Earlier this week, Jay-Z proved that he really is bigger than hip-hop on “Open Letter.” After garnering criticism from members of Congress for his recent vacation to Cuba with Beyonce, Hov took ‘em to task with a blistering two-and-a–half minute track. Now, as Jay expands his Roc Nation imprint and prepares for what is likely to be a lengthy media battle with certain politicians, XXL decides to look back to our interview with Hov from 2009.
JAY-Z is used to being talked about. Lately, though, industry innuendo and blog discourse have hinted at him outgrowing hip-hop. XXL brings your chat room to Mr. Carter’s office. Here’s what he thinks of your thoughts.
Working with Jay-Z keeps you on your toes. You’ve gotta be prepared to roll at a moment’s notice. And once things are in motion, plans change, then get rearranged. Start times for photo shoots and interviews are moved around, then locked down, then moved again. But if you want to work with arguably the greatest rapper of all time, you deal with it. It’s not like you don’t know how busy he is.
Over the past 13 years in hip-hop, Jay-Z has gone from an on-the-come-up lyricist (1996’s Reasonable Doubt), to a label owner (Roc-A- Fella Records), to a multi-platinum-selling rapper (1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life), to a classic-album-recording artist (2001’s The Blueprint), to a major-record-label executive (Def Jam president), to the builder of a sprawling empire, with a successful clothing line (Rocawear), stakes in an NBA team (New Jersey Nets), a chain of trendy sports bars (40/40 Club), his own fragrances (9IX and X) and a creative new venture (Roc Nation). That’s not even delving into his smaller, lesser-known, unconfirmed, secret or on-hold business dealings.
But most recently, Jay’s time has been dedicated to The Blueprint 3, his 11th solo album and 14th overall including three collabora- tion LPs. It’s the second follow-up to the Brooklyn MC’s classic, , released on the eight year anniversary of the revered disc, which is also the eighth anniversary of 9/11. But unlike any of Hov’s previous LPs, BP3 doesn’t have a Def Jam or Roc-A-Fella logo on the back. After 12 years signed to Def Jam—three of those as pres—Jay split ways with the powerhouse label, after buying back his last remaining album from the company for a reported $5 million. He’s since been focused on Roc Nation, an entertainment, publish- ing and management company he has in an unprecedented partnership with mega concert promoters, Live Nation. The Blueprint 3 is the first release off of Roc Nation and is distributed by Atlantic Records for this one project.
Jigga’s new effort has stirred up several meaty issues of discussion since its existence became reality about three months ago. Despite Hov’s possible living-legend status (that depends on whom you’re talking to, of course), the hip-hop audience has been a bit underwhelmed by the constant trendsetter’s last two efforts (2006’s Kingdom Come and 2007’s American Gangster). So some topics have been: What will Jay have to offer on an album so closely tied to a classic? And after all his wealth and success, can he still relate to rap and its audience?
On June 5 of this year, Jay addressed the issues with defiance. That evening saw New York’s Hot 97 DJ Funkmaster Flex introduce the initial single off The Blueprint 3, “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” a semiautomatic attack against those who’ve overdosed on T-Pain’s famed vocal-assistance technology. Yet, as polarizing as it was provocative—“D.O.A.” was celebrated in some parts for its brashness and No ID’s rugged, bluesy production—some critics found a reason to accuse Jay of being out of touch or, even worse, a bullying elder statesman. Mr. Carter considers the criticism ludicrous. In his eyes, his attack wasn’t on the youth, but instead on the lack of originality. A veteran with a reputation for quality, he sees hip-hop as a genre coming awfully close to the danger zone. For Hov, it’s simple addition by subtraction: To save the culture, the artists that routinely damage it by simply following trends (Auto-Tune, for instance) must perish.
If it’s an indisputable success, The Blueprint 3 could cement Jay as the first 40-year-old rapper (or almost 40) to truly dominate the music globe—a major feat in a time when hip-hop seems to skew younger than ever. Still, even in that potential triumph lies another in- teresting question: Will Jay-Z become bigger than hip-hop? Scratch that. Considering his staggering résumé as it stands before the re- lease of BP3, is Jay already above rap’s clouds? And, if so, does it make a difference?
After weeks of waiting patiently, and some tennis-match-like back-and-forth scheduling, XXL’s Bonsu Thompson sat down with the tireless businessman and self-proclaimed God MC to talk about the one thing that matters most to his truest fans, the foundation of his entire kingdom: hip-hop. – Matt Barone