Author Talks Jay-Z’s Failed and Successful Ventures
Recently, the Atlantic ran a chapter of your book about Jay-Z’s assumed business relationship with the champagne company Armand de Brignac on their website. Shortly after the excerpt was posted it was taken down. The Atlantic said it was due to some sort of controversial information, but your book was carefully researched, right?Others thought that, since you were exposing Jay-Z, his camp asked the Atlantic to take it down. We’ve never heard you comment on the situation. What are you thoughts?
ZOG: Let’s say I was as surprised as everybody else was to see it taken down and I still—how do I put this…
Well the book was already out there at this point. This was just an excerpt from the book being made available online, correct?
ZOG: Yeah. Well let’s put it this way. Jay-Z’s people have never come to us. They had a copy of the book weeks before it came out.
You sent it to them.
ZOG: Yeah, we messengered it out. So they never expressed any complaint with anything in the book to us. So, as to what—I’m trying to be careful how I say this so I don’t get in trouble—I guess I have to leave it that, I was as surprised as everyone else to see it taken down and I think it’s one of the best and most revealing chapters in the book.
On another note, the stuff with MC Serch was very interesting as well. I never knew that they were working on a business deal with Jeep together. How did you find out about that?
ZOG: That was a very funny set of coincidences. I knew somebody who knew somebody who suggested I talk to Serch, that he might have a good story to tell me and I had never talked to Serch before. So I just called him up and he talked my ear off. It was great. And he told me this whole long tale about what was going on, which ended up being Chapter 10…I think that’s it’s just a great anecdote, and more than an anecdote this would have been one of Jay-Z’s biggest business deals if they had taken this to full scale projection as this would have been planned. I think, just looking at the numbers and talking to Serch and [another man in on the deal] Marques McCammon, we could have been talking tens of millions of dollars over the lifetime of this deal. But also kind of a rolling advertisement for him; to have all of these Jay-Z Jeeps rolling around, not that he really needs more advertising or recognition but that certainly would have been quite a coup in a really mainstream arena that has proven at least until pretty recently to be a tough one to crack into for hip-hop artists in terms of endorsements.
I think the Serch connection was especially interesting because the only time we heard Jay mention his name was when he was dissing Nas on the “The Takeover,” “I know who I paid, God, Serchlite Publishing.” And we knew that Serch was in Detroit, but who knew he had hooks in the car industry.
ZOG: Serch was so turned off by this whole experience with Detroit and the way things turned out with the Jay-Z Jeep, he told me he swore off Detroit and the car industry. And I said ‘Would you ever do business with the car industry again?’ He paused and he said, ‘I’d rather trade in my sneaker collection.’ [Laughs] And that was how I knew he really meant it.
I don’t remember you ever touching on Jay-Z’s plan to open a line of hotels.
ZOG: I alluded to it, I think at the end ’cause some of this stuff was still unfolding as we were going to press, or the latest development was so I mention it but I didn’t really sink my teeth into it because it was a timing issue. But I think that was a good example of one of his only failed plans that people know about. A lot the other things that didn’t work out he kind of sweeps under the rug and he does a really good job of doing that to sort of maintain this invincible image that he has. And I think on the one hand good for him. That’s one way of managing your personal brand. But I think on the other hand, knowing about these sort of missed opportunities and knowing that not everything he touches turns to gold, I think that’s kind of a nice lesson; a nice insight for the aspiring entrepreneur out there. It’s like even Jay-Z messes up sometimes. It’s not necessarily his own fault, but seeing how he reacts to failure and seeing how he manages it I think it speaks volumes on how he operates.
What do you think his next business move is going to be?
ZOG: Well I keep hearing rumblings about deals that he has in the works, but he’s in an interesting place right now — he’s kind of established himself as a really viable international arena touring act. So, it’s a matter of any time that he wants to make money he can just go do a couple dozen shows; he grosses like a million dollars a night, he takes home a third of it, give or take — probably give. So right now, in terms of time equaling money, it’s really hard to top that when he can just go and do that anytime he wants. He’s made noises about wanting to get involved in Hollywood, maybe producing movies, that kind of thing. Beyonce obviously has a growing profile as an actress so that would be an arena that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him getting more involved in and that could maybe even rival the hourly wage of being the touring act. But I think the thing with Jay-Z is that he’s just constantly shown this penchant for finding deals that nobody would expect. Before he signed that Live Nation deal people were… nobody expected that to happen. They thought maybe he’d start his own label.
Do you think his quest for power will eventually lead him to politics?
ZOG: Let’s put it this way, I would think that he would want to do that but I think that there are still too many people in the public sphere that would dismiss him because of his drug dealing past.
Sure look how the right wingers portrayed Common.
ZOG: [Laughs] Right, if Common was a gangsta rapper, cop killer, imagine what they’d say about Jay-Z.