Few, if any, rap fans would ever dispute Jay-Z’s skills as a lyricist, but when it comes to his business acumen, there is still a question mark in a lot of people’s minds. How much was he actually responsible for certain deals? Is he just a figurehead for his companies or is he making the day to day decisions? How much money does he really take home financially for such-and-such arrangement? These are all questions that writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg tackles in his recently released book, Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office.
While he was not able to speak to Hov for the story, using his connections as a staff writer for Forbes magazine as well as a rolodex filled with an abundance of Jay associates, O’Malley Greenburg was able to uncover a lot of new information that would have otherwise been unknown to even the biggest Jigga stan.
XXLMag.com had the chance to speak to O’Malley Greenburg earlier this week about several interesting topics brought up in the book, including the controversy surrounding Jay’s relationship with champagne company Armand de Brignac, his connection to MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame, as well as some of his little known failed business endeavors. Welcome to the business of Jay-Z 101. —Jesse Gissen
XXL: What inspired you to write a book about Jay-Z in the first place? Are you a big hip-hop fan?
Zack O’Malley Greenburg: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been a fan of hip-hop for as long as I can remember and when I got to Forbes I started covering the business of hip-hop. I helped launch the first “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” package that we put out in 2007, ranking the [highest earners] in the genre and then sort of subsequently I took over that franchise and then I’ve been editing and reporting that package every year ever since. So Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Diddy of course came together and did the “I Get Money (Forbes 1-2-3 Remix)” in 2007 and there’s been a lot of attention I guess on the Cash Kings list whenever we put them out. And so that’s how the folks at Penguin found me and asked me to write this book.
Oh ok, so they asked you to write the book,? You didn’t pitch the idea?
ZOG: Yeah, they came to me.
Besides Jay-Z, what people in particular did you reach out to, that declined to speak to you?
ZOG: There were a few people for sure in Jay-Z’s inner circle, out of respect for him, who didn’t want to have their names included. A couple of whom I had already interviewed and they actually thought it would be fine with him, even though he wasn’t involved with the book, but then they went and spoke to him again and he said, ‘Actually no please retract everything that you said.’ And I can’t name names but there were a couple of those. Big names.
Did you try to reach out to any of the rappers from the Roc-A-Fella camp like Memphis Bleek or Beanie Sigel?
ZOG: I reached out to a bunch of the artists and again, I don’t want to name any of the names of the people that didn’t talk but suffice to say, there is very few people in Jay-Z’s current inner circle who wanted to talk.
FOR MORE FROM ZOG AND HIS “EMPIRE STATE OF MIND” BOOK, GO TO PAGE 2