to Black: An Interview with Jay-Z
2001, by Wilson
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.
the deal with the new job? The Presidency at Def Jam.
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?
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?
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."
you and what's your secret obsession?
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.
in the game for a long time. What triggered this final concert
and this final album?
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.
you ever want to retire? The people still come out to see you
and they still love you.
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
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
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?
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
would you give to young people who want to get into this business?
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
What do you
think of Mos Def's latest album? Do you think you two share similar
beliefs in the system?
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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
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?
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.
can you give kids about voting?
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?
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."
AllHipHop.com: Was there anything in the movie that you had to
are some extras that will be out in a DVD next year.
Did you realize how big this was going into this?
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
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.
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.
Were there any moments when the cameras were added pressure?
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.
We know you’ve decided to retire—what’s next
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?
There are rumors circulating that you may be the next president
of Def Jam—any truth to this?
not a done deal. We’re just talking. We’ll see what
That’s still up in the air. There’s offers as well
in other places so…
Because there’s a story going around that you were president
for the last two months? Is that true?
it not true. No contracts signed. Nothing.
How has the music business changed since you started?
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.
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 kind of music you listen to, because word is you like to
listen to Coldplay and stuff like that?
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.
What is your most prized possession?
How was it to finally make a dream come true and perform in Madison
performing in an arena—you feel it in your heart. The lighting
is perfect. There’s nothing like performing in Madison Square
Can you talk about your MTV special Mash Ups with Linkin Park?
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.
So what was the highlight with working with Linkin Park?
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.
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]...
that [song] was "Jigga What" on some fast s**t.
Can you talk about that because you call yourself “one take
was in two takes (laughs) I was rusty man. Give me a break. (Laughs)
It was two takes you could ask [Linkin Park].
With a lot of beats you rapped on you had to kinda alter your
it was challenging so it was fun.
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
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)
Are there any other artists from other genres that you would like
to work with?
they doing a Nirvana album?
I heard there is one with Weezer.
I want to do a Nirvana one.
Did you experience any funny happenings at the concert with Linkin
funny happenings? No, I was so caught up in the concert that I
had no time to be funny, I had to focus.
How had Hip-Hop changed since you been [retired?]
has changed I’m still new [at retiring so] everything’s
So how has Hip-Hop changed since you started?
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.
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?
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’
Will you ever make another album?
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.
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?
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