Jay Z, “Look At Me Now” (Originally Published August 2005)

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I mean, the first thing I did was reach out to the artists that were on the label. I had some type of dialogue with them. I’m a person that they can relate to more, ’cause I’ve been through the things they’ve been through. I wanted to get a deal, couldn’t get a deal. I wanted to hear my record on the radio. I jumped up and down when my record first got played on the radio. So, I’m really there to just really share my experiences with them, you know what I’m saying. I’m not there to be anybody’s “boss.” I’m really there to move the culture forward, make great music and show that we, as artists, can ascend to an executive level. My man called me and said, “The inmates are running the asylum now.” I love that saying. Maybe you should put that in the tag line or something.

Do you feel pressure from the executives at the parent company?
The great thing about that, Doug Morris was an artist. I think he wrote songs and was a drummer back in the day. So it’s all art. Jimmy Iovine is a producer. L.A. Reid is a producer. So it’s all music guys. I’m here to be smart and be prudent about the budget and shit like that, but at the same time, to not compromise the art because of it. I’m an artist. I’m artist-friendly. There’s no way I can be boss there and be expected to be a corporate guy. They might as well kick me out the building now. You know what you’re getting. So, if in three years I’ve lost the company $100 million, I’ll have made some great records. Just know that.

What if you’re put in a position where an artist’s making great music that you like, doing everything that they can to sell, and it still doesn’t sell. What if you were put in a position where you had to cut an artist?
I mean, as with anything, I believe an open and honest conversation is the best way to go. I can only be honest with them. If there’s something, and we’re throwing money at it and we’re losing money and losing money, then it is what it is. I’m not manipulating the numbers or anything like that. It’s in black and white. It is what it is. It’s just the reality of the business. I find those conversations very easy usually, because it is what it is. It’s math.

A guy like Bleek—would you give him more leeway due to the personal connection?
Bleek, of course. Because I took him out of his house when he was 15 years old and put him on the road. That’s natural. Outside of that, it’s the business. Even with Bleek, I can’t be foolish because it wouldn’t be fair to everybody else. I’m not gonna spend a million dollars on Bleek and $500,000 on the Young Gunz. I gotta do the same thing for Bleek that I do for the Young Gunz, that I do for Ghostface, that I do for whoever.

It seems like that sort of rational thinking has been a key to your success-making decisions based on logic rather than emotions. You’ve spoken about certain mistakes you’ve made in the past, moments when you’ve let that get away from you. Like you said, “Wow. Three seconds could have changed my life…”
Right, and I’m a person that’s aware of it. So, it shows you how important being logical about situations is. So absolutely, I try to think about every situation logically and devoid of emotions. That doesn’t mean that I’m a robot or anything. I’m a human being. But even if I’m upset, I try to calm myself and look at the situation. Because like I said, I’m a person that’s aware of it and it can still get outta hand at times. So, imagine people just running around off the hook. That’s how some people get locked up, and get dead.

The music business has a reputation for hyper-competitiveness. Like, you need to screw somebody else over to make money. Or, you can only make money at the expense of somebody else losing money. Does that come into play with you?
Well, I came from the streets. That’s the same game, but with peril included. I’ve never been that type of person to do that type of business. I just believe in doing your best work, and that’s it. I don’t worry about outsiders. I honestly believe that if we do the best job that we can do, nobody can touch us. We don’t have to spend our energy trying to backstab the next boutique label, trying to block the other major. We just worry about ourselves. As long as we have the best product, it speaks for itself [Laughs].

Have you seen that kind of backstabbing in your years in the business?
Of course. I mean, but that’s anything. It’s a table full of money and people are fighting for the same money at the same table. That’s how it goes. Some people take unethical approaches and some people are gentlemen about it. This is the saying that will tell you about me and my approach to it: I love to win, I don’t hate to lose. There’s a difference. When you love to win, you wanna beat the other team when everyone’s at their best. Some people be like, “Damn, I want Michael Jordan to be injured so the Knicks can win.” That’s terrible. I don’t even want that win. That’s just me. I love to win. I don’t want a game by forfeit. I don’t want none of that. I wanna beat your best team. That’s loving to win. Hating to lose is when you cheat, you want someone to be injured. Anything other than winning when the other person is at their best is hating to lose.

Now that we’re talking about basketball—
Don’t cut that out, that’s a very important mantra in my life right there. That’s a key point. That’s a big thing right there.

What’s happening with LeBron James? Are you trying to get into business with him?
No, he’s a friend of mine. That’s it, nothing more. A young guy coming up, grew up looking up to me, and that’s it. I give him advice like I would give anybody else. I can’t do nothing with him. I have a stake in the Nets. I can’t do nothing with LeBron James, nothing. It’s silly to even say. It’s silly. There’s no such thing as Def Sports Management. There’s no such thing.

With your stake in the Nets, though, it’d be great to get him to Brooklyn, right?
Of course. I mean, I would love to get him to Brooklyn. I’m an NBA owner. I would love to have LeBron James. But like I said, I love to win. I don’t have nothing behind the scenes. I’ll pay my money like anybody else. That’s it. If we got a great deal and he wants to come to Brooklyn, great. If we don’t have enough money—or a team in place where he can win a championship, ’cause that’s important too—he’ll go somewhere else. He’ll still be my friend… It is what it is. Life is very simple if you pay attention. It is what it is. It’s not complicated. People make it more complicated than what it is.