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Jay-Z Talks New Album, Obama, Rock Festivals: "It's a Special Time"

July 30, 2008 2:29 PM ET

Jay-Z had a cigar pressed between his lips when Rolling Stone rolled up to his Pemberton dressing room last weekend to talk about his next album and his current live show, which features some prominent Barack Obama imagery. The first thing he cleared up: contrary to what Timbaland has told the press, the follow-up to American Gangster won't be an all-Tim effort. "You know I love Timbaland, he is like a brother to me, but until the music is done it's premature," Jay said. "I'm a person that works off music. If Timbaland makes 10 great tracks then he produces the album, if Kanye West makes 10 great tracks then he produces the album; if he makes three, I'll take three. I let the music dictate the direction."

If Jay's live show is any indiction, Jigga is moving in a slightly more political direction himself these days. "Everywhere, I mean everywhere, the response when Obama comes on the screen is enormous," Jay said of the massive Barack photo projected behind him for part of his regular set in U.S. and Europe. "For America it means so much. I believe he can change the perception and relations between America and the rest of the world right now. I am that kid that grew up in [Brooklyn, New York's] Marcy projects and thought that no matter who was in office, we weren't part of the political project. Because our voice didn't count, and trickle-down politics — we were the last on the totem pole to receive any attention because we couldn't put a candidate in office. And he represents to that kid in Marcy projects, that we really here… And as you mother says, with the right focus and the right thoughts and determination you can be anything in the world that you want to be. It's a true statement for the first time, it's really a special time to be here."

As he prepared for his Pemberton set, which featured a full live band ripping out AC/DC riffs over "99 Problems," Jay explained he does consider a rock & roll audience's tastes when readying his festival sets. "I change things up, I change 'Encore,' I'll play the Linkin Park version [of 'Numb/Encore']," he said. "I have some other tricks, I play to the audience, I really want people to thoroughly enjoy it." Though his headlining slot at Glastonbury ruffled some feathers this year, Jay — who spoofed Oasis when he took the stage there — explained he was up for the challenge.

"I believe they were ready for a hip-hop act to headline, so even before I got onstage there was this rawness. The statement they made before I got onstage was 'come out and if you're brilliant, you're brilliant and if you're crap, you're crap.' And I came up and I delivered on it. And as the far as the rest of Europe, I'm being very honest, I really had the best run I ever had in my life."

For more Pemberton Festival coverage, visit rocknrolldiary.com.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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