your children on the world as it exists today and how it got to that space, but my child doesn’t need the same tools that I needed growing up. I needed certain tools to survive my area that my child doesn’t need. They’re growing up in a different environment.1 But also they have to know their history. Have a sense of what it took to get to this place. And have compassion for others. The most important thing I think out of all this is to teach compassion and to identify with everyone’s struggle and to know these people made these sacrifices for us to be where we are and to push that forward — for us. I believe that’s the most important thing to show them, because they don’t have to know things that I knew growing up. Like being tough.
1Reggie Ugwu: Jay-Z anticipated this dilemma on the 2011 song ‘New Day’ from the album ‘Watch the Throne,’ in which he and Kanye West both address verses to their future sons. In Jay’s verse, he raps: ‘Took me 26 years just to find my path / My only job is cut the time in half.’ (Jay-Z’s son, Sir, and his twin sister, Rumi, were born last June. His eldest daughter, Blue Ivy, is 5.)
BAQUET Do you worry at all that as much as you will teach them history, and as much as you yourself are seen as an important figure among black people in America, that there’s something they’ll be missing? Or do you think that’s silly, [that] in fact they’ll have so many advantages that that’s too negative of a way to approach it?
JAY-Z Exactly. Like, they’ll be who they are, right? And it’s just certain tools that you would hope for your child to have. You know, like, again, fairness and compassion and empathy and a loving heart. And those things translate in any environment. Those are the main base things that you want — well, for me, I would want my child to have. You know? Treat people as they are, no matter who they are, no matter where they sit in the world, not to, like, be super nice to someone at a high position or mean to someone who they’ve deemed to be below them. I can’t buy you love, I can’t show it to you. I can show you affection and I can, you know, I can express love, but I can’t put it in your hand. I can’t put compassion in your hand. I can’t show you that. So the most beautiful things are things that are invisible. That’s where the important things lie.
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BAQUET For me as a black man of a certain age, when I was a kid O.J. Simpson was God. I’m 61, so I was a little kid when he was [around]. Do you expect black people and white people and young people and old people to hear different things in your music? I’m sure I heard some things in that song that you may not even have thought of ’cause I’m a different generation. What do you want a young white kid to hear in that song that maybe a young black kid would not hear?
Created exclusively for T magazine, Henry Taylor’s “Go Next Door and Ask Michelle’s Momma Mrs Robinson if I Can Borrow 20 Dollars Til Next Week?” (2017), alludes to themes from Jay-Z’s music: being raised in the projects, racial protest and the incarceration rates of black men.© Henry Taylor. Photo: Manuel Franquelo-Giner. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
JAY-Z That’s a great question. I think when you make music, you want people to hear different things, and then you want it to start a dialogue. Because that’s how we get to understanding. ‘Oh, you felt that way about it.’ ‘This is actually what I meant, because this happened, and these things happened, that led to me saying this specific thing.’
BAQUET How did you react when that one line in that song where you referred to Jews and wealth2 [‘You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it’] — some people got upset. How did you feel about that?
2Reggie Ugwu: A representative of the Anti-Defamation League told Rolling Stone, ‘the lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money.’
JAY-Z I felt it was really hypocritical. Only because it’s obvious the song is, like, ‘Do you want to be rich? Do what people got rich done.’ Of course, it’s a general statement, right? It’s obviously a general statement, like the video attached to it was a general statement. And if you didn’t have a problem with the general statement I made about black people, and people eating watermelon and things like that [the animated music video for the song, which references racist cartoons, includes a caricature of a black man eating watermelon] — if that was fine, [but] that line about wealth bothered you, then that’s very hypocritical, and, you know, that’s something within yourself. ’Cause basically, I was saying, you know, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, is a great basketball player. He trains in the off-season. If you want to be great, train in off-season like him. That’s basically the statement. You can’t miss the context of the song. You have to be like 5 years old or something.
BAQUET Some people think that the election of Donald Trump has revived the debate about race in America. Some people think that, in fact, there’s always been racism in America; that it hasn’t changed and that the debate isn’t any different. It’s just people are paying attention to it. What do you think?
JAY-Z Cs extreme v9 download. Yeah, there was a great Kanye West line in one of [his] songs: ‘Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it.’ [‘Never Let Me Down,’ from West’s 2004 album, ‘The College Dropout.’] Take a step back. I think when Donald Sterling3 got kicked out of the N.B.A., I thought it was a misstep, because when you kick someone out, of course he’s done wrong, right? But you also send everyone else back in hiding. People talk like that. They talk like that. Let’s deal with that.
3Reggie Ugwu: In 2014, Sterling, then owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was banned for life from the N.B.A. after a recording emerged in which he made racist comments about black people to a female friend.
I wouldn’t just, like, leave him alone. It should have been some sort of penalties. He could have lost some draft picks. But getting rid of him just made everyone else go back into hiding, and now we can’t have the dialogue. The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation.
BAQUET And you think that’s better? That we should be having a conversation?
BAQUET Do you think the debate over race in America is happening in a healthy way?
JAY-Z Well, an ideal way is to have a president that says, ‘I’m open to dialogue and fixing this.’ That’s ideal. But it’s still happening in a good way, because you can’t have a solution until you start dealing with the problem: What you reveal, you heal.
JAY-Z Right? If I have like a tumor, and I don’t know it, it doesn’t mean it goes away. I have to diagnose it first. No matter how it happens. If I get hit with a football, and, like, Oh, I feel something there, and then I go to the doctor — it still happened.
JAY-Z You know what I’m saying? So however it happens, we’re just getting hit with a lot of footballs. To use [an] analogy that goes next to the N.F.L.
BAQUET If you were an owner, you would sign Colin Kaepernick, right?
JAY-Z Yeah. I dedicated ‘The Story of O.J.’ to him at the Meadows concert.4
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4Wesley Morris: Ah, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, whose protest against racism and racial inequality in America might be the most incendiary act of political umbrage since Kanye West declared, at a 2005 national telethon for victims of Hurricane Katrina, that George W. Bush ‘doesn’t care about black people.’ Kaepernick’s decision last year to take a knee during the performance of the national anthem has since been adopted by dozens of other athletes. The president’s outrage at the protests and the ensuing debate have upstaged the injustice Kaepernick knelt against. In October, after several months without being signed to a team, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the N.F.L. accusing the owners of collusion against him. So there’s an apt sting in dedicating ‘The Story of O.J.’ to him, since he’s now taking a hit for being agreeable, race-blind O.J. Simpson’s opposite.
JAY-Z No. We just had dialogue over the phone, but we supposed to get together.
BAQUET Do you have any doubt that if this had not happened, he would be signed by a team?
BAQUET Do you think basketball is more politically active than football?
BAQUET Why is that?
JAY-Z I think because, first of all, it’s smaller numbers. It’s 12 people on a team. In football you have 53 people. So it’s harder to get 53 people thinking the same thing. It’s easier to have a conversation to get 12 people on the same page. Huffy bicycle serial number chart. For one. Two, [the N.B.A. has] a great . they have a great commissioner5 who’s really open. And, you know, supports them. And you feel that. You feel like, you know, when you have someone behind you that really believe in what’s right, it motivates you to do the right thing. I think those two factors show why they’re much further along.
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5Wesley Morris: Adam Silver is the current, generally beloved N.B.A. commissioner. He has yet to drastically stifle expressions of political empathy by teams or individual players. (Let’s see what happens should a player defy his expectation that all N.B.A. players stand during the anthem.) Silver has merrily ridden for the last two years on the N.B.A. float in New York City’s gay pride parade. He oversaw the expulsion of the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who could never have remained in the league — his continued presence might have torn it apart. Ridding basketball of Sterling started as many conversations about the sort of open-carry racism we’re currently living with as keeping him around would have. One thing that makes Silver a great commissioner is that he understands that.
BAQUET Are there incidents even at this stage in your life — you’re famous, you’re rich, you own stuff — where you run into racism that’s evident to you, that’s easy to recognize?
JAY-Z Yeah. Yes. Yeah. But it mostly comes when you try to challenge the status quo.
If I’m being quiet and entertaining, everyone’s cool. Ah man, it’s great. You don’t feel racism. But when you try to challenge the club, it’s like, Oh, nah, we should have a seat at — to use the Solange album title — we should have a seat at this table. And then it gets into a space where it’s like, wait, you guys are mad at me about the same thing you guys are doing. It gets into a weird space.
BAQUET Are you in meetings now in your business life6 where you’re the only black man in the room?
6Reggie Ugwu: Jay-Z’s numerous business ventures — launched in parallel to his prolific music career — created a template for the rapper/mogul. He is the founder of the entertainment company and record label Roc Nation, owns the champagne brand Armand de Brignac and co-owns the streaming service Tidal, among other businesses.
JAY-Z Well, when I was doing the Nets7, I was definitely the only black guy in the room.
7Reggie Ugwu: Jay-Z acquired a small minority stake in the New Jersey Nets in 2003. (He sold it in 2013.) He played an influential role in bringing the team to Brooklyn, including helping design the new team logo and jerseys.
JAY-Z It was um, it’s strange, but at the same time I think that . I think that in that room, my celebrity allowed me a voice that probably would have been awkward for someone [else] in my position being the only black person in the room to break through.
BAQUET This album [‘4:44.’] sounds to me like a therapy session.
BAQUET Have you been in therapy?
In “Glory” (2017), created exclusively for T, the London-based artist Chantal Joffe found herself able to connect with the wonder and weight of parenthood that Jay-Z so clearly expresses in his 2012 song of the same name.Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London/Venice and Cheim & Read, New York.
BAQUET First off, how does Jay-Z find a therapist? Not in the Phone book, right?
JAY-Z No, through great friends of mine. You know. Friends of mine who’ve been through a lot and, you know, come out on the other side as, like, whole individuals.
BAQUET What was that like, being in therapy? What did you talk about that you had never acknowledged to yourself or talked about?
JAY-Z I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a . you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.
And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.”
JAY-Z You don’t want me to see your pain. You don’t . So you put on this shell of this tough person that’s really willing to fight me and possibly kill me ’cause I looked at you. You know what I’m saying, like, so . Knowing that and understanding that changes life completely.
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JAY-Z Yeah — just realizing that, oh my goodness, these young men coming from these . they just in pain.
JAY-Z You have to survive. So you go into survival mode, and when you go into survival mode what happen? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect.
BAQUET You can’t connect because of the way you feel about yourself, you mean?
JAY-Z Yes. In my case, like it’s, it’s deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity .
BAQUET You’ve bared your soul so much. Not only in this album — you can sort of see the evolution of a person in your music. Part of me would think, Oh my god, I gotta talk about my marriage, I gotta talk about my mother, I gotta talk about my other ancestors. Part of me would think that would make me nuts. Does it make you nuts, or do you feel like the heart of your art is to tell the story of your life?
JAY-Z That’s who I — that’s who I am. And I’ve done it from the beginning of my career. Two things: one, no one knew the characters [back then]. So it wasn’t as impactful. And two, it wasn’t coming from a place where it was as evolved.8 And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to hear songs back. It’s hard to perform . songs, but, um, I feel it’s the most important work that I’ve done and I’m very proud of it and the effect that it’s having on people. Even like the studio sessions, you know, we were having four-hour conversations after playing one song. I learned so much about people that was around me, just my friends, I learned things about them that I didn’t know, in a 20-year relationship, just from this one song. So I knew it would have that sort of impact beyond myself. It’s my responsibility as an artist to go to these places.
8Reggie Ugwu: Many of Jay-Z’s early hits, including ‘Can I Get a…’ and ‘Big Pimpin’,’ gloried in juvenile, and misogynistic, attitudes toward women.
BAQUET But you probably couldn’t have gotten away with, O.K., you do the album, wife, that talks about our pain, I’m gonna go do an album that talks about, you know, my love of art.
JAY-Z Yeah, you just, you never know. I think it turned out for the best, but you just never know, because people like to be entertained. Again, back to our president. You would think, Man, after the composed manner in which Obama stood at that podium, the dignity he brought to that place, that this couldn’t exist. But it does.
“Jay-Z with Blue Ivy” (2017), created exclusively for T by Chantal Joffe, who is well known for her tender, gestural portraits of women and children. “I couldn’t stop painting them,” the artist says of the music mogul and his eldest child. “There was something about the juxtaposition of their two heads that was so beautiful; I don’t paint men very often, and his face — it was like a Picasso, full of planes.”Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London/Venice and Cheim & Read, New York.
BAQUET Do you have any disappointments in Obama? There are people who say the expectations of him as the first black president were so great: He was supposed to get rid of racism and fix everything. Is that unfair? Did he live up to all of your expectations?
JAY-Z Yes, because all he could do was the best he can do. He’s not a superhero. And it’s unfair to place unfulfillable expectations on this man just because of his color. You’re actually doing the opposite. Ufo repository download for kodi. It’s like, what do you think is gonna happen? He’s there for eight years. And he has to undo what 43 presidents have done. In eight years. That’s not fair.
BAQUET What do you think of the state of — I’m not gonna say just black leadership, but leadership, period, on the things you care about in the country? Who do you, like, look at and say, ‘This man or woman speaks for the things I care about?’
JAY-Z [laughs] I find it funny, but . I like Dave Chappelle’s [laughs].
JAY-Z You know what I’m saying?
BAQUET You gonna vote for Dave Chappelle for president?
JAY-Z Yeah. ’Cause he tells it in humor so you can deal with it, but it’s always a nice chunk of truth in there.
BAQUET Is there a part of you, because you have a certain amount of money, that gets a little more conservative, or has having money9 not changed your politics?
9Reggie Ugwu: I love the politeness in the phrase ‘a certain amount of money.’ Jay-Z’s net worth is an estimated $810 million. He spent most of 2013’s ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ both admiring his wealth and wielding it. Being a rich black rapper had put him on the defensive when his strongest creative mode involves the moral costs and social perks of his being self-made. One of the most poignant aspects of the new album is the way he’s trying to reconcile what affluence means for him, his family and his race.
JAY-Z No. No, because I believe in people. I want what’s best for people. I love people. You know, so I don’t have that sort of thing, like, I want to vote Republican just to save more money.
JAY-Z That’s not the endgame. It’s not about who got more money and who got more houses. Yes, you know, you’ve earned it, buy what you want.
JAY-Z You know? But don’t forget what’s important. Without people, being rich would be very boring.
JAY-Z [laughs] No one to share with, no one to have . You know what I mean? You’d just be a rich person, one person on the planet — just, like, well then what do you do?
BAQUET When I heard this latest album, and then I thought about the earlier albums, one theme was sort of reaching the promised land. You know, you’ve acquired influence, and not just money, but your life is good. And then when you listen to the newest album, you’re thinking: He must have been in a lot of pain when life was good.
BAQUET Is that true?
10Reggie Ugwu: The song, from Jay-Z’s Grammy-nominated 2001 album “The Blueprint,” describes the dissolution of three early relationships and the rapper’s inability to reconcile his emotions and grieve fully, or openly. “Pride won’t let me show it / Pretend to be heroic.”
JAY-Z And the idea of the hook — ‘never seen it comin’ down my eyes, but I gotta make the song cry.’ It tells you right there what I was, I was hiding.
The strongest thing a man can do is cry. To expose your feelings, to be vulnerable in front of the world. That’s real strength. You know, you feel like you gotta be this guarded person. That’s not real. It’s fake.
BAQUET Does that mean you were unhappy during that period and didn’t have a handle on it, or what?
JAY-Z Well, you compartmentalize, right? So you can be, you can be inside your body and be happy, but at the core of it, something else is going on.
BAQUET As a parent, I thought one of the most painful scenes in the album was when you are talking about having almost lost your marriage, and what it would have been like to watch another man play football with your kid. Given that you have talked so much about your life in your music, are there things that you put a wall around? You’ve talked about the pain of growing up where you grew up, how you grew up, your father leaving early, the pain of your marriage, being in therapy: Are there things [about which] you say, ‘I’m not going there’?
JAY-Z Yeah. And it mostly involves other people ’cause when other people are involved, you may be ready to expose these things, [but] it’s also other people truth as well.
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A perfect example is my mom. I didn’t have permission to do that song first.11 It’s just like we had a beautiful conversation.
11Wesley Morris: I’m a sucker for mommy music. The third track on ‘4:44’ — ‘Smile’ — features Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, and contains this couplet about her: ‘Momma had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian.’ His rapping here is buttery and exuberant: ‘I just wanna see you smile through all the hate / Marie Antoinette, baby, let ’em eat cake.’ So his approach to Gloria manages to exult her and, for anybody annoyed by his ‘eat the cake, Anna Mae’ line on Beyoncé’s 2013 track ‘Drunk in Love,’ arguably to exonerate him from having cast himself as Ike Turner to Beyoncé’s Tina. Anyway, ‘Smile’ ends with an inspirational poem that Gloria wrote and recites and that puts the concept of shadows to moving metaphorical use: ‘The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free / But you live with the fear of just being me / Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be / No harm for them, no harm for me / But life is short, and it’s time to be free / Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed / Smile.’
JAY-Z Uh, really early on when, when I was .
JAY-Z Not, no, not — let’s call it teenage years.
BAQUET So you realized that and talked to her about it?
JAY-Z We never spoke about it. We — it just exist. It was there. Everyone knew.
JAY-Z But we never spoke about it. Until, like, recently, now we start having these beautiful conversations, and just really getting to know each other. We were always good friends but now we’re really great friends. You know. And we were just talking as friends. And then she was sharing that she was in love. She can be herself [now]. She doesn’t have to hide for her kids or feel like she’s embarrassing her kids. It was a much different time then. [Now] she can just live her full life, her whole life, and be her.
BAQUET Will this get harder over time? Like, you know, as a young man, your music was the way a lot of young rappers are — it’s like, you know, [your music was about] the violent life. If that’s chapter one of the autobiography, chapter two of the autobiography — I’m oversimplifying — is like, ‘Now I’m really rich. I have a lot of stuff. Let me tell you how cool that is.’ And then chapter three of the autobiography is, ‘Oh my god, I’ve run myself into the ground.’ So what’s chapter four?
JAY-Z No, chapter three is: Oh my goodness, oh, the most beautiful things are not these objects. The most beautiful things are inside. The most beautiful things are the friendships I have. I have really golden friendships. The compassion and the person I’ve become — that’s what this chapter is. You know? And the conversation with my mom. Those are the real enriching experiences.
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BAQUET Free psy trance loops samples. But will you have the same adventures in your life? Will you have the same stuff to write about? Or maybe you don’t know.
JAY-Z I think that rap in particular is a young man’s sport, that I’ll move out of that white-hot space. Rap is about the gift of discovery. The white-hot space is when it’s fresh and new, and it’s like, this is the hottest song ever. I mean I pushed the window, like —
BAQUET You still — you think you’re still in that space?
JAY-Z I stretched it. Oh, I stood in that window a really long time. But still, no, I don’t think people are looking to me as like, The Thing.
BAQUET Is that hard to deal with, or did you feel like, I’m O.K. with that, because I’ve moved on?
BAQUET You don’t want to be.
JAY-ZCamfrog pro free download for ios. ’Cause I, at the end of the day we gonna find out it’s not about the white-hot space, but it’s about finding the truth. That white-hot space — people think it’s the biggest thing, but it’s really small. It’s almost like a trend.
Would you rather be a trend, or you rather be Ralph Lauren? You know what I mean; like, you rather be a trend, or you rather be forever?
I’m the person that looked at the Mona Lisa and be like, Man, that’s gonna be cool in 40 years. I play forever. And so my whole thing is to identify with the truth. Not to be the youngest, hottest, new, trendy thing.
BAQUET One of the things you rap about also is the pain you caused the people you sold drugs to.12 Have you ever had conversations with people like that you caused pain to as a young man and talked about it?
12Reggie Ugwu: A motif of Jay-Z’s discography is the mutually assured destruction of drug users and drug dealers alike. From ‘Can I Live’ on 1996’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’: ‘We hustle out of a sense of hopelessness . We become addicted / Sort of like the fiends we accustomed to servin’.’
BAQUET What would you say to them? Or is that impossible to do at this point?
JAY-Z Nothing’s impossible. I guess that conversation would definitely take ownership for my part in, um, you know, the part I played in occupying that space. Because knowing what I know now, you know, you can’t sacrifice others for your life. There’s a karmic debt that has to be paid. Had I had the level of consciousness then that I have now, things would have turned out differently. And just knowing that . I definitely want everyone to know that.
BAQUET Do black artists have a different obligation than white artists? Do you feel you have a different kind of obligation to the people who listen to you than if you were a white musician?
JAY-Z Yeah, ’cause I have an obligation, going back to the story of O.J., to further conversation of an entire race of people. And to . . . Not me — all of us. But specifically me, since you’re asking the question, it’s to open up dialogue. [.] It’s O.K. to think. It’s O.K. to be smart. You know, there was a time when people was like, ‘you talkin’ white.’ It’s like, what does that even mean? I know words? Intelligence is not a tribute to color. And I’m sure you’ve heard it growing up many times.
JAY-Z ‘You speaking white.’ Like, what?
JAY-Z I’m speaking like I know words. And it’s O.K., it’s fine. You know, so I have an obligation to further the conversation and always, you know, our stature in America. Our emotional maturity. And so on and so forth. It’s humbling; at the same time it’s like, you know, it’s what you’ve been charged with in life. And I believe since the beginning of time the poets have been charged with that. Like it was the poets that’s explaining the emotions and making these songs that people like, ‘Oh, that’s what I feel.’
BAQUET Are there black artists, and I won’t ask you to name them unless you want to, who you think don’t live up to that obligation to start a conversation about race? Do you think there are people you wish did more?
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JAY-Z Well, I mean, and for one, O.J., right? ’Cause that’s the one that we can all identify. There are those who don’t uphold their mantle, and we know how that story plays out.
BAQUET What would you say to him if you could talk to him?
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JAY-Z I don’t know. I would probably say, ‘Man, I’m sorry that so much happened to you, man.’ You know, people act out in this way based on their life experiences and, you know, I’m sure he’s been through a lot of trauma in his life. I think that’ll start the conversation.
JAY-Z I watched every one.
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JAY-Z Yeah, there was like eight of them on at the same time.
BAQUET You could read the story of O.J. two ways. You could say it’s a reminder of people that they’re black. I could read that as a negative message or a positive message. The positive message being: You’re black and you should be more proud of it. The negative message is: Who are you kidding? You can’t escape this by joining a private country club and playing golf.
BAQUET Which message feels like the right [one]?
JAY-Z They both, they both dual messages at the same time. It’s like, be proud of who you are and realize that we’re gonna get further together. Don’t check out. You can’t just turn your back on the place you come from. You come from a community. Your job is to uplift it now.
BAQUET So now I gotta ask my one gossipy question. Talk about Kanye West and your relationship with him, which you alluded to a little bit in the album.13 When’s the last time you talked to him?
13Wesley Morris: It’s an allusion to a saga. Together, Jay-Z and Kanye West made the 2011 album ‘Watch the Throne,’ which reached an apogee of rap collaboration. The story goes that last year, Jay-Z, through his partnership with Live Nation, gave West $20 million as part of his contract to cover expenses for his Saint Pablo tour. Then, from the stage of that tour in Sacramento, West embarked on a tirade that included shots at, among others, Beyoncé, Mark Zuckerberg and, yes, Jay-Z: ‘I’ve been sent here to give y’all my truth even at the risk of my own life, even at the risk of my own success, my own career. . Jay-Z — call me, brah. You still ain’t called me. . Jay-Z, I know you got killers. Please don’t send ’em at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man.’ He eventually ended the concert after four songs and, two days later, checked himself into a hospital for an eight-day stay. So, in response, Jay-Z opens ‘4:44’ with ‘Kill Jay-Z,’ nearly three minutes of second-person self-laceration. ‘You ain’t a saint / This ain’t KumbaYe,’ Jay-Z raps. ‘But you got hurt because you did cool by Ye / You gave him $20 without blinking / He gave you 20 minutes on stage / [What] was he thinkin’?’ I’ve been interpreting this as Jay-Z realizing the usefulness of the old business credo advising against mixing business with friendship and blaming himself for ignoring it.
JAY-Z I [talked to] Kanye the other day, just to tell him, like, he’s my brother. I love Kanye. I do. It’s a complicated relationship with us.
JAY-Z ’Cause, you know — Kanye came into this business on my label. So I’ve always been like his big brother. And we’re both entertainers. It’s always been like a little underlying competition with your big brother. And we both love and respect each other’s art, too. So it’s like, we both — everyone wants to be the greatest in the world. You know what I’m saying? And then there’s like a lot of other factors that play in it. But it’s gonna, we gonna always be good.
JAY-Z Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that happens. In the long relationship, you know, hopefully when we’re 89 we look at this six months or whatever time and we laugh at that. You know what I’m saying? There’s gonna be complications in the relationship that we have to get through. And the only way to get through that is we sit down and have a dialogue and say, ‘These are the things that I’m uncomfortable with. These are the things that are unacceptable to me. This is what I feel.’ I’m sure he feels that I’ve done things to him as well. You know what I’m saying? These are — I’m not a perfect human being by no stretch. You know.
BAQUET Is he as evolved as you?
JAY-Z He’s highly evolved. No, he’s . I think he started out in a more compassionate position than me. You know what I’m saying. I don’t know if he’s had the level of — I mean, I had to survive by my instincts. I’m here because I grew up a different way. And I got out of that.
You know, my first album came out when I was 26. So I was already a different artist. You know, a lot of people’s album come out they’re 17, 18. So their subject matter is that of a 17- or 18-year-old. Unless you’re Nas, and you like, well-read14. — like, he was way more advanced with the album that he wrote. So I just grew up a different way. But [West is] a very compassionate person. And a lot of times he get in trouble trying to help others. So I can identify with it. It’s just that there’s certain things that happened that’s not really acceptable to me.
14Reggie Ugwu: Recorded when he was still a teenager, Nas’s landmark 1994 debut album, ‘Illmatic,’ was praised for its vivid, incisive lyrics about coming of age among urban blight. A Queens native and autodidact, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade.
JAY-Z And we just need to speak about it. But there’s genuine love there.
BAQUET I’m trying to picture the scene when you and your wife both talked about making these very confessional, open albums. Was it difficult to say: ‘I’m gonna talk about the problems in our marriage. I’m gonna talk about how we almost lost things.’ And for her to say: ‘I’m gonna talk about my pain and anger at you.’ What were those conversations like?
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JAY-Z Again, it didn’t — it didn’t happen in that way. It happened — we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.
And then the music she was making at that time was further along. So her album came out as opposed to the joint album that we were working on. Um, we still have a lot of that music. And this is what it became. There was never a point where it was like, “I’m making this album.” I was right there the entire time.
BAQUET And what was her reaction to your work and what was your reaction to hers? They must have caused pain for each of you, right?
JAY-Z Of course. And both very, very uncomfortable, but [.] the best place in the, you know, hurricane is like in the middle of it.
JAY-Z We were sitting in the eye of that hurricane. Uh, maybe not use hurricane because so many people are being affected right now. [This interview took place nine days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, on the heels of two other devastating hurricanes, Irma and Harvey, that struck the U.S. mainland.]
JAY-Z But the best place is right in the middle of the pain.
JAY-Z And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know. [I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.
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You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.
JAY-Z So, you know, most people don’t want to do that. You don’t want to look inside yourself.
JAY-Z And so you walk away.