In the part one of an extensive two-part interview, Jay Z sat down at Yankee Stadium in New York before taking the stage with Justin Timberlake to chat about creating recent record Magna Carta. . . Holy Grail, his game-changing business deal with Samsung, navigating fame and more.
The recently de-hyphenated rapper spoke with The Truth about the three weeks it took to create MCHG, delving into "Holy Grail" and "Picasso Baby" in particular and the sound he wanted to capture on the LP. It was Timbaland's beat for the latter that reminded him of the confluence of art and hip-hop in downtown New York many years ago, he explained.
"When Basquiat was hanging out with Madonna and Fab Five Freddy and all those worlds were colliding," said Jay. "People have to realize hip-hop and the arts were like this 'cause we both were outcasts, we wasn't allowed inside the galleries or inside Yankee Stadium. We were writing in the street and making music. But then art got into the galleries and then hip-hop almost disassociated with it; it was this bourgeoisie thing, it became something else. And I'm saying all that to say when I heard that sound, I was like: 'Oh. That's the sound. That represents that time period and I can bring the art and hip-hop back together.'"
Easily the most noteworthy and controversial aspect of MCHG was its initial release via an app only available on Samsung phones, and Jay addressed it. The question of selling out was particularly big, though he dismissed any possibility that his integrity would be compromised in the deal.
"I've been doing that my whole career," the rapper said of working within, while also rebelling against, the music business. "I've been working within the system, with Roc-a-Fella, we've been working within those systems and we've been fighting for our own identity, who we are. This is Roc-a-Fella. We love you Def Jam and thank you Universal, but this is Roc-a-Fella. We've been doing that from day one, so I'm well versed in that fight. I don't have any fear of working with Samsung because I'm not gonna let them put a phone on my forehead; that's just never gonna happen."
Jay explained that the origins of the Samsung deal came while he and Kanye West were working on Watch the Throne. "Nothing me and Kanye can do musically was gonna match the event of what we were trying to do," he said. "So we were trying to deliver an album and experience at one time; that was the idea for Watch The Throne." But while Jay wanted to unleash the beast at once, he said West was ready to start releasing cuts like "H.A.M." and "Otis," so he ended up keeping the idea for himself.
The distribution model for Magna Carta. . . Holy Grail did cause a bit of conflict in the music industry, with Billboard electing not to count downloads from the app as sales, then the RIAA saying they would include them in their own counts to determine gold and platinum status. Jay spoke candidly about the model as a necessary push towards the future, not a charts trick.
"First of all we're in a dying business, everyone sees that," he said. "So what am I supposed to do? Just wait and sit here until it reverses, wait till it gets to zero before I do something? I'm like, 'Ok let's figure out how to bring new revenue streams into the business'. . . Their job is to encourage the business to bring in new revenue streams, not to discourage me. So at that point, if you're not with the changing times, you're irrelevant to me. I'm gonna move on."
Jay Z also talked about what keeps his competitive fire going – "I love what I do, and when you love what you do, you want to be the best at it" – and existing with hip-hop's new guard like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake and Wale.
"I know I'm not gonna be selling out Yankee Stadium; I'm not doing the Rolling Stones thing at 70. I'm doing all this stuff for the next generation to come in and take advantage of it. So whatever took me 15 years to accomplish, it takes them five years to accomplish. It encourages me that I see this crop of next new legends coming in," he said.