Here are excerpts from an interview from The Wall Street Journal with Jay-Z in his office.
WSJ: This book puts a frame around your career. When did you really start thinking about how you wanted to present your legacy?
Jay-Z: You think about legacy before you even start. When a kid is practicing on the basketball court, it’s “5-4-3-2-1 and the crowd goes crazy!”
As you start realizing your dreams and it’s tangible, you think about it in a real way. But I think that emotion happens from the beginning, from record one.
The legacy, I think about that as I make the music, all the time. How can I make the best album of all time? You always fail. But every time I go up to bat, I’m thinking how can I make an album better than “Thriller.”
WSJ: I’ve talked to some of your friends who say that when you guys make personal career decisions, you’re taking into account how the decisions will move hip-hop culture forward overall. Can you give me an example?
Jay-Z: For us, this is the music that saved a generation. So there’s a big responsibility for those who it saved to make sure that thing is intact for the next generation. We’re the first generation that really took advantage of it, starting with Puff [Daddy] and Master P, guys who really made a name and became successful as entrepreneurs.
Even more than that, when you’re under attack so much as a genre [as hip hop is], you’re forced to come together. But probably the last time we really came together on something was working for Obama, lending our voice and the people we had toward that campaign. Whether he does a great job or not is almost secondary to what it did for the dreams and the hopes of an entire race. Just based on that alone, it’s a success, the biggest we’ve had. Period. To date. It’s Martin Luther King’s dream realized. Tangible. In the flesh. You can shake his hand.
WSJ: What would you change about hip-hop if you could?
Jay-Z: We have to find our way back to true emotion. This is going to sound so sappy, but love is the only thing that stands the test of time. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was all about love. Andre 3000, “The Love Below.” Even NWA, at its core, that was about love for a neighborhood.
We’re chasing a lot of sounds now, but I’m not hearing anyone’s real voice. The emotion of where you are in your life. The mortgage scandal. People losing their jobs. I want to hear about that.
WSJ: What’s the most important decision you made along the way to help keep your career in your own hands?
Jay-Z: We got lucky. In the beginning we couldn’t get a deal. We had to work our own records in the beginning. It gave us a different way to negotiate when we came to the table. Most people get excited and take the first deal they’re offered. We had a little bit of success already, so we were stubborn enough to think that we could really do it at that point. They offered us a deal and we asked for a co-venture. That pretty much ensured that we’d have control from the beginning, from album one.
WSJ: You don’t hand out awards. Are there other things you say no to automatically?
Jay-Z: That doesn’t have anything to do with building the myth. I’m just uncomfortable speaking. I can do a stadium show for two hours and I’m in my comfort zone. But if you look at any of my acceptance speeches they’re maybe seven seconds. I want to get off the stage.
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