From The Archives: Jay-Z, “Bout Me” [Originally Published October 2009]

You’ve been getting a lot of heat about your second single “Run This Town,” featuring Kanye and Rihanna. Critics and the blog world have said ’Ye out rapped you.

I think that thing has gone a little too far. I think it’s more about that than the song now. What I’m saying is that’s just life. If [whose verse was better] was the thing, and we based [song quality] on that, after I’ve done 400 songs, I’m sure once the average of who was better on the song weighs out, I’m pretty high. Some nights [L.A. Lakers player] Pau Gasol can score more points than Kobe Bryant—not saying that Kanye is Pau Gasol, ’cause you have to be really clear with that—[but] as long as I’ve been in the game, that’s going to hap- pen, once or twice or even three times.

With a successful Blueprint 3, you could really make it cool to be a 40-year-old rapper. But, playing devil’s advocate, success could also encourage 40-year- old rappers who should hang it up to continue rhyming professionally, because Jay did it. Ever consider that possibility?

No matter what I do, any person that gets to this stage of their life is going to do whatev- er is in their heart. I think people should make music as long as their heart is in it. As long as they’re pushing past the deadline four times and they’re still making more records. Like, there are thousands of boxers that could have retired before they had that fight, Muhammad Ali for one. But you never stop— because of one, your passion or greed, your financial situation, there may be a need, you know? The thing that I can do is stretch the subject matter. Whether Kingdom Come was your favorite album or not, “30 Something,” you have to deal with that subject matter [in that song]. If [the target audience is] 15 to 25, that’s too narrow. What am I going to listen to at 26 and beyond? That’s a quarter of my life. That’s such a small slice of the pie. We have to expand the genre. I would love to listen to hip-hop all day. Of course, now there are other things making their way into my CD changer or iPod, because of the lack of material. It doesn’t speak to me. Everyone is speaking to the kids, thinking that’s the key to success. The sad part of it is that all these [rappers] saying it are 30 years old, at least. Sometimes 35. It’s misleading. It’s that lack of growth that will keep us in a certain place.

Understood, but you’re one of the few rappers whose movement is still followed by artists old and young. How conscious are you of that position?

I think that, as long as the heart is in it. Because even if you miss it, it’s art. Like, Kool Keith, he may not sell any records, ever. But I think his type of art is needed, and there are people who follow his music. I think, when it’s done…Larry Holmes in the ring for mon- ey, that type of thing, then I don’t want to see that. But, like I said, if the genre needs the game to be stretched out, ’cause you have those guys who are 35 years old trying to make the smiley face or whatever, competing with Soulja Boy.

Ha! That’s a Trey Songz record with Soulja Boy on it. It’s hot. They’re clearly aiming at the young kids with that track.

It’s not funny, though. [Laughs] I mean, like, Jim Jones, for example. And I don’t mean this because we never see eye to eye. He made “Na Na Nana Na.” [Laughs] What’s the dif- ference between “Smiley Face” and “Na Na Nana Na”? “Na Na Nana Na Na” could’ve been called “Smiley Face.” [Sings] I got the smiley face, na na nana na na.

You’re hilarious right now. But speaking of Jim Jones, he and cats like The Game stay throwing shots at you, referring to you as old and washed-up. But you’ve always thrived off that type of competition. So, currently in the most comfortable position of your career, how competitive are you?

Not really that competitive, because the competition isn’t based on real competi- tion. I mean, Game, I’m his fuckin’ idol. If you ask him and he’s being truthfully hon- est with you… It’s just based off his insecu- rities and, for the most part, pretension. That type of competition doesn’t do anything for me. It’s almost like someone trying to set you up, and everyone knows they’re trying to set you up. It’s just dumb. It’s not in the spirit of competition, because he’s not competition for me. He’s not. Not then, not now. I can’t say not ever—he’d have to improve consid- erably. Competition for me is Nas, Eminem. Like, Jim Jones? That’s ridiculous to me. So how do I respond to that? I can’t win. If I win, then they’ll be like, “See. Now chill. You’re a fuckin’ bully.” And if he manages to throw a haymaker from the West Coast, then it’s like, “Oooooh.” It’s not even fun. Like, before I did it, because I would diss anybody. Now who has time to do this shit every day? But be- fore, when I was running after the little fat nig- ga from Ma$e’s camp, I was doing anybody. Anybody said anything. If I thought you said something. When I was running in the streets, I wanted all that type of activity. Nobody want- ed nothing. Now everybody’s a tough guy.

You must have heard that Mos Def proposed a rhyme battle for charity. Did you take the challenge seriously, or was it just funny to you?

I thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t know where it was coming from. I mean, I know he hangs out with Dame now. I don’t know what they be talking about. Me and him actually had a pretty cool relationship.

Honestly, he didn’t say it disrespectfully, or even bitterly. It was all love.

But his opinion was, You can’t say that you’re the best and don’t have to defend it. You can have an opinion that you can’t say. Like, What makes your opinion any differ- ent than my opinion? What’s the difference between our opinions? You have your opin- ion: I have mine. But when I say I’m the best, I don’t say that outta my ass. I say that with all my stats behind me. I put that against anybody. I mean anybody. I really believe that…It’s just my belief. I’m not gonna fight Mos Def on what I believe in. I believe in a lot of things. I believe that “SportsCenter” is the best thing on TV. I shouldn’t have to prove it. But I do have these stats to prove it. I’m talking about real run. I’m not talking about years off. I’m talking about straight—boom, boom, boom—back to back. We’re not talking about heritage, acts either. We’re not talking about respect what I’ve done. I’m talking No. 1 [albums] 10 times. The Beatles is the only one [to have more No. 1 albums]. They got 19, and if I get a surge of creativity, I could make nine albums next year.

You gotta get your one weird one out first.

Yeah, that one might miss. But I’ll be fine with that.[Laughs]