What are the biggest regrets of your career?
I made mistakes that I regret so much. Like that Grammy outfit. People always hold that against me. But those mistakes have been turning points. If you read books – which I don't, none at all – about how to become a billionaire, they always say, "You learn more from your mistakes." So if you learn from your mistakes, then I'm a fucking genius.
You don't hesitate to call yourself a genius on Graduation.
I want to drop songs where other rappers are like, "I wish I had that." If I heard Graduation and it was made by somebody else, I would go to the bathroom and take a shit, because I would be scared. This record speaks to me so much. If I think back over the past two years, how many songs can I say, "I wish I had that song." I never wish I had "SexyBack," but I wish I had "My Love." I even wish I had [50 Cent's] "AYO Technology." I wish I was that other guy in the video with Justin. That video hurt me, man, with all the Minority Report stuff. But I think that Justin, Timbaland, 50 and I push each other.
How do you define genius?
If you have a series of genius moments, then you can be considered a genius. Genius moments can be created when a new idea is met with an overwhelming response. Like Timbaland right now – he at that point. He keeps dropping shit like, "Oh, my God! That was genius! How did you think of that?" He's in a genius zone. But if someone didn't have the intention of creating a genius moment, then it's just dumb luck, and you're not a fucking genius. That's like the George Bush comment – because I didn't know shit about politics. Everyone was like, "That was genius," but it wasn't. Not really. It wasn't premeditated.
On "The Glory," you mention empty bottles of NoDoz. I assume you like NoDoz?
Back when I was breaking into the game, I spent every waking hour focusing. I'd take a couple of NoDoz – all the time. But aside from the fact that my girl won't let me take NoDoz, they don't even work anymore. I'm completely numb to NoDoz at this point. I've taken so much that my body is immune to it.
What do you think about pot, coke and Ecstasy?
They seem like they might be OK. I don't know. A lot of people like those drugs. I don't do any of them.
Because you've tried them and you don't like them?
Wouldn't Rolling Stone wish that was the answer? I actually wish it was like that too. But contrary to the way I was acting for the past two years, I actually haven't tried coke. I've never even had the urge to. It scares me.
Everybody does coke these days, especially in L.A., where you live.
Just because I live there doesn't mean I party there. I stay in Hollywood, and I see the flashing lights and the people dancing and drinkin', but I hardly ever see someone do coke. Like in Boogie Nights, or Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls, I see people getting caught up in that whole thing and hanging out with fake-ass friends. Man, that shit could really be a real thing for me, but I won't allow it to be. My thing is making music and hanging out with my friends and doing the same regular shit I did before all of this. I don't go to a lot of parties in L.A. That shit is wack, man. I don't like the scene there. I never got into it. I love L.A., but fuck the parties. I don't want them to stop playing my music at those parties, though.
You seem more like a New Yorker than an Angeleno.
I love New York, and New York loves me. I love getting on that red-eye and landing at 7 or 8 A.M., whether it's winter or summer. I love turning on Hot 97 and knowing that I'm back in New York. It's the greatest city in the world – next to Chicago, if I'm being politically correct. I fell in love with New York before I even went there, just from watching the old videos. And now when I'm in New York, people show me so much love, in a way where I can still get to where I need to go. That's what I love about New Yorkers: They also have somewhere to be.
You seem brutally honest. Do you ever lie?
I like facing up to the realities – like black people being superhomophobic. It's still prevalent. We still are. We still will be. I'm not as brutally honest as I used to be. Sometimes honesty can be used improperly. You can use it to hurt somebody, which is wack. You have to have more tact and class than to blurt out honest statements. People can't handle the truth sometimes. I try my best not to lie to myself. I try to keep my finger on the pulse of pop culture. I feel the vibe of what's going on in the community, what's happening in the hood, what's people's temperament toward me as a celebrity, as entertainment, as a rapper, as a musician. When pop artists put a facade up and live in a fake-ass world, they don't deal with the reality of "Damn, do people really like this shit?" That's when you start falling off, when you make stuff that's less relevant to people. With a lot of the shit that older artists put out, you've got to think, "Are you listening to anything that's on the radio right now?"
You seem to consider yourself a rock star, as opposed to a hip-hop star.
Nobody represents hip-hop like Swizz Beatz. He embodies the essence of what hip-hop is about more than anyone in the game, by a long shot. His party records, his "get out of my face" shit is what hip-hop is about. It's about "boom, bap, original rap, boom, bap, throw your hands in the air, let's go." Hip-hop is black bravado times a thousand. "Yeah, bitches, yeah, my bitches and my ho's and fuck that faggot." When I say some shit like "Stop homophobia" or "My songs mean something," that's no rap shit, that's some rock shit. Hip-hop has no sensitivity.
So rock star it is?
I am a rock star. Because rock stars don't need security, and I can go to dinner and chill. Rock stars can speak well, or hop on a plane to Paris if they feel like it. Rock stars can catch cabs, they don't need entourages and they don't have to pop out of limos all the time. Rock stars can wear the same clothes every day, they can get their shoes dirty and they don't need a fuckin' haircut. Rock stars can pull their dick out in public and then go rock 20,000 people. Rock stars have a wife and kids. Rock stars do the drugs that they want, and they can get over drugs, or they don't get over drugs and it fucks them up. Rock stars can give their fucking opinion without having to deal with . . . what's that thing I get dealt with every day of my life? Oh, yeah. Backlash.
This is a story from the September 20th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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