Jay-Z Acts Globally, Thinks Family
Hova's back, bigger than ever: Jay-Z, hip-hop's consummate overachiever, has immersed himself in a variety of projects that would fell a mortal man. Not only is he about to release 'Kingdom Come,' the album he hopes will restore him atop the rap pantheon, he's also continuing his scheme for hip-hop domination as head of Def Jam Records. Yet he finds the time to involve himself in much more immediate endeavors.
On Thursday evening, Jay-Z, clad in a tan suit befitting his regal stature, appeared at a conference at the United Nations to detail his plan to help rural Africans provide clean water for themselves. His partnership with the U.N.'s Water for Life program hopes to not only result in the building of several PlayPumps -- merry-go-round-type devices that pump clean water into wells as children play -- but also a heightened awareness of this global crisis. Jay-Z's presentation was greeted with a standing ovation from the chamber, populated by dignitaries from both the diplomatic and hip-hop communities.
Before his announcement, Jay-Z sat down with us to discuss his return to the recording studio and the motivation behind the songs that will appear on 'Kingdom Come,' as well as his upcoming 'H2 the IzzO' live benefit concert at the Roseland Ballrom in New York City, to be broadcast by AOL Music Live Friday, Nov. 24, at 10 PM ET. And he hints at a couple more projects: Could marriage and fatherhood be next?
On 'The Black Album,' you felt there was nothing more to say. So why come out of retirement with another album?
You know, I had it all worked out: I'll move on and do this executive thing, but my passion for the music brought me back here. It got to a time in rock & roll where there wasn't no star power or no classic albums. It went away for a second. I felt [hip-hop] was getting into that lane, 'cause we was making huge, incredible big records, but these records wasn't moving albums. The reason why is because there was no star power. There's no artist development, because people don't know who you are so they'll, of course, dance to it and play it in their car, but will they buy it and take it home with them?
I believe a maturity in hip-hop was needed also. Guys that's 30 years old are rappin' like they're 15. So what's gonna happen when someone turns 30 years old is they're gonna turn away and listen to other music 'cause they can't relate to hip-hop. So just a certain maturity level in the music, you know, being vulnerable at times. Everybody can't be Superman every day. I got a song called 'Beach Chair' that's almost like a Portishead record. But it's all hip-hop.
The song 'Lost Ones' has a lot of people dissecting the lyrics to figure out which woman you're talking about. Can you clear that up?
Well, it's for everyone's interpretation. It's just part of a long list of the songs that I make that's almost therapeutic for me -- a psychiatrist session, you know -- like 'You Must Love Me,' 'Lucky Me' and 'Regrets.' I have those songs from time to time where I just go through everything that's been happening. Since I ain't been making albums in three years, that was just years' worth of emotion. Some emotions are two years old, some are three. Because it's on wax, it's gonna be forever, but I'm no longer that person. I've moved on from even that person already.
How did you decide which artists to work with on 'Kingdom Come'?
I really just went for voices, what voice would sound right with what mood. There's John Legend on 'Do You Wanna Ride,' an open letter to a friend of mine who is a beautiful person but got himself in trouble and is doing some time. [John's] voice just fit the mood well. It's not a sad song, it's almost like a celebration song when you come home. And then Chrisette Michelle, who's a new artist, on 'Lost Ones.' She just puts you in the mood for the song.
Will you and Beyonce ever do a full-length project together?
Nah, I know how that works. I've seen how that works; I tried that [laughs]. All I need is once.
Speaking of 'The Best of Both Worlds,' have you and R. Kelly spoken since all the lawsuit drama?
Nah, I haven't seen him. I haven't spoken to him. It's all good, it's all past, and I wish him the best.
Since your debut in '96, you've broadened your circle of collaborators. Danica Patrick is in your video, Chris Martin is on your album. Do you ever worry about losing your core fans who like the 'Friend or Foe' Jay-Z?
Nah, those core fans grow up. They don't stay the same age, so what I hope to do is bring them along with me. They're going through growing pains and experiences, too. They're not doing the same thing that they was doing ten years ago. I mean, hopefully.
Why did you decide to get involved with Water for Life's campaign to make clean water available to everyone?
Well, I was going out on an international tour and I figured I couldn't go to these places and not help out. I went on four continents, starting in Europe, and then I went to Africa, Asia and Australia. I definitely wanted to experience the culture and go in the neighborhoods, so I couldn't just go into the neighborhoods without doing something to help out.
And in support of the campaign, you're doing the 'H2 the Izz0' concert live on AOL. What can viewers expect?
It's gonna be high-energy, because they haven't seen me in a minute performing at least in New York. The last one was the 'Reasonable Doubt' concert, but this is all my material, including songs from the new album. It's gonna be exciting. I think I'm gonna slow down with the guests, because now everyone's starting to expect them. I'm-a have to chill out with that for a year or two [laughs]. Everyone's looking around like, 'Who's coming out now?'
How has your experience been as the president of Def Jam, and why do you think you were chosen for that position?
It's been great. I mean, the first year, we were number two. This year, if everything goes correctly with Nas, Jeezy and Ghostface, we'll be number one. I'm real proud of Kanye, because I seen him when he first walked into the studio with his beat tape. Now, to see that he's just such a huge superstar, it's incredible.
I have a knack for knowing how to make hits, understanding hits, knowing how to go in the studio, and being a lightning rod for artists. Right off the bat, you know I'm artist-friendly. I'm not an inside man. I want the artist to get what they can get. I'm not like the flashlight cop at the mall who's making it difficult on you. I'm making it easy.
Looking back on the breakup of Roc-a-Fella and the end of your friendship with Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, how do you feel about that experience now?
It's an incredible thing that we've done, and it'll always stand as that. I hope it takes me to the new era of Roc-a-Fella. I don't see [Dash and Burke]. I haven't spoken to them. It's one of the tragedies of the music business, but you just gotta move on.
You've rhymed about being close to your family and raising your nephews as your own. Do you see marriage or children in your future?
Of course. That's the ultimate goal right there. That's my next project. I don't know when. I can't say like, "November 2nd, I'm-a start." I can just say "soon."
What kind of father do you want to be?
I'll be stern but fair. Very fair.
One last question, the marriage ru--
No comment! [Laughs]
You know I have to ask. Even my mother asked me the other day, 'Did Jay-Z and Beyonce get married?'
[Laughs] Well, I'll give your mom a call when it's going down [laughs].