…continued from Part 1
Jay-Z’s close friend Bono is an iconicfigure the rapper looks up to. “He does so many things. He’s had longevity,he’s made classic albums, he’s still relevant right now and he does so muchfor the world. He’s a complete human being,” he says.
And the U2 singer loves to givehis younger peer advice all the time. “He likes to talk!”
While Jay-Z creates a bit of music history himself, say, practically at eachof his appearances, there are past moments he would have liked to witness. Like “when Michael Jackson did the moonwalk. Or I would have loved to be inthe studio when Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson made Thriller.” As for thelate and great Michael Jackson, Jay-Z calls him “a phenomenal entertainer,the greatest of all time” with a rich heritage.
“What I’m most proud of isthat his legacy is left intact. When someone does something like the way hedid it, with passion, dedication and the love for it, their legacy should beleft intact. So I’m happy that people celebrated him around the world theway they did. I only wish he would have got to see it.”
Rap and hip hop have certainly contributed to the globalization of Americanpop culture and improving interracial relations. “One-hundred and fiftypercent!” he agrees. “I think that rap has done more for racial relationsthan most people – like 80%. Of course there are special people – MartinLuther King, people who put in incredible work – but after that, rap music.Racism is taught in the household, so it’s very difficult to teach racismwhen your child idolizes Kanye West!”
As for hip hop more generally, he sees it as a unifier. “Hip hop hasbrought people together. It used to be black clubs and white clubs. That’sno longer the thing. Everyone parties together now. That’s a beautifulthing.”
One of the greatest contributors was, of course, his close friendBiggie Smalls. Jay-Z even calls him the ultimate rap artist. “He was socomplete. He could make the darkest record and then he could make thecoolest dance record. He was the most complete as a rapper to me. Here’sthis big guy and he’s sexy. That’s very difficult to do!”
His own self-confidence stems from, well, personal fulfillment. And, no,it’s not just about being married to Beyoncé, one of the hottest women onthe planet. “A lot of the time when you know who you are, you don’t have topretend to be someone else, you’re happy with who are, I think you havelongevity in this business. The worst thing to do is be successful assomeone else because that comes to light soon.”
His lyrics are often introspective, which he says can betherapeutic. “In person, I’m not really as talkative. My whole family’s likethat. We keep a lot of things in. So for me, music is like therapy. Itallows me to just say what I want to say.”
And he says a lot. “Yeah, I do,” he laughs. One track hints at therift he had with The Game, although he makes it clear that it isn’t avengeful response. “What I was saying was in this song was, ‘I ain’t talkingabout Game.’ Everyone’s like, ‘Yo! You have to make a diss record!’ So whatI’m saying on the record is I’m ready to talk about some real things. I’mnot talking about that stuff.” That would be so 2001. He laughs: “Yeah,you’re right! That’s so first Blueprint!”
But this highly-publicized public dispute certainly has entertainment value.”A lot of the music press is like making a record: You’ve got to find thehook. When you find the hook, you take that hook and you go into it and theneveryone picks it up. So it’s like a hit record, right?” But he does hitback at Lil Wayne, who suggested that, at almost 40, Jay-Z is too old forhip hop.
“The people choose who they want in that place. Even if I didn’tmake another record, it wouldn’t mean that this particular person would bemore famous. I don’t think you stop people from being famous. If people likeLil Wayne, they’re going to buy Lil Wayne. If people like Jay-Z, they’regoing to buy Jay-Z. And that’s pretty much the end of it. I think it’s morelike sour grapes on their part. I tell them to just work harder. You shouldbe able to outwork an old guy!”
A few years ago, when he was “younger”, the rap star had announced hisretirement, something that didn’t quite work out at agethirtysomething. “I sucked at that!” he laughs and admits he’ll never beable to fully retire. “I’ll always be involved in music in some kind of way.If I’m not making albums, I’ll be making albums for other people,discovering young talent.” Or continuing his many business ventures.
He has since become the Donald Trump of hip hop, The comparison leaves himvisibly ecstatic as he nearly jumps up and down in his chair. “You just madeup a new phrase! I’ve never heard that one!” He doesn’t hold a fancy MBA; hegets his business acumen from the streets. “There was an honour and loyaltytied to business in the street that I took with me that really pays off forme ’cause that’s really just how you do business. If you can’t do something,you don’t promise it. My approach to doing business is to just be straightup about it, not complicate the business. It works pretty well, you know?”
After being at the helm of Def Jam, Jay-Z parted ways with business partnerDamon Dash, but he won’t be drawn into any of the rumored gritty details ofhis departure. “It was a great experience for me, but I’m more of anentrepreneur than a 9-to-5 kind of guy. I need the freedom to move.”
Hisnext venture is to move the NBA team The Nets, which he co-owns, to hishometown of Brooklyn. “For me, it’s a childhood dream. We don’t have asports team in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in the early ’50s. To bring asports franchise back to my hometown is like a dream come true.”
But the only business he hasn’t dabbled in thus far is film. “The reasonwhy I haven’t really approached it or took it on is because I want to be inthe position where I can do the work. If you’re going to take on somethingor you’re going to be in a movie or produce a movie, you should really knowwhat you’re doing. You should really have enough time to dedicate to it toput out quality work.”
While many rap stars, such as Ludacris, Mos Def and50 Cent have carved out an acting career, Jay-Z doesn’t want to be cast inthe next Hollywood box-office smash despite the “hundreds” of offers he’sreceived over the years. “I’ve been tempted (to accept) but, it’s not reallymy thing. For me, it would be more producing, more giving the vision thanbeing the actor. I think I’ll get in my way. To be an actor, you can’t getin your own way. You have to have the freedom to have the character come tolife. I’ll probably get in my own way! There are some things I wouldn’t do,like karate fight! And fake wrestling!” And if there were a Jay-Z biopic inproduction, would Denzel Washington fit the role? He laughs: “Denzel?He’s too good! I don’t know… Obama!”
Once named GQ International Man of the Year, who would he vote for? “Kanyewon last year, didn’t he? Let’s not vote for him. Let’s vote for someoneelse… Jack White, who wears a lot of black. I’m into black right now,” whilehis Woman of the Year would be his protégée Rihanna. When asked about ChrisBrown, however, Jay-Z remains tactful.
“They’re young kids. No one’scondoning that – it was a tragic mistake – but young kids make mistakes andhopefully get past it. I think he’s feeling the repercussions of hisactions. Sometimes when you make a mistake, you gotta deal with it. There’llbe a day when this is behind him, but for now he has to deal with it.”
Despite having a difficult childhood, Jay-Z remains loyal to his native NewYork, a city to which he pays homage on the album. “It’s a melting pot ofall different types of people, co-mingling and hanging out at the sameplaces; the speed in which it moves, 24 hours a day; you can catch a cab toanywhere. Just the excitement and the feeling of the city is the center ofthe world. It really is. So many different types of creative people… it’s anincredible city.”
Jay-Z still resides in New York and Brooklyn is stillstrongly anchored in him, despite a difficult childhood. “I’d probably belocked up or something, to be honest with you. I was successful when I wasin the street as well. I don’t think I would have stopped had I not foundsomething that I loved more or something that could occupy my time and paywell. I would still be doing what I was doing because I was having a goodrun in it, and that doesn’t last, right? Something would have happened. Iwould either go to jail or got killed. Hip hop saved my life, like that Lupesong (starts signing): ‘Hip hop, you saved my life.’”