Hip-hop has its fair share of both characters and superstars. There are, though, a small handful of artists that are so much bigger than the culture that they can't be just classified as either. Jay-Z is one such artist. As far as the culture goes, he's absolute royalty.
Unlike fellow members of the upper echelon, Jay Z was consistently winning throughout the timeline of the golden era, moving through to contemporary hip-hop music. Along with one-time business partners Dame Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, Shawn Carter redefined the term "blazing your own trail," and dropped so many classic records, it's nearly impossible to create a unanimous list; although, Jay himself has tried to rank his albums in recent memory.
Older heads will remember that he toured with Big Daddy Kane, was one of the forefathers of the fast-rap style alongside Jaz-O and was working on a collaborative album with Biggie at the time of his death. Younger heads may be more familiar with his recent work alongside Kanye West or his upcoming collabo with Future, whom he ushered into the game under his Roc-A-Fella label. Recently, though, he's been recognized for his numerous business ventures as well as his marriage -- and family -- with mega-star Beyonce.
Jay-Z has so many hats that it's difficult to find an appropriate way to sum him up. Author, artist, president, agent -- the list goes on. He owns clothing lines, restaurants, liquor, had his hand in sports teams and created a catalog that spans hip-hop music as we know it. Starting as a hustler from the Marcy Projects, he's a hyper-example of the American dream and truly a brilliant mind all at the same time.
When he does give formal interviews, which have been rare over the past 26 years, he's been known to leave behind glimmering nuggets of knowledge. As a salute to Jigga, who was the first person (alongside Master P) to grace the cover of XXL, we've collected some of his best quotes -- they range from insightful and motivational to revealing. All hail the king.
"Excellence is being able to perform at a high level over and over again. You can hit a half-court shot once. That’s just the luck of the draw. If you consistently do it... that’s excellence.”
Pressures of Being an Executive
"Being an executive is a thankless job. If [an artist] fails, you did it. If they succeed, they did it."
“Shakespeare was a man who wrote poetry. I’m a man who writes poetry. Why not compare yourself to the best?”
Why He Can't Be on Twitter
"It’s addictive. But I can’t be on Twitter. It’s addictive. It’s like weed. I like it but too much of that is not good for me."
“It’s a bit of business acumen and it’s a bit of believing I can and not being afraid to fail. That holds a lot of people back, that fear of failure.”
"We don't have any doctors or lawyers in the neighbourhood, the kids in Marcy grow up idolising the only people that look like they're having success - which are the hustlers. And what the kids look up to is eventually what they soon become."
Downside of Memorizing Lyrics
"It's not the best way. I wouldn't advise it to anyone. I've lost a couple albums' worth of great material. ... Think about when you can't remember a word and it drives you crazy. So imagine forgetting an entire rhyme."
"Hip-hop has moved away from that place where everything has to be authentic. Kids are growing up very differently now."
Walking Away From Dame Dash
"So I was like, let me get Reasonable Doubt and I'll give up [the rest of] my masters. I'll give up Roc-A-Fella, I'll give up President and CEO of Def Jam Records -- everything. Just give me my baby to hold on to so 10 years down the line, I can look back and I got something."
"Through shopping deals [unsuccessfully I realized], A&R's can't really feel what I feel. My music wasn't something really simple. It was something people had to really sit down and listen to. So with the record company being the bridge to reach the people, I was like 'Man, you know, we gonna build our own bridge.'"
Hip-Hop's Cultural Impact
"Hip-hop has done more for race relations than most cultural icons; and I say save Martin Luther King, because his 'I Have A Dream' speech was realized when Obama was elected into office."
His Thoughts on His Past Beef With Nas
“No disrespect to Nas, but if you look back, it wasn’t ’Ether’ the song, it was ’Ether’ the record. If you take away the beat, it’s a really dope record but my overall everything was better.”
He Can't Walk Away From Rap
“I know I said I wouldn’t be doing it when I was 30...that’s how I know I love it. Thirty years old was my cutoff, but I’m still here, 43 years old.”
“Everyone knows I’m married; I just don’t discuss it. Because it’s a part of my life that I’d rather keep private … When your whole life is played out in front of everybody, for your sanity, you need parts that are just yours.”
He's Constantly Held to His Own Standard
"For real, I've been running on fumes. Like, you compare my albums with each other. Before, you used to compare my albums to other people's albums: 'This ain't better than Whatchucallit, but what about That with that, and what about That with that?' Now it's like, 'Is it better than Blueprint or is it better than Reasonable Doubt?'"
"We all have a fear of failure in some sort of way. As a business mogul and as anybody who’s been successful, you’ve always, the weight of who you are is on you. The weight of all you’ve done is on you. ’Make your first album again … I want it to be of that level.’ It’s the weight of who you are.”
How We're All the Same Inside
“[Hip-hop] is a conversation between worlds. Because at the end of the day, we’re all the same, when you take away the titles of who we are. We all have the same emotions, the same feelings. We’ve got so much more in common than we don’t."
He Keeps His Personal Life Personal
"Despite us sitting here and discussing things, I’m not really the type of person who can sit and talk about how they feel. You know, I’m bad at that and so is my whole family. We were raised to hold a lot in, so for me making music is like therapy. It gives me a chance to express my emotions and the things I have going on, so yeah I’m exposed. But it can’t be any other way."
"For me, being with Obama or having dinner with Bill Clinton...it's crazy. It's mind-blowing, because where I come from is just another world. We were just ignored by politicians -- by America in general."
"In order for rap to have that sort of longevity, we have to stop viewing it as a young man’s sport… We have to view it as a serious.”