jay-2.jpgJay-Z is tough. Always has been. He’s a challenging interview, careful with words, and grants access sparingly. It’s savvy. He knows his value. Since our premier issue dropped 10 years ago this month, with him, the God MC, splitting face time with Master P, Jay has consistently sold a lot of magazines for XXL.

In 2001, Jay’s résumé already featured his classic debut, Reasonable Doubt, and the five-million-selling Hard Knock Life, Vol. 2, among five straight platinum plaques. He ran one of rap’s most respected labels. He was having trouble doing anything wrong. Probably for this reason, there were rumblings in the rap world. MCs near and far were throwing stones at the throne.

In early summer, with his protégé Beanie Sigel rising to stardom and rap circles buzzing that Jay had just wrapped some particularly hot studio sessions, we featured the two of them on our August issue’s cover. (Remember Beanie front and center, with Jay lurking in the background?) Back then, Jay sat with us for an exceptionally thoughtful conversation about competition in the rap game and his mind state during the recording of the work that would come to stand as the crowning achievement of his career: The Blueprint.

Six years later, choosing the 2001 Man of the Year was a no-brainer. But Jay, now more powerful than ever as the president of Def Jam, refused to give us an interview. So instead, we give you some of that famous 2001 article one more time. Jay’s tough. It’s his prerogative.

Now, the album. Dame said you did nine songs in two weeks.
I did seven songs in two days. That’s how it started. With hooks and everything. Complete songs.

What was the motivation?
There was so many people saying this and that, and, for me, it’s like Jordan: It fuels your competitive spirit. I’m a competitive dude. So that’s what really sparked everything. And you know all the other things I got going on. I’ve got so much to talk about. I’ve got so many frustrations right now.

Do you think it’s more so dudes tryna shoot at the top cat, rather than them having real issues with Jay-Z?
I think it’s not more [than them tryna get at the] top cat, ’cause I don’t really be knowing these [rappers]. It can’t be personal. We don’t know each other, na’mean? It can only be personal when y’all have dealings with each other or I’ve done something wrong to these people. I don’t even be knowing half of them.

What can we expect from the new album?
It’s more soulful, because of all these emotions, all of these things I was feeling at the time, but intensified. There was a lot going on.

So the words are fiery, but the music’s melodic?

Why is the tentative title The Blueprint?
Basically, along with it being soulful, it’s everything that inspired me growing up. It’s the blueprint to my life. It’s songs on there dealing with females, so you can understand my relationship with females. Like, “Oh, I understand why he’s like that.” It’s the blueprint for all the songs and all the things that made you draw a conclusion about who you think I am. These are the answers. You know, “Mama loved me, Pop left me, Sister fed me, Aunty...” You know what I’m saying? All the people and all the things that’s in my life.

So this album bares more of Shawn Carter?
Right. You can pretty much understand why I am the way I am.

------- Read the rest of our Jay-Z feature in XXL’s September 2007 issue (#95)

XXL Staff Picks

Songs of the Year:

“Area Codes,” Ludacris featuring Nate Dogg
“Always On Time,” Ja Rule featuring Ashanti
“Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” Jay-Z
“Bia’ Bia’,” Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz featuring Ludacris, Too $hort & Chyna Whyte
“Music,” Erick Sermon
“Oochie Wally (Remix),” Nas & Bravehearts
“Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliot
“Ugly,” Bubba Sparxxx
“Raise Up,” Petey Pablo
“Young’n,” Fabolous

Albums of the Year:

The Blueprint, Jay-Z
Stillmatic, Nas
Pain is Love, Ja Rule
Broken Silence, Foxy Brown
Word of Mouf, Ludacris