Fade to Black: An Interview with Jay-Z

2001, by Wilson Morales

With all the hoopla that occurred this past weekend with the current concert Rapper Jay-Z WAS doing with R & B singer R.Kelly, let's not forget that Jay-Z has a documentary/ concert film, FADE TO BLACK, coming out this weekend. "Fade To Black" chronicles the legendary concert of Jay-Z's performance at Madison Square Garden in November 2003. In an unprecedented event, a hip-hop artist sold out an arena in only two hours. Nearly one year later, fans and artists alike still reflect on this monumental musical night. The film also shows some of the journeys Jay-Z took this concert off the ground and getting some input from some of the past and present talent like Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, and Kanya West. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Jay-Z talks about his "retirement" and his future, which may include running Def Jam Records.

So, what's the deal with the new job? The Presidency at Def Jam.

Jay-Z: Nothing is concrete yet. There's a bunch of offers from Def Jam as well as from other companies. I'm really excited and flattered about the opportunities but nothing is concrete yet so I don't know what I'm going to do next.

Do you want that to happen?

Jay-Z: Oh yeah, I definitely want that to be the next phase of my career; to take on a real executive position. Too many times, artists, after they finish their career, wind up on VH1 specials like on "Where are they now?" and things like that. When you have Hall of Fame sportsmen, they usually end up being great coaches cause the players respect them cause they know they have played the game, they've played hurt, and they will the situations. It should be the same way with artists I believe.

Did you know when you did this concert it was going to be huge as it was?

Jay-Z: No, we knew something special was going to happen. We had the tapes in the building and we were going to make a DVD; but after I got the first 15 minutes of it, I was like, "This is bigger than just a DVD. It's a film. It's a journey from a kid from Brooklyn to one of the biggest stages in the world. It's the biggest stage in the world if you ask me."

What's driving you and what's your secret obsession?

Jay-Z: I'm greedy. Nah, I'm just joking. The drive is to succeed and open up doors fro the next generation just like Russell Simmons opened up the doors for me as far as fashion and music. I don't have any secret obsession.

You've been in the game for a long time. What triggered this final concert and this final album?

Jay-Z: I've always had that in my mind. In the beginning I thought I was going to make one album, foolishly. I thought I would make one album and that would be it. I thought I'd be an executive from there. Then the reality of the business came down on me. I was the only artist on Rockefella (Records) at the time and we were moving situations from priority. Our first deal was with Priority Records from the West coast and then when we made the deal with Def Jam I was the only asset on the label so I had to sign for a certain amount of years so that killed that dream. It's been coming for a while and it just happened that night at the garden.

Why would you ever want to retire? The people still come out to see you and they still love you.

Jay-Z: It's just so that I can open up doors like on the executive level. There's a need for that. While I'm in this position, I feel that it's my duty.

Do you feel that the course of rap music needs some new blood and by you by taking a different position in the industry will allow room for that?

Jay-Z: Absolutely. I believe that rap has got so big from a marketing standpoint that we forget it's the music business and not the business of music. The music should come first. I think there's so much pressure coming from the higher ups and it trickles down to the artist to make a hit now. Everything is about making a hit. We're not concentrating on building artists anymore. A perfect example is a guy like Anthony Hamilton. They were already moved away from that project. If the wire record with Jadakiss didn't come out to understand that he's an artist. He's at 900,000 (units sold) now and when he was at 300,000 they were ready to walk away from the project. Had they stuck with it the whole time, who knows where he would be right now. Without the promotion, people just went out and picked out his music and slowly made onto him. The same thing happened with Jill Scott. It took a TV appearance, and I don't know if it was on Oprah but one of those TV performances triggered her whole movement but they wasn't on that project like that.

Is there a message within this documentary concert?

Jay-Z: I hope it serves as somewhat inspirational for some cause I didn't get discovered at Radio City Music Hall or at a fancy TV special. I couldn't get a deal. Just to come so far and full circle from not having a deal to performing on the biggest stage in the world. I hope it's somewhat inspirational.

Can we clarify the word "retirement"? Does that mean no more touring, no more albums, what?

Jay-Z: Solo albums, and I don't know. I'm going to take a break from touring but I can't say I won't play another gig again, but mainly from solo albums.

What advice would you give to young people who want to get into this business?

Jay-Z: Don't. That would be my first one. That would weed out all the people that aren't that serious about it. If it's truly your passion and something that you really love, there will be a lot of doors slammed in your face and you have to keep going. You just need that belief in yourself that it's going to happen for you and you need it wholeheartedly. You will hear a lot of different and doors will be slammed. I could have said that this wasn't for me and do something else, but I looked right in the face of the corporation, and told them that they're wrong. That's a tough thing to do for someone to do who has never put out an album and tell a record company that's sold millions of records that they are wrong.

What do you think of Mos Def's latest album? Do you think you two share similar beliefs in the system?

Jay-Z: First of all, I think he's an extraordinary talent and a very intelligent guy. Absolutely. We have seen Frankie Lyman so many times. We've seen how a person is so successful recording and at the end of the day, everyone is walking away with their masters, and everyone is rich, except for them. We are not prepared to let that happen ever again. With me stepping up to the executive, and I'm an artist, so whatever artist come up through my watch, is going to be taken care of. Every single one of my artists owns their own publishing. If they sold it to BMI or someone else, that was their choice, but I don't own their publishing. I encourage them to own other businesses. Beanie Siegel has State Property and Pro-Keds Line and Memphis (Bleek) has Get-Low Records, so I encourage them to be entrepreneurs.

Can you talk about the state of Hip-Hop today because there's a great scene in the film where you talk about artists being forced to sell sex and violence to sell records? How do you feel about that?

Jay-Z: I think the people that hip hop artists grew up on, who they are in love with, and emulate, are people who gave in themselves. There are artists who were vulnerable at times; who went crazy and talked about guns and whatever. They has moments, whatever it was, it was them. It was Tupac and Big. They gave themselves. Nowadays, there are people who are trying to make what's popular and whatever is hot, and that's not necessary a good thing.

If you were to become the next president at Def Jam, what kind of changes would you like to see get done?

Jay-Z: Def Jam started out in the college dorm room. I've been hanging out with Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin so I know this story very well. They created Def Jam because the music people were listening to in the clubs, they wanted to hear it outside of the club. They wanted to hear it in their car and in the dorm room. They had to go to clubs to hear the music because the DJ had the vinyl. It started out making this music so they can hear it and so at a college dorm room, the people there wanted to hear it too and they would buy a tape off of them and that started the whole thing. They didn't start it with the idea of making a business. They started it as a need. I want to hear music and that was it. My focus as President would be to create artists again. It's very simple to focus back on artists. Hopefully, whatever position I take, if they allow me that lead time so I can be an artist instead of making great records. We make good singles and that's good cause I'll listen to it in clubs and I may even buy "Now 18" or whatever number they are up to with all the good singles on it, but I don't buy into you as an artist. My focus would be on building artists.

What are you thankful for and what is your New Year's resolution?

Jay-Z: I'm thankful for life everyday and I'm thankful for the position I'm in now. I know I could have been a million different ways coming from where I come from. I've seen it happen a million different ways. I've seen the guy that showed me there was such a music business. When he got a deal, I was like, "What does that mean? You gonna get paid? They gonna give you money?" and like wow, not make it. I've seen the flip side of it so I'm thankful for the position I'm in. It's too early for a new year's resolution.

Can you talk about the Memphis Bleek album?

Jay-Z: Memphis Bleek has made the best album of his career. Memphis Bleek benefited from one of my withdrawals. I was going through a withdrawal period and I had to channel it through someone and he was in the studio and so I ran and stuck around the studio session until he threw me out. The result of it is the best album he's ever made.

What can we expect from that album?

Jay-Z: It's a lot of growth from him as an artist and a lot of diversity. Like I said, it's the best album he's ever made.

How important is it for you to be a role model for kids? There are things in rap that disturb people like drugs and sex, so is there anything that would make you feel uncomfortable not to sign an artist because of that?

Jay-Z: No, that's someone's expression. I can't censor what the expression is, whether it is violence and different things in life. So if it's just senseless for no reason and has no soul and no feeling to it and it's being said for the purpose to shock people, that's not the type of thing I'm attracted to. I would not sign it for what he's saying. It's not what I like. It's not something that would attract me. As far as being a role model to kids, I'm a human being, and I'm going to do wrong as well as I'm going to do good. I just hope people can weed out what's perfect for their life. It might work great for you but not for someone else. I can't box myself in. I just have to live my life. Hopefully I do more good than bad.

How did you come about in helping Ti and Lil' Wayne because they mentioned they have a relationship with you?

Jay-Z: I'm just really procreative. If people want to be creative, I encourage that and if I can help a person sound good on a track album, and make a suggestion, or if I think the hook should sound like that, like I said, I'll make a suggestion. Like Memphis Bleek benefited from that and Destiny's Child has benefited from that. I'm just a person that likes to create with people.

What message can you give kids about voting?

Jay-Z: Growing up, we never thought voting was important in our neighborhood because no matter who was in office, it didn't effect change where we live. It didn't trickle down to where we live, but as you grow, you see what's really going on. What's happening is that we are not voting so they are not paying attention to our area. We don't have the numbers necessarily for them to pay attention to our area because we are not voting. On the one hand, politics is a number game. If 250,000 people are voting, they are going to cater to those people because they want those votes, and on the other hand, the people that made it possible for us to vote, they planted the seed of change that we are experiencing now and that we can vote. We have a choice to vote because of the people that planted that seed fifty years before and they knew they wouldn't see it in their lifetime. They knew the future generations would see it. We have to think like that. We have to affect change now so that forty years from now we will reap the benefits from that.

Have you ever consider acting in movies?

Jay-Z: Yeah, but I went to see a friend and she did a monologue recently and she was crying and it looked difficult and draining. By the time she finished, I didn't even speak to her. I had left. I called her on the phone and was like, "That was draining. I don't know if I want to do that."


Jay-z Interview


AllHipHop.com: Was there anything in the movie that you had to take out?

Jay-Z: There are some extras that will be out in a DVD next year.

AllHipHop.com: Did you realize how big this was going into this?

Jay-Z: It took me to watch the movie to understand—I was more focused on the technical aspect of the production. The emotion didn’t kick in until later. When I saw the first 15 minutes, I was blown away.

AllHipHop.com: Do you still get butterflies?

Jay-Z: I get butterflies sometimes, but after the 1st note, I’m so far in it, I’m not nervous anymore.

AllHipHop.com: Why did you feel the need to narrate the film?

Jay-Z: I felt it had to be in my voice because this is the most personal thing I’ve ever put out. I’ve never allowed people in the studio during my recording process or my conversations with my friends. I’m not even that type of person.

AllHipHop.com: Were there any moments when the cameras were added pressure?

Jay-Z: When it’s there everyday, you forget about it. For a minute, you’re conscious and put on your extra cool—but after 15 minutes. You just relax and forget—no pressure.

AllHipHop.com: We know you’ve decided to retire—what’s next for you?

Jay-Z: I am going to channel some of this energy into new artists. I want to do something different. I have an opportunity to open doors for the next generation of artist on an executive level—so why not try?

AllHipHop.com: There are rumors circulating that you may be the next president of Def Jam—any truth to this?

Jay-Z: That’s not a done deal. We’re just talking. We’ll see what happens.
That’s still up in the air. There’s offers as well in other places so…

AllHipHop.com: Because there’s a story going around that you were president for the last two months? Is that true?

Jay-Z: No, it not true. No contracts signed. Nothing.

AllHipHop.com: How has the music business changed since you started?

Jay-Z: Now, it’s so much pressure to get a single when your album comes out—no one is concentrating on the album. It’s the business of music now instead of the music business. You have to make music first than everything else is a by-product of that.

AllHipHop.com: Being that your background is hip-hop, how can you advise a company like Universal when it comes to other genres, like rock?

Jay-Z: I am rock and roll. I’m an artist and I know what good music is no matter what. I believe in good music and bad music—and that’s it. Bad music is bad in blue grass, rock, no matter what.

AllHipHop.com: What kind of music you listen to, because word is you like to listen to Coldplay and stuff like that?

Jay-Z: Like I said I believe in good music and bad music. You could catch me listening to Sarah Mclaughlin… (Singing) “Baby, I don’t believe I held you.” That’s just me. (Laughing)

AllHipHop.com: What is your most prized possession?

Jay-Z: The Nets (Laughs)

AllHipHop.com: How was it to finally make a dream come true and perform in Madison Square Garden?

Jay-Z: When performing in an arena—you feel it in your heart. The lighting is perfect. There’s nothing like performing in Madison Square Garden.

AllHipHop.com: Can you talk about your MTV special Mash Ups with Linkin Park?

Jay-Z: What happened was Mike [Shinoda of Linkin Park], is a wonderful producer. He goes from the booth to the keyboard to the Pro Tools. So we came up with all these different mixes. All I’m saying is that Mike spearheaded that whole thing.

AllHipHop.com: So what was the highlight with working with Linkin Park?

Jay-Z: Really, Hanging out with them. We went to tom Wally’s house and he had his whole family around and had my crew, my family around and we just sat around and kicked it like we knew each other for minute. The whole group, as far as how professional they were in putting this together, was very impressive. I’m used to having to carry people and they showed me something else.

AllHipHop.com: When you were recording [with Linkin Park] I think it was “Big Pimpin’” you said that you gotta bring the young Hov back because you ran out of [breath]...

Jay-Z: Oh that [song] was "Jigga What" on some fast s**t.

AllHipHop.com: Can you talk about that because you call yourself “one take Hov?”

Jay-Z: That was in two takes (laughs) I was rusty man. Give me a break. (Laughs) It was two takes you could ask [Linkin Park].

AllHipHop.com: With a lot of beats you rapped on you had to kinda alter your flow.

Jay-Z: Yeah, it was challenging so it was fun.

AllHipHop.com: How do think your core audience feels about this mix of rock and rap, because a couple of months ago MOP released a rock album and…

Jay-Z: I think a lot of people like to be exposed to new stuff. I mean there’s good music and there’s bad music. I don’t like sectioning off music like that. I mean I was happy when I discovered [Linkin Park’s] music for the first time. My man Ty-Ty, after we did [MTV] Mash-ups, he went out and brought it for the first time and he plays it every day. I can’t even get my own s**t in rotation (Laughs) on some bulls**t. (Laughs)

AllHipHop.com: Are there any other artists from other genres that you would like to work with?

Jay-Z: Are they doing a Nirvana album?

AllHipHop.com: I heard there is one with Weezer.

Jay-Z: Nah, I want to do a Nirvana one.

AllHipHop.com: Did you experience any funny happenings at the concert with Linkin Park?

Jay-Z: Any funny happenings? No, I was so caught up in the concert that I had no time to be funny, I had to focus.

AllHipHop.com: How had Hip-Hop changed since you been [retired?]

Jay-Z: Nothing has changed I’m still new [at retiring so] everything’s the same.

AllHipHop.com: So how has Hip-Hop changed since you started?

Jay-Z: Well it’s huge now. It’s driving everything from movies, iPods to cars. It’s getting huge but along with the success, it loses its artistry but that’s a natural result. I just hope the next generation will focus more on the art. Because I mean this is the music business.

AllHipHop.com: What do you say to the guy who has a hard time writing his raps because he doesn’t feel he’s being true to himself?

Jay-Z: Well that’s the pressure that comes with it. It comes all the way from the top. This boss goes to this boss goes to this boss to you to try and get the hottest club single and make your impressions on the radio. So their focus is not to make albums or careers, their focus is to make the next hot song or the hook with Lil’ Mo. (Laughs)

AllHipHop.com: Will you ever make another album?

Jay-Z: If you ask me today, of course I would say no. I’m a human being so I try to give myself a little window, but in a few years, if I’m withdrawn somewhere [I might change my mind]. I don’t want to box my self in a corner.

AllHipHop.com: Nowadays when you perform at a concert, you don’t even have to say a word, the whole crowd knows your songs front to back. Does it freak you out to see that everyone knows your lyrics?

Jay-Z: It’s an amazing wonderful experience. It’s an indescribable feeling. When you’re rapping and they are rapping back to you sometimes with their eyes closed, you know that you reached the audience on a level way deeper than music. It like, “How do you know the words to the song I written seven years ago? You’re only seven.”

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