Sunday, December 31, 2006

Jay-Z Talkasia Interview Transcript (Dec 7, 06)

Jay-Z Talkasia Transcript

Block A

AR: JAY-Z welcome to Talk Asia it is fantastic to have you on this show. Now, world tour, new album coming out, I have to ask, how is the retirement going?

JZ: Ah. Pretty, pretty bad. I didn't do so good with retirement, so yeah.

AR: You said the Black Album in 2003 was going to be the last one that you did. What changed your mind?

JZ: You know, when you have passion for something, when you love something, when you truly love something and that's all you been doing for the majority of your life... Got to figure, I started writing when I was nine, and then for the last ten years I made an album a year, like every eight months. And in between that I was making sound tracks and different people's albums and guest appearing and all this. So, when you're doing that amount of work in such a short period, it's like... what are you going to do?

AR: Retirement sounded great. What so bad about doing nothing?

JZ: Yes, it sounded great, yes.

AR: Did you just get bored?

JZ: No, like I said, it was just the passion for the music. Because I had more than enough to do between Def Jam and the Nets and Roc-A-Wear. I don't know why I add more work to my day, but it's all good.

AR: So, what's the difference between being an artist for a label and running the label? Because obviously with the latter you've got to be Mr. Responsible, don't you?

JZ: Well, yeah. But I've always had dual responsibilities. On my first album I was the executive producer. So, I was never afforded the luxury of just being an artist and just saying 'I don't want to do it' and just shutting down. You know, that artist thing! So I've never had that luxury, I've always had to you know, wear two hats. I always had dual responsibility,'s second nature! But with Def Jam it's a different monster because it is the most important hip hop label ever. You know, it's huge. You have different artists' career in your hands, who you didn't sign, who are superstars on their own. So that dynamic is a little different for me, you know...but it is what it is.

AR: Do you think that maybe it is something about yourself as a character, that you have to be doing everything all at the same time. That you know you can't let other people handle it while you just sit back and chill out?

JZ: You mean, I am a control freak now? (smile) No I am not! Haha! It is just... all stems from my passion. My passion is music, you know, and music influences culture, influences lifestyle, which leads me to Roc-A-Wear. I was forced to be an entrepreneur, so that led me to be CEO of Roc-A-Fella records, which lead to Def Jam.

So, I mean everything seems like a bunch of things, but it's really all in one field. It's all inspired, it all comes from the music. Even basketball, even the team. That's inspired by the culture. That's like the cousin to rap music. All ball players want to be rappers and all rappers want to be ball players. That's just how it is!

AR: China has banned you from playing a gig in Shanghai which had been scheduled because they said that your lyrics are vulgar. Why do you think that rap music has to be quite so rude? You've got all these young people listening to it. Aren't they going to take away a bad message from that?

JZ: Well, the Rolling Stones had to take like five songs out of their set, so I'm in good company! I don't feel so bad, I feel like a rock and roll star! It's actually an honor to be next to the Rolling Stones.

But as far as rap and lyrics, you got to realize who are making the majority of rap records. These are young kids that come from urban environments. They are 17, 18 years old when they come to the game, they're young! They're young kids. They come from tough neighborhoods where tough language is used.

AR: So that's how they relate you think?

JZ: Of course, that's how they speak to one another.

AR: I've read from reports that you're worth something like 320 million dollars. That is an enormous amount of money.

JZ: Don't believe any of that.

AR: Well whatever it is, it's a LOT, way more than I'll ever earn in my life! But you know, you have always been entrepreneurial and that's just the guy that you have been all these years. Where do you think you have got that from?

JZ: Like I said, when I came into the music I was forced to be a CEO, I was forced to be an entrepreneur, I was forced to...because I was looking for a deal. I didn't have this grand scheme of starting a record company and then morphing into a clothing empire. I didn't have this five year plan, and this 10 year plan, these business plans that people write up for themselves, I wanted a deal, I looked everywhere, I looked into every single record company for a deal. I wanted a recording contract. And when I couldn't get a deal, it was like either quit or you know make your own company.

AR: Why couldn't they get you a deal?

JZ: I don't think that in that time people didn't understand. My first album was mainly dealing with street issues and it was "coded," it was called "Reasonable Doubt." So the things I was talking about...I was talking about in slang, and it was something that people in the music business was not really privy to. They didn't understand totally what I was saying, or what I was taking about.

And I didn't come in on no one else's coat tails. That's how the music business works these days, they try to play safe. So if you're Jay-Z's second homeboy next to the friend, they will sign you because there's some type of affiliation and they know they can maybe get me on a song. And that would get the artist exposure. But I came from nowhere. I didn't have any co-signer or anything, so it was a little difficult. I was just coming out of nowhere.

AR: And it is really an amazing thing, isn't it? When you were growing up you had three pairs of pants and now you got an entire clothing line - Rocawear - as you mentioned before. Did you ever imaging that this would be how your life would turn out. Just for a second?

JZ: No, not this far. I thought I would have an album out in, you know, maybe enough money to buy a house for my mom, and things like that. You know, every little boy's dream is to buy a house for your mom, get a car, and you know, have a successful career. I didn't know it would go into so many different areas. There's no way to dream about that.

Like when you grow up, you might dream about being a basketball player, you don't dream about having ownership in a team. It is just not how you dream, when you live in the Marcy Projects.

AR: And that is something that you now have.

JZ: Yeah

AR: We're just going to take a very quick break here. When we come back, we'll talk with JAY-Z about life growing up in one of New York's toughest neighbourhoods.

Block B

AR: You were raised in the notoriously violent Marcy Projects. It's pretty difficult for anybody to imagine, who hasn't been down that walk of life. So, just give us an idea, if you will, of what it was like.

JZ: Well, I don't want to make it sound like...especially since I've been exposed to so many different areas in Africa just recently. ..I don't want to make it sounds like everyday was like, you know this 50/50 chance of survival just going to school. It wasn't that difficult, I had great days too. But it was a tough urban neighborhood.

So, not only are you dealing with your struggles and your everyday problems and that stress, you're dealing with other people's stress also. You're dealing with so many different people. You have to know how to navigate through that every single day. And that was just normal. This is like when Reagan was the president so you remember that era. It was drugs everywhere, it was prevalent, everywhere we went, we could smell it in the hallways. So you know that always adds an element of danger because there's a desperation. People have to, you have to, if you're stuck on junk, you have to get high. You need it every day. So you have to do, hook, crook, steal whatever you had to do to get it.

So, you mix that into you know normal stress your parents trying to juggle the light bill with the gas bill and make sure you get a pair of sneakers to go to school in. Its just, it was difficult, but like I said, it wasn't a shanty town in Angola or anything like that. We had good days.

AR: Still it is interesting that you bring up the drug issue because you yourself had a time on the street as a drug dealer. How close did you get to going to jail or even worse?

JZ: Everyday. If you're on the other side of the law, any day it could happen to you. That's what you have to realize, you know what I'm saying? You have to realize that any day, any day, any day...every single day you know, you had a chance of going to jail. But the sad part about it is when it gets normal to you. When you start getting used to it and it is not on your mind as much. That's when it's dangerous.

AR: And did you start getting used to it?

JZ: For a second. For a second, it was just like normal life, it was like everyday life. And then you know you reach benchmarks in your life. You become 18, 21, 25 you know those benchmarks when you start looking at your life and what you're doing at the time. So by the time I was 21 years old I was like, I can't do this. This is a dead end! This leads to either jail or the graveyard. There's no other way around it. You're playing percentages and the longer you are out there, and like I said, any day something can happen to you.

AR: Well I am sure millions of your fans all over the world are delighted that you did leave that life behind and now you've risen to the top of your game. But, your ex-business partner and your former close friend Damon Dash says that he doesn't even know you any more because of fame. Do you think your celebrity status has changed you?

JZ: I don't think it was fame on my part that caused you know us to go our separate ways. Like I've been famous since...I was famous before I came into the music business, I was famous. Not on the level that I am now, but you know I was a ghetto celebrity. So I've always been famous, I never wanted to be famous. If you look at my career and you look at the span of my work and the things I have done, as far as to garner fame, you'll see that I have turned down more interviews than I do. Or I turn down more things than I do.

AR: Along the way, what would you say that you learned about Shawn Carter that you didn't know before the birth of Jay-Z?

JZ: I guess, growing up I guess I was a little lazy, I didn't know I could do or take on so much and still be focused, and have like a laser-like focus and take care of what I am doing.

AR: You know some brands do incredibly well out of being part of the rap lifestyle. Including Cristal has done particular well out of your own lyrics. Things have now turned very sour though between you and them. What went wrong?

JZ: I guess, you know, I don't know how this article came about and why rap came up, but I guess the president made some disparaging remarks about...

AR: But it was more the journalist that asked the question to the head of Louis Roederer, the maker of Cristal, wasn't it that was disparaging about hip hop, not the maker of Cristal himself.

JZ: Well, if you read his quotes....I mean anything other than you know we appreciate you know the light that hip hop has given us without compensation is a slap in the face because you know we didn't say anything bad about Cristal, or do anything. All we did was we found the product that we liked and we talked about it, and be bought it in huge numbers and that's it. So, whether you've been're a grown man! We're all grown up and whether the interview was being led that way, you can either say no comment or if you feel that way about hip hop or...say something nice!

AR: We're just going to take another quick break here. When we return, we'll be speaking with the hip hop superstar JAY-Z about family and we'll also discuss his relationship with one other very famous singer, Beyonce!

Block C:

AR: Most recently you have been using your fame to promote the need for safe drinking water in developing countries and you appeared at the United Nations with Kofi Annan no less, to do exactly that. Why is that cause so important to you?

JZ: Well, it all started out from my going out on world tour. When I was coming out on tour, I wanted to go to the neighborhoods and experience different cultures. And you know I was saying at myself, well I can't go there and not do anything in some of these neighbourhoods. I know some of these neighbourhoods are in need. And when I was looking for a cause to take up, water was the first one. It just was Number One on the list, you know. You need that every day, for just every day basic needs.

AR: I just want to talk a bit about family and sort of personal issues for a minute. Your dad walked out when you were very young and then you only reconciled with him shortly before his death a few years ago. How greatly did that affect your life and who you are today?

JZ: In the beginning, as a kid, it made me closed because I never wanted to feel that feeling again. So I would shut people out. I mean, not to the fact where I was rude about it, but I wouldn't let anyone get so close to me that they can bring those feelings about again. But you know when I finally got to see him and we made up and everything, it was a free-ing thing, it was a liberating experience.

AR: So, obviously that would have put your mother in the position of being the major influence then in your life.

JZ: Yeah, yeah

AR: How did she deal with the fact that she was brining up this young family by herself, essentially?

JZ: Amazingly strong woman! Like, very, very, very strong, incredibly strong, incredibly determined and focused. If she had any problem, we didn't know about it. The way she went about it was, we didn't feel the effect of it. So, she was just an incredibly strong woman.

AR: You have had a lot of personal tragedy in your life. Your very close friend and fellow rapper Notorious BIG was murdered in 1997. You also had your own run in with the law didn't you? You stabbed a record executive. Why is the industry so tough?

JZ: Well, you got to figure the neighborhood that you're coming from. Like once you sign a record deal, it's not like you cross a line, and be like 'okay I am out of it, you can't touch me any more!' you know.

You still have people from your old neighborhood that, you know, they feel you own them favors. Or you have your entourage who -- you might not do something, but if someone else in your entourage gets into a problem and you are anywhere in the vicinity, you did it. So it's just how it is, you know. And where we come from, it's not like...I'm not going to stand in front of a camera and be like, "I didn't do it, my friend did it. You all say I did it" You understand what I am saying?

AR: Yeah, but when is it going to come to an end? It seems amazing that, it's like the industry has let it go on.

JZ: It's part of what happens now, it's what's being sensationalized on the news. We're all to blame, right? We're all, we're all somewhat at fault because when people shed a light on it, people get bright ideas. "Wow! You know, this guy got into a fight in a bar and his record debut number one? You know, that's the way to go! So, it has to stop, but you know sadly it's part of the marketing plan now.

AR: To happier topics then, and your relationship with Beyonce is not something that either of you ever speak publicly about. But I do have to ask, any truth to the rumors that she's soon to become Mrs. Jay-Z?

JZ: Haha! No comments, ha ha!

AR: Hahaha, how did I know you'd say that? So then, let me ask you why is privacy such an issue for you both? What's the importance of staying tight-lipped about it? I mean you certainly are extremely vocal in your line of work. Why, on this subject, are you just not going to say anything?

JZ: You have to have a part of yourself that you keep to yourself, you know. You put so much out there, you put so much of yourself into your music, your passion, in everything! So much goes into your music, you need some type of refuge.

AR: Does it bother you that people, the media and also the public, your fans as well, speculate about what's going on in your private life.

JZ: No, that's part of it, you know. That comes with the job. The good far out-weighs the bad, so I am not, by no means, complaining.

AR: Not tempted to tell the story to a magazine for a six figure sum and all that?

JZ: No, I be okay. I can keep the lights on! Hahaha

AR: Now, you've also said that one of these days, you'd like some kids and a house with a white picket fence. I got to say, that doesn't sound very hip hop at all. Is that going to mark your next attempt at retirement do you think?

JZ: That's the great thing about hip hop, you know. When you're in a position to stretch the job, you have to do it. You have to do certain things that doesn't sound hip hop. Or else it's just going to stay the small thing, you know. You need it to grow. You need it to expand, you need it to's limitless because it is the music of this generation.

AR: I'm sure that all your fans around the world will not want to see you retire...again! Haha, even though the first one wasn't really retirement, was it? But have you set a date for when you think it might be time to just sit back and paint your picket fence?

JZ: I don't want to get into that. I've done that already. I've made that mistake so I don't want to get into that, setting dates, saying it, you know. It will come a time when it'll be's been 6 years and he hasn't put out an album what's going on? Then you'll know it's official. But I won't speak about it again.

AR: Alright, JAY-Z it was fantastic having you on the show today, many thanks indeed! And that's going to do it for this edition of Talk Asia. My guest today has been the hip hop star JAY-Z. I am Anjali Rao thanks for watching. See you next time!

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