“The most beautiful things are not these objects. The most beautiful things are inside. “- Jay Z
(SL) – “I can’t see it coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the song cry.” Hip Hop Mogul Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter says when he wrote that song he was clearly hiding because the strongest thing a man can do is cry.
In his evolution, he now believes that being vulnerable and exposing yourself to the world is real strength; something him and Beyonce both exercised on their latest projects. Jigga says originally it was supposed to be a joint album, but Beyonce was way ahead in her project and ended up dropping Lemonade first. It was Lemonade that finally put the spotlight on what possibly happened when Solange went Bruce Lee in the elevator. But…will he ever tell us who Becky with the good hair is? Not likely.
Beyonce dropped the hints and Jay Z pretty much confirmed the infidelity allegations on his top grammy nominated album 4:44. However, Hov, outside of his lyrics, has never flat out admitted that yes…he did in fact cheat on his wife of nine years, until now.
With no theatrics, no studio, producer or engineer Jay Z sat down with Dean Baquet on September 27th and took us all the way inside the life of music’s next billionaire.
“I’m not black. I’m O.J.” – Orenthal Simpson
“When I was invited to interview Jay-Z, I wanted to talk about his song “The Story of O.J.,” from his most recent album, “4:44,” in which he quotes the legendary, maybe apocryphal, Simpson line “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
I was less engaged by the rapper’s marital troubles or his infamous, caught-on-video 2014 elevator dust-up with his sister-in-law. But I did want to try to understand how, with an $88 million Bel Air mansion a freeway ride from neighborhoods where black people endure with so little, Jay-Z holds onto his younger self — a black man who grew up in the ’70s in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn. It seemed from his new body of work that examining this high-wire act of straddling two places had been stirring more deeply within him — much the way it stirs in me, a Southern black man who grew up revering O.J. and whose own success is infinitely greater than anyone in my early life would have imagined for me.
What is it about the story of O.J. Simpson that moved us both?
BAQUET The things I want to talk to you about: I want to talk a little bit about race. Your music some, too. I thought the song [“The Story of O.J.,” from the album “4:44,” 2017] was particularly powerful. I took the message as, “You can be rich, you can be poor, you’re still black.” Who were you speaking to? Who did you want to listen to that and be moved by it?
JAY-Z It’s a nuanced song, you know. It’s like, I’m specifically speaking to us. And about who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing it forward and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions. Because in America, it is what it is. And there’s a solution for us: If we had a power base together, it would be a much different conversation than me having a conversation by myself and trying to change America by myself. If I come with 40 million people, there’s a different conversation, right? It’s just how it works. I can effect change and get whomever in office because this many people, we’re all on the same page. Right? So the conversation is, like, “I’m not rich, I’m O.J.” For us to get in that space and then disconnect from the culture. That’s how it starts. This is what happens. And then you know what happens? You’re on your own, and you see how that turned out.
BAQUET Was it a reminder, too, that the thing O.J. forgot, maybe, was that as rich as he was, as entitled as his life was, he was reminded very forcefully when he became a subject of racial debate that he was also a black man, whether he accepted that or not?
“The most beautiful things are things that are invisible.” – Jay Z
BAQUET When you’re as amazingly successful as you are, your kids will live in a very different world from the world you grew up in. How do you go about making sure that they understand the world you grew up in?
BAQUET Do you worry at all that as much as you will teach them history, and as much as you yourself are seen as an important figure among black people in America, that there’s something they’ll be missing? Or do you think that’s silly, [that] in fact they’ll have so many advantages that that’s too negative of a way to approach it?
JAY-Z Exactly. Like, they’ll be who they are, right? And it’s just certain tools that you would hope for your child to have. You know, like, again, fairness and compassion and empathy and a loving heart. And those things translate in any environment. Those are the main base things that you want — well, for me, I would want my child to have. You know? Treat people as they are, no matter who they are, no matter where they sit in the world, not to, like, be super nice to someone at a high position or mean to someone who they’ve deemed to be below them. I can’t buy you love, I can’t show it to you. I can show you affection and I can, you know, I can express love, but I can’t put it in your hand. I can’t put compassion in your hand. I can’t show you that. So the most beautiful things are things that are invisible. That’s where the important things lie.
“Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it.” – Kanye West
BAQUET Some people think that the election of Donald Trump has revived the debate about race in America. Some people think that, in fact, there’s always been racism in America; that it hasn’t changed and that the debate isn’t any different. It’s just people are paying attention to it. What do you think?
JAY-Z Yeah, there was a great Kanye West line in one of [his] songs: “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it.” [“Never Let Me Down,” from West’s 2004 album, “The College Dropout.”] Take a step back. I think when Donald Sterling3 got kicked out of the N.B.A., I thought it was a misstep, because when you kick someone out, of course he’s done wrong, right? But you also send everyone else back in hiding. People talk like that. They talk like that. Let’s deal with that.
BAQUET And you think that’s better? That we should be having a conversation?
JAY-Z Absolutely. That’s why this is happening.
BAQUET Do you think the debate over race in America is happening in a healthy way?
JAY-Z Well, an ideal way is to have a president that says, “I’m open to dialogue and fixing this.” That’s ideal. But it’s still happening in a good way, because you can’t have a solution until you start dealing with the problem: What you reveal, you heal.
BAQUET Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
“Everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere.” -Jay Z
BAQUET Have you been in therapy?
JAY-Z Yeah, yeah.
BAQUET First off, how does Jay-Z find a therapist? Not in the Phone book, right?
JAY-Z No, through great friends of mine. You know. Friends of mine who’ve been through a lot and, you know, come out on the other side as, like, whole individuals.
BAQUET What was that like, being in therapy? What did you talk about that you had never acknowledged to yourself or talked about?
JAY-Z I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.
And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.”
BAQUET You think I see your pain.
JAY-Z You don’t want me to see your pain. You don’t … So you put on this shell of this tough person that’s really willing to fight me and possibly kill me ’cause I looked at you. You know what I’m saying, like, so … Knowing that and understanding that changes life completely.BAQUET Was that a moment that came from therapy?
JAY-Z Yeah — just realizing that, oh my goodness, these young men coming from these … they just in pain.
JAY-Z You have to survive. So you go into survival mode, and when you go into survival mode what happen? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect.
BAQUET You can’t connect because of the way you feel about yourself, you mean?
JAY-Z Yes. In my case, like it’s, it’s deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity …
“You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.”
BAQUET You’ve bared your soul so much. Not only in this album — you can sort of see the evolution of a person in your music. Part of me would think, Oh my god, I gotta talk about my marriage, I gotta talk about my mother, I gotta talk about my other ancestors. Part of me would think that would make me nuts. Does it make you nuts, or do you feel like the heart of your art is to tell the story of your life?
JAY-Z That’s who I — that’s who I am. And I’ve done it from the beginning of my career. Two things: one, no one knew the characters [back then]. So it wasn’t as impactful. And two, it wasn’t coming from a place where it was as evolved.8 And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to hear songs back. It’s hard to perform … songs, but, um, I feel it’s the most important work that I’ve done and I’m very proud of it and the effect that it’s having on people. Even like the studio sessions, you know, we were having four-hour conversations after playing one song. I learned so much about people that was around me, just my friends, I learned things about them that I didn’t know, in a 20-year relationship, just from this one song. So I knew it would have that sort of impact beyond myself. It’s my responsibility as an artist to go to these places.
BAQUET But you probably couldn’t have gotten away with, O.K., you do the album, wife, that talks about our pain, I’m gonna go do an album that talks about, you know, my love of art.
JAY-Z Yeah, you just, you never know. I think it turned out for the best, but you just never know, because people like to be entertained. Again, back to our president. You would think, Man, after the composed manner in which Obama stood at that podium, the dignity he brought to that place, that this couldn’t exist. But it does.
“You feel like you gotta be this guarded person. That’s not real. It’s fake.” – Jay Z
BAQUET When I heard this latest album, and then I thought about the earlier albums, one theme was sort of reaching the promised land. You know, you’ve acquired influence, and not just money, but your life is good. And then when you listen to the newest album, you’re thinking: He must have been in a lot of pain when life was good.
BAQUET Is that true?
JAY-Z Yeah. I did this song called “Song Cry.”
JAY-Z And the idea of the hook — “never seen it comin’ down my eyes, but I gotta make the song cry.” It tells you right there what I was, I was hiding.
BAQUET Does that mean you were unhappy during that period and didn’t have a handle on it, or what?
JAY-Z Well, you compartmentalize, right? So you can be, you can be inside your body and be happy, but at the core of it, something else is going on.
BAQUET As a parent, I thought one of the most painful scenes in the album was when you are talking about having almost lost your marriage, and what it would have been like to watch another man play football with your kid. Given that you have talked so much about your life in your music, are there things that you put a wall around? You’ve talked about the pain of growing up where you grew up, how you grew up, your father leaving early, the pain of your marriage, being in therapy: Are there things [about which] you say, “I’m not going there”?
JAY-Z Yeah. And it mostly involves other people ’cause when other people are involved, you may be ready to expose these things, [but] it’s also other people truth as well.
A perfect example is my mom. I didn’t have permission to do that song first.11It’s just like we had a beautiful conversation.
BAQUET When did you realize your mother was gay?
JAY-Z Uh, really early on when, when I was …
BAQUET Like as a little kid?
JAY-Z Not, no, not — let’s call it teenage years.
BAQUET So you realized that and talked to her about it?
JAY-Z We never spoke about it. We — it just exist. It was there. Everyone knew.
JAY-Z But we never spoke about it. Until, like, recently, now we start having these beautiful conversations, and just really getting to know each other. We were always good friends but now we’re really great friends. You know. And we were just talking as friends. And then she was sharing that she was in love. She can be herself [now]. She doesn’t have to hide for her kids or feel like she’s embarrassing her kids. It was a much different time then. [Now] she can just live her full life, her whole life, and be her.
“You can’t sacrifice others for your life. There’s a karmic debt that has to be paid.” – Jay Z
BAQUET I’m trying to picture the scene when you and your wife both talked about making these very confessional, open albums. Was it difficult?
JAY-Z Of course. And both very, very uncomfortable, but […] the best place in the, you know, hurricane is like in the middle of it.
JAY-Z We were sitting in the eye of that hurricane. Uh, maybe not use hurricane because so many people are being affected right now. [This interview took place nine days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, on the heels of two other devastating hurricanes, Irma and Harvey, that struck the U.S. mainland.]
JAY-Z But the best place is right in the middle of the pain.
JAY-Z And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know. [I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.
You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.
JAY-Z So, you know, most people don’t want to do that. You don’t want to look inside yourself.
JAY-Z And so you walk away.
To read or watch the full interview click here.