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Jay-Z, “I’ll Still Kill” (Originally Published December 2007)

It’s not every day in hip-hop you hear a legendary rapper say he saw a movie that inspired him to create an album.

Yeah. When I saw the movie, the way Denzel portrayed the character, you know, we never seen a Black guy ascend this high in a movie before, to being over the mob. So immediately that struck with me. Like, the success of it all. Like, “Wow, go!” [Applauds] The reason we applaud Oprah—no matter what she says about us—it’s ’cause she’s gone so far.

One of the most important scenes [in the movie] to me was when Denzel and the T.I. character sat down, and they had that talk. T.I. was a pitching prospect. Denzel’s character got him that tryout with the Yankees, and he blew it off, and Denzel was like, “Why did you blow it off?” And he’s like, “I want to be like you.” They didn’t show the scene after that. Denzel in the corner reflecting. Denzel in his bedroom crying. You know, like in The Godfather. The Godfather didn’t want Michael in the business, right? I’m sure Denzel felt the same way about his nephew. But he couldn’t say that. So what I did was take emotions from [scenes like] that. Like, I took that emotion and pulled it into my song [“Sweet”]. So it’s my own movie. I call it an indie film now—that’s my new shit. It’s the indie-film version of American Gangster.

It also gave you a chance to do an album with content more in the vein of Reasonable Doubt, right? More street content.

Exactly. I never thought I would make it back there. I never thought I would be in that place. Because I wasn’t going to do it for the sake of doing it. That’s corny, and that’s fake. If I don’t show the world growth, how are we going to grow? And I represent hip-hop as well, you know, with what I do. What I do is a reflection on hip-hop. And if I don’t show growth, then they going to be like: “This guy right here, he’s successful. Why is he shooting at people in his raps?”

It’s interesting that, in a year where we had the Imus scandal and all these attacks on hip-hop, you would make a record like this, at this level in your career. Do you worry about being misunderstood?

I don’t really care about that, ’cause it’s true emotions. You can’t just fix a curse and fix a neighborhood. If you told me tomorrow that if I stop say- ing “nigga,” that the neighborhood would be fixed, I’ll never say “nig- ga” again. I’ll never say shit again. I deal with that on this album, with the “Ignorant Shit.” Scarface the movie did more than Scarface the rapper, to me, but still that ain’t the blame for everything that has happened to me. If you’re going to attack a section of entertainment, you have to attack it all. You can’t just attack music. You have to attack films and video games— they killed more people in the opening of Grand Theft Auto than 50 Cent killed on any one of his albums. All his albums put together.

How did you feel when all that went down? Did you think it was just something that was going to blow over?

Yeah. I didn’t even think it was worth my attention. Because I was really upset that—like, how did we get there? We just took the argument and moved it. Imus is a racist. Hip-hop are entertainers. They’re en- tertainers. That’s two different issues. Imus is not a fan of hip-hop. He couldn’t name three songs off of any rapper’s album. He’s not a fan of hip-hop. He’s not listening to hip-hop. So he’s not influenced by hip- hop. That’s his choice and his feelings. Or even his playing and going way too far. Which is cool. If he stood behind that, like: “I’m just entertaining. I’m acting a fool.” That’s cool. That’s not what he said.

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