Jay-Z: The End Or The Beginning?
Jay-Z is in a unique position these days. He’s older, wiser and has made a conscious decision to bring his maturity not only to his music, but also to his now public lifestyle. While older artists try to grasp onto the young crowd by any means necessary, Jay created his own lane that can almost be billed as “Adult Contemporary Hip Hop.” No longer are his lyrics about being a young guy trying to come up. He’s brought his tales of success to fruition and can no longer speak on being broke or trying to make it. He’s done with that and it’s time to show the masses that Hip Hop has grown up.
But with artists like Joe Budden begging Jay to quit, the real question is – “Has Jay-Z outgrown Hip Hop?”
“I think that it’s needed to stretch the genre because it is narrow in its approach and if its narrow in its thinking, then it won’t be around for long,” he responds as if amused by my line of questioning, but senses the seriousness of the subject and chooses his words wisely. “The further you expand the genre, the more difficult it is for it to go away. It has to be multiple things. It can’t be just a young man’s point of view. I can’t be told from a perspective of ‘I don’t care about nobody and if I get a lot of money, I’m going to live in the projects.’”
While the vast majority of Hip Hop can be billed as a young man’s game, Jay-Z knows he has to force the game to grow up. “That’s how you feel when you are young,” he continues on the subject of the “project mentality.” “When you mature, you feel that is a very dumb statement. Because the project was set up to control people and put them in a place. Why would you want to stay there right? But that’s a true feeling! And you respect that feeling when you were younger. Not so much now. It’s like ‘You going to live where?’ It’s not true.”
"And no I ain't get shot up a whole bunch of times
Or make up shit in a whole bunch of lines
And I ain't animated like say a Busta Rhymes
But the real shit you get when you bust down my lines," – “What More Can I Say”
Whether you feel Jay-Z ought to bow out or carry the reigns of rap, one has to agree that Jay-Z has never lied on record. And because of his honesty, he’s been able to remain in the game for so long.
“Everything that I do, I try to have a level of truth in it,” he says with his hands folded on the oval mahogany table. “When I’m making clothes, when you walk up to it and feel it, it’s going to stand up, it’s going to be real. When I’m making music, it’s going to be heart and soul.”
"Plead the fifth when it comes to the fam
I'm like a dog - I never speak, but I understand," -“Never Change”
As much spotlight as Jay-Z has commanded over the past 12 years, it may amaze some people how private he is. While the media is consumed with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and whoever else’s life they can gossip about, it’s always been pretty difficult to figure out exactly what Jay-Z does outside of his various business ventures.
“I grew up a really private person. It’s really difficult for me. But it doesn’t bother me surprisingly. I can’t change who I am. I just have to live my life,” he exhales. “I still go places. I still walk around. I go to games. If it's photographed, that’s just part of it. I weigh the great things that has happened to me versus that, and it’s a blip on the radar. It doesn’t bother me. I can brush that off quick.”
But Jay knows that the proverbial elephant in the room is his rumored marriage to R&B diva Beyonce. The ice is broken by an older lady who asks a really mis-directed question…
“What’s the worst pick up line you’ve ever used on someone in a club?”
For the first time during this 20 minute or so interview, Jay’s position shifts in his chair and his posture changes as a uneasy grin crosses his face. He’s trying to find the words for what can be perceived as a lame duck question but there has to be something keeping him from answering it straight edge. “I’m ma-ummm…I’m not going to..ummm…can you…could you ask another question? You’re going to get me in trouble!”
The proverbial elephant in the room has grown a ten foot beard and wreaks of True Star – Beyonce’s perfume. Eyebrows raise as everyone in the room connects the same thought “Did he just say he was married?” But before anyone attempts to put one and one together, Jay explodes into a nervous laughter to interrupt our inquisitions and answers the initial question. “What’s the worst line I’ve used in the club? ‘Welcome to my club!’”
It’s too late. Although I may have manufactured the words, “I’m married,” in my head, and he may have just stuttered, the fact remains that Jay’s shiftiness has alluded to something. But with Jay, you never know what he really means.
"First the Fat Boys break up, now every day I wake up
Somebody got a problem with Hov," – “Ain’t No Love”
As we enter 2008, Jay-Z has a whole new world of adventure before him. He’s no longer the president of Def Jam – something that artists like LL Cool J must have pumped their fist like Kirk Gibson in the '88 World Series when they caught wind of the news. As much love as he’s received by fans, the opposite can be said about those who have felt that Jay’s position at Def Jam was more status rather than being qualified. Nonetheless, the rumor mill churns about where and what Jay-Z will be doing in 2008. He’s asked what’s in store for 2008 and Jay fiddles around before reaching for a novel he’s brought into the room with him.
“One of [my New Year’s resolutions] is to read because I used to read a lot,” he states. “I was a very heavy reader and I stopped for a minute. Just to keep building on who I am and who I’ve become.”
Certainly not the answer I was looking for. Instead of giving Jay a way out, I get specific with my line of questioning about his future in music. Will he join Sony as president? Launch his own label? Continue to record albums? Or is he done with everything and looking to new business ventures? “This is supposed to be my downtime to think about the next thing and I’m over here having a conversation with you,” Jay jokes as he opens up about his future. “I’m going to try to figure that out in the next year. As far as president or being anything at that type of capacity, I only want to do it purely from a creative standpoint. That’s it. I want to figure out how to make the best music and what’s the best way to deliver the music. Other than that, it doesn’t interest me to do anything.”
The words echo off the walls of the meeting room. Does “make the best music” mean another album is on the horizon? Does “deliver the music” mean marketing, which would have to do with running a label right?
His publicist steps in and points at her watch. We’ve gone over the time limit and Shawn Carter has many more important things to do than shoot the shit with me.
Jay rises and puts on his leather jacket and expensive shades as he has to prepare for his pre-New Years concert at The Palms Hotel & Casino the next day.
Just Blaze revealed to me that he basically had no time to put together the song list and everything was spur of the moment. Regardless, it came out perfect. You couldn’t tell about the last minute organizing though, as Jay brought an amazing show featuring Ne Yo, Kanye, Memphis, Beans and Mary. That’s just how Jay-Z rolls. Just as he puts his phone in his pocket and reaches his hand out to bid me farewell, he finishes his thought.
“I don’t want to be president of RCA just to say that I’m the president of RCA. I’m not attracted to that. That’s not how my mind thinks. Like I said, whatever it is, if I’m being creative and figure out the best way to do it then that’s fantastic. Anything else? Not interested.”
And off he goes, leaving us with the thought that he’s “not interested” in anything else. Do you believe him? I’d like to believe he’s lying. I didn’t believe him when he told me back in 1996 that he would be back in Vegas and look who has egg on their face in a major way now.
The only thing that’s for sure with Jay-Z is that nothing is for sure. But whatever it is he does, you better believe that he’ll be the best at it. Anything less would be uncivilized.
"One million, two million, three million, four
In eighteen months, eighty million more
Now add that number up with the one I said before
You are now lookin' at one smart black boy
Momma ain't raised no fool
Put me anywhere on God's green earth, I'll triple my worth
Motherfucker - I, will, not, lose," - “U Don’t Know”