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"Jigga-man" has been one of the best rappers in the business since the early 1990's. Jay-Z reigned over the New York rap scene throughout the late '90s and early 2000s and steadily built up the Roc-a-Fella Records dynasty in the process. The Brooklyn rapper made his splash debut in 1996 and cranked out album after album and hit after hit throughout the decade and into the next. Jay-Z became so successful that Roc-a-Fella, the record label he began with Damon Dash, became a marketable brand itself, spawning a lucrative clothing line (Roca Wear); a deep roster of talented rappers (Beanie Sigel, Cam'ron, M.O.P.) and producers (Just Blaze, Kayne West); a number of arena-packing cross-country tours; and even big-budget Hollywood films (Paid in Full, State Property). While such success is amazing, Jay-Z's musical achievements outweigh the commercial achievements of his franchise. Every one of his albums sold millions, and his endless parade of singles made him omnipresent on urban radio and video. Moreover, he retained a strongly devoted fan base -- not only the suburban MTV crowd but also the street-level crowd as well -- and challenged whatever rivals attempted to oust him from atop the rap industry, most notably Nas. As a result of his unchecked power, Jay-Z and his Roc-a-Fella clique greatly influenced the rap industry and established many of the trends pervaded during the late '90s and early 2000s. He worked with only the hottest producers of the moment (Clark Kent, DJ Premier, Teddy Riley, Trackmasters, Erick Sermon, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz) and if they weren't hot at the time, they surely would be afterward (Neptunes, Kayne West, Just Blaze). He similarly collaborated with the hottest rappers in the industry, everyone from East Coast rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. ("Brooklyn's Finest"), Ja Rule ("Can I Get A..."), and DMX ("Cash, Money, Hoes"), to the best rappers from the Dirty South (Ludacris, Missy Elliott) and the West Coast (Snoop Dogg, Too Short).
Born and raised in the rough Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, NY, Jay-Z underwent some tough times after his father left his mother before the young rapper was even a teen. Without a man in the house, he became a self-supportive youth, turning to the streets, where he soon made a name for himself as a fledging rapper. Known as "Jazzy" in his neighborhood, he soon shortened his nickname to Jay-Z and did all he could to break into the rap game. Of course, as he vividly discusses in his lyrics, Jay-Z also became a street hustler at this time, doing what needed to be done to make money. For a while, he ran around with Jaz-O, aka Big Jaz, a small-time New York rapper with a record deal but few sales. From Jaz he learned how to navigate through the rap industry and what moves to make. He also participated in a forgotten group called Original Flavor for a short time. Jay-Z subsequently decided to make an untraditional decision and start his own label rather than sign with an established label like Jaz had done. Together with friends Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, he created Roc-a-Fella Records, a risky strategy for cutting out the middleman and making money for himself. Of course, he needed a quality distributor, and when he scored a deal with Priority Records (and then later Def Jam), Jay-Z finally had everything in place, including a debut album, Reasonable Doubt (1996).
Though Reasonable Doubt only reached number 23 on Billboard's album chart, Jay-Z's debut became an undisputed classic among fans, many of whom consider it his crowning achievement. Led by the hit single "Ain't No Nigga," a duet featuring Foxy Brown, Reasonable Doubt slowly spread through New York; some listeners were drawn in because of big names like DJ Premier and the Notorious B.I.G., others by the gangsta motifs very much in style at the time. By the end of its steady run, Reasonable Doubt generated three more charting singles -- "Can't Knock the Hustle," which featured Mary J. Blige on the hook; "Dead Presidents"; and "Feelin' It" -- and set the stage for Jay-Z's follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997).
Much more commercially successful than its predecessor, In My Lifetime peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart, quite a substantial improvement over the modest units Reasonable Doubt had sold. The album boasted numerous marketable contributors such as Puff Daddy and Teddy Riley, which no doubt helped sales, yet Jay-Z's decision to move in a more accessible direction for much of the album, trading gangsta rap for pop-rap, increased his audience twofold. Singles such as "Sunshine" and "The City Is Mine" confirmed this move toward pop-rap, both songs featuring radio-ready pop hooks and little of the grim introspection that had characterized Reasonable Doubt. In My Lifetime still had some dramatic moments, such as "Streets Is Watching" and "Rap Game/Crack Game," yet these moments were few and greatly eclipsed by the pop-rap.
Jay-Z's next album, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life (1998), released a year after In My Lifetime, furthered the shift from gangsta rap to pop-rap. Though Jay-Z himself showed few signs of lightening up, particularly on brash songs like "Cash, Money, Hoes," his producers crafted infectious hooks and trend-setting beats. Thus, songs like "Can I Get A..." and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" sounded both distinct and unforgettable, garnering enormous amounts of airplay. Again, as he had done on In My Lifetime, Jay-Z exchanged the autobiographical slant of his debut for a sampler platter of radio-ready singles; and again, he reached more listeners than ever, topping the album chart and generating a remarkable six singles: the three aforementioned songs as well as "Jigga What?," "It's Alright," and "Money Ain't a Thang."
Like clockwork, Jay-Z returned a year later with another album, Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter (1999), which sold a staggering number of units and generated multiple singles. Here Jay-Z collaborated with yet more big names (nearly one guest vocalist/rapper on every song, not to mention the roll call of in-demand producers) and his most overblown work yet resulted. Jay-Z scaled back a bit for Dynasty Roc la Familia (2000), his fifth album in as many years. The album showcased mostly Roc-a-Fella's in-house rappers: Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, and Amil. Jay-Z also began working with several new producers: the Neptunes, Kayne West, and Just Blaze. The Neptunes-produced "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)" became a particularly huge hit single this go round.
Jay-Z's next album, The Blueprint (2001), solidified his position atop the New York rap scene upon its release in September. Prior to the album's release, the rapper had caused a stir in New York following his headlining performance at Hot 97's Summer Jam 2001, where he debuted the song "Takeover." The song features a harsh verse ridiculing Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and Jay-Z accentuated his verbal assault (including the lines "You's a ballerina/I seen ya") by showcasing gigantic photos of an adolescent Prodigy in a dance outfit. The version of "Takeover" that later appeared on The Blueprint also included a verse dissing Nas as well as Prodigy. As expected, the song ignited a sparring match with Nas, whom responded with "Ether." Jay-Z accordingly returned with a comeback, "Super Ugly," where he rapped over the beats to Nas' "Get Ur Self A" on the first verse and Dr. Dre's "Bad Intentions" on the second. The back-and-forth bout created massive publicity for both Jay-Z and Nas.
In addition to "Takeover," The Blueprint also featured "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," one of the year's biggest hit songs, and the album topped many year-end best-of charts. For the most part, Jay-Z performs alone on all of the album's songs except an Eminem collaboration, "Renegade." The lack of guest rappers made The Blueprint Jay-Z's most personal album since Reasonable Doubt. Consequently, many began comparing the two, calling The Blueprint Jay-Z's best album since Reasonable Doubt or even going so far as calling The Blueprint his best album yet. Jay-Z capitalized on the album's lasting success by issuing two versions of the single "Girls, Girls, Girls" and also the song "Jigga That N***a" as yet another single. Furthermore, he collaborated with the Roots for the Unplugged album (2001) and with R. Kelly for Best of Both Worlds (2002). He then went on to record, over the course of the year, 40 or so new tracks, 25 of which appeared on his next record, the double album The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002). Though billed as a sequel, The Blueprint² was remarkably different from its predecessor. Where the first volume had been personal, considered, and focused, the second instead offered an unapologetically sprawling double-disc extravaganza showcasing remarkable scope. As usual, it spawned a stream of singles, led by his 2Pac cover "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" (with Beyoncé Knowles). He guested on Beyoncé's summer 2003 classic "Crazy Love," as well as the Neptunes' video hit "Frontin'," but then announced his retirement after the release of one more album. That LP, The Black Album, was rush-released by Def Jam and soared to the top spot in the album charts.
Jay-z was born as Shawn Corey Carter on December 9, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York. During his school days, he befriended a young Christopher Wallace, who grew up to be known as the Notorious B.I.G. As a hustler in his rough neighborhood, Jay-Z used his money to finance a career in music and released independent records in the late '80s. His parents were avid record collectors and Jay-Z would sit down at the dining room table as a child writing rhymes while his mother cleaned the house with the music blaring. The more time he spent on the block though, the less time he had for transcribing lyrics. As a result, Jay-Z developed a genius skill that few others could emulate, even now.
President Jay-Z Feels 'That Artist Pain,' Readies First Release Under His Watch
Memphis Bleek's 534 to be first release under new Roc.
Whether it's "Jay-Z," "President Carter" or "Coach Carter," Shawn Carter is way more than the man who signs checks and approves budgets in his new position as president of Def Jam. One night you may catch him in the studio critiquing music by
Young Gunz or Foxy Brown, another he may be in the lab laying some guest vocals for Memphis Bleek. And no matter how busy he is, he'll still find time to hold a meeting with LL Cool J or take Ludacris' phone call.
"I feel that artist pain," Jay said Tuesday evening in New York at his own 40/40 Club, which had temporarily closed its doors to the public so that Memphis Bleek could shoot party scenes for his new video, "Like That." "It's not a confrontational thing. What usually happens is it's the artists against the company, the artists against the machine. It's not like that with us. They know I been through the same thing. They know they not gonna bullsh-- me, but at the same time I'm not gonna bullsh-- them. I'm on the artists' side.
"Ludacris calls me all the time for what he says is his 'monthly Shawn Carter call,' " Jay added. "[Me and LL Cool J] had a great meeting. The first time we sat down to chat, we chopped it up. I was a little worried about the meeting, I didn't know how he was gonna take [my new position] because that's the pillar. But he was real cool about it. I'm anxious to work on that project."
When asked if working on LL's album meant laying a verse on the LP, Jay answered with a smile, "I'm on my president thing, so I don't know what I'mma do. I'm a [microphone] fiend. I'm trying to stay away, but I'm a fiend."
Jay did record a whole song called "Dear Summer" that will act as the intro for Memphis Bleek's upcoming 534 LP, and Hov appears three times on Foxy Brown's new album.
"Three for three, too," Hov boasted about his work with Brown. "I got the first single right now. If I make a better one than that, then I don't know what to do." It's fitting that the first release off of Jay-Z's new Roc-A-Fella label, which is a Def Jam imprint, is from Memphis Bleek. Bleek was the first artist not named Jay-Z to drop during the last Roc era.
"I just seen the guy grow his whole life," Jay said about the man with whom he used to eat syrup sandwiches, sardines and grits, and peanut butter on a spoon. "I took him from his apartment — he grew up two floors under me — to this point right here. I'm letting him go now. He's on his own. He's come into his own, he made the album of his life, and he's in his zone."
"This is [album] number four," Bleek said at the 40/40. "It feels good to say that. Not too many people make it to number four. This album I tried a bunch of new stuff I never done before. M.A.D.E. was the album for me to vent. It let out my frustration, my anger. This album is fresh energy. It's not like your average rap where I'm talking about watches, bracelets, cars. The album is totally different. We got real subjects on this album that mean something."
Bleek says there's a huge difference now that Jay is steering the boat alone, without Dame Dash at his side.
"It's weird because from the other three [albums], what I actually learned is that it takes promotion and a real team behind you to win," Bleek explained. "I feel like with Jay as the president, he's had time to be in the office, so I have that now. The music was always hot. It was more hot in the street than in the public eye. We gonna put it in the public eye now.
"When it was Dame up there, Dame worked on several different projects: Kanye, Young Gunz, me, Cam'ron, Juelz," he added. "He couldn't give everybody the same attention. As you can see, they was just putting out albums on top of albums. When I first came out, you set up a single and put it out. Even if the record ain't hot, they make that record work. We fell in a zone where we just start putting out records. If it works, we run with that. If it don't, we gonna just continue to put out records. That to me took away from the quality of the music, 'cause I don't make records to just put out and see if it works. All my music should work."
Another artist to look out for under Jay-Z's watch is just-signed Detroit singer Tierra Marie. Jay will executive produce her debut along with songwriter Sean Garrett, who's penned 112's "U Already Know," Usher's "Yeah!" and part of Destiny's Child "Lose My Breath." Garrett will be writing six songs for Marie's album.
Jay-Z Countersues R. Kelly Over What He Calls Their 'Nightmarish Odyssey'
Jay-Z argues in his suit that he was forced to kick Kelly off the Best of Both Worlds tour. Jay-Z first gave it to R. Kelly on wax, and now he's giving it to him in court.
After dissing Kelly for his lawsuit against him on the "Drop It Like It's Hot" remix, the rapper has now filed a countersuit against the R&B singer in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Kelly filed his $75 million action in November against Jay-Z, his business associates and the tour's promoter when he got kicked off the Best of Both Worlds tour . The duo's last show together saw Kelly walking off the stage at New York's Madison Square Garden after telling the audience he thought he saw someone waving a gun at him; he was later pepper-sprayed backstage by one of Jay-Z's associates. But Jay-Z argues in his suit, filed January 24, that the tour promoter was forced to kick Kelly off the trek, which Jay calls a "nightmarish odyssey fueled by R. Kelly's financial woes, insecurities, and unsafe and unpredictable behavior," which included showing up late and unprepared, and leaving shows early in tears.
Jay had previously said in a statement at the time of the tour's cancellation that Kelly had scrapped three performances with less than 24 hours' notice and delayed multiple shows by hours: "In Chicago and Baltimore, R. Kelly was not 'ready.' In Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Hartford, R. Kelly was not 'willing.' In St. Louis and New York, R. Kelly was not 'able.' "
Jay-Z, who depicted Kelly's suit as a "waste of time" in the "Drop It Like It's Hot" remix , now calls Kelly's lawsuit a "calculated stunt" designed "to deflect attention from his upcoming felony trial involving an alleged sexual liaison with a 14-year-old child."
In response, Kelly's lawyer Ed Hayes said that he doesn't take Jay's suit "too seriously," saying his client is "a creative genius, and of course, no one expects geniuses to act like everybody else."
R. Kelly's spokesperson Allan Mayer, meanwhile, said, "Jay-Z's response to R. Kelly's complaint is remarkable for at least two reasons: First, it is full of factually inaccurate smears of Mr. Kelly that are utterly irrelevant to the issues of the case. Second, it does not deny that after a member of his entourage assaulted Kelly with pepper spray backstage at Madison Square Garden, thus preventing him from performing, Jay-Z breached his contracts by refusing to continue with the tour. It is also notable that the promoter has also sued Jay-Z for these same acts. Mr. Kelly will press on with his case and when the facts are fully laid out in court, it is Jay-Z who will be exposed for his wrongdoing."
Jay-Z : Fade to Black
"Don't waste my mutha----in' time!" Jay-Z yells with a half-smile on his face. While countless millions have rocked to the Brooklyn wordsmith's rhymes, it's extremely rare for him to let anyone watch those rhymes being created. Today's session — at New York's Baseline Studios, the place where so many of Jay's records have been made — is an exception. And we've picked a good time, because it's going to be a long one.
At this moment, Jay needs a little prodding. He's looking for just the right sound to send sparks to his brain and ignite the words that will eventually incite millions to move. The search has been exhaustive. He sits down at the board with his right-hand man, his longtime engineer Young Guru, and listens.
There's a beat with a sped-up soul sample that gets a disappointed smirk from Jay. There's a very basic track with synthesizer and bass that gets a little head nod from him. Another beat is so melancholy that Jay jokes, "That n---a is depressed. He gotta get out the basement."
After awhile, Jay is visibly tired. He has his head down, he's rubbing his eyes, but still he presses on, pulling together all his "patience" and "persistence."
"It's not easy, bruh," he tells Guru. "You go through a lot of bullsh-- till you get the jewels."
Just as Jay laments, he hears what's he's been waiting for.
A voice is coming from the speakers saying, "Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?"
As Guru is about to turn the beat off, Jay instructs him to let it ride. Hov pulls his chair closer up to the boards and listens more intently.
Jay begins talking, barely above a whisper. It's like he's just shut out the entire world and zeroed in on the beat. The beat finally kicks in and Jay starts mumbling even faster to himself.
He gets more inspired as the record plays. He stands, walks around the room and the process continues.
Not soon after, without a pen, paper or PC, Jay has written an entire song. It has been arranged in his head.
He's ready. Jay enters the booth, clad in a white T-shirt. "Never been a n---a this good, for this long/ Or this pop, this hot ..."
After laying down his record, Jay listens, shaking his head like saltshaker. He likes what he hears.
"Wooooooo!" he whoops while the song plays back. "It's almost time now, n---a!"
Jay's new movie, "Fade to Black," is filled with highlights from his historic farewell concert last year at New York's Madison Square Garden, where R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé and others helped him to set his hometown on fire. But the film's true golden nuggets show Jay like we've never seen him before: in the studio making music, like in the aforementioned scenario. Footage from the making of The Black Album shows Jay and his good friend Timbaland chilling in Miami, and Kanye West explaining his concepts for songs like he's narrating a movie. We also see Pharrell Williams so amped about giving Jay his "Carlito's Way" ending that he calls Jay on the cell and encourages him to rush to the studio ASAP.
But aside from pulling back the curtain on Jay and his famous friends as they work their magic, the movie also shows that making a song is not as simple as throwing on a beat and letting "the greatest rapper alive" wreak his harmonious chaos in the booth.
"I feel like, this being the last album, and [the fans] accompanied me on this journey, [it's nice] just to let them see how it's done," Hov said of the movie, which opens this week. "Just to give them a human side. I just wanted to give the most on this album. My first song being 'December 4th' with my mom, I just wanted to give the audience the most I could give of me on this album. And if I never, ever make another album, I've given it all and it's there. 'History shall record your greatness,' that's what they say."
Young Guru said that what you see onscreen in "Fade to Black" isn't just posturing for the camera: Jay really does take time to scrutinize every track that comes his way. "Producers mess up, they try to pigeonhole him," he said. "We did The Blueprint, then everybody tried to come with soul beats or sped-up loops. We just did that, why would you try to give us that? We're not doing the same thing over."
Guru said Jay was especially picky when making his "final" opus, The Black Album (he's since recorded another LP and attempted a world tour, both with R. Kelly). He even deviated from his original plan of using certain big-name producers when he sensed things weren't working as well as they should be.
"Jay tried to make it happen with Dr. Dre," Guru recalled. "It's not the fact that Dre didn't have a hot beat, it's Dre having a hot beat that coincides with the album that sparks something in Jay to write the way he writes [in his head]. Most of the time, he hears a beat and he'll write it right then — or at least the first verse and second verse and he'll be like, 'I'll be back tomorrow to finish the third verse.' By the time he's driven home, he already has the third verse. It has to coincide with everything we're doing. DJ Premier came to Bassline Studios and laid down some joints. It's not that Jay didn't like them, it's that whatever it was didn't spark something in him."
Besides listening to beats, Jay also gets inspiration from his everyday conversations. He may ask one of his female friends what type of shoe she would buy if he were to give her money. He'll also chitchat with the fellas for fodder.
Nobody gives him a particular lyric, but you may be around Jay and having a normal conversation and you'll notice that the course of the conversations ends up in a rhyme in some form or fashion," Guru said. "But he says it so much fresher than any of us could ever think to say it. He makes you feel like you are in that room with us.
"I always say Jay raps on three levels," Guru continued. "A regular cat on the street can get it. I hate saying this term, but 'conscious' people, or people who have a little bit more intelligence than the average person, can get it. Then there's a level where no matter how smart you are, you'll never get it because it's personal situations where you need to be around us to get exactly what we're talking about. That's what makes him so dope."
Once Hov has his rhymes formulated, it doesn't take him long to record them. He often knocks out his verses in one take.
"What makes Jay so fast [when he records is that] he don't write his stuff down, which tremendously helps his flow because he's not reading off of paper," Guru said. "It's already written in his head with the flow of the beat every time he picks a bass line or hi-hat to flow to. Like on the original 'Hovi Baby,' he's following the hi-hat the whole first verse. Then the second verse, he's following the organ, I think. Whatever pattern the producer laid down, that's the cadence of his rhyme. He totally has the rhyme memorized before he steps in the booth. He says the whole verse maybe 10 times before he even gets in there."
Once the rhymes are recorded, they're really only partially done. The perfectionist MC asks his keep-it-real circle to help trim the fat.
"At about the 75 percent point, he'll go around the room and say, 'Which one of these verses is the wackest?' " Guru explained. " 'Let me take that out and put a new verse in.' He does that because he visited Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson said he did that for Thriller. He listens and says, 'What can I improve? The verse, the hook?' At certain points in every album I look at Jay and be like, 'You know you got 10 songs?' He'll be like, 'Word?' Then he starts formulating an order or seeing what he needs or he don't need."
Jay isn't the type to make a bunch of songs and save them for another project.
"When I make albums, they're usually tailor-made," the rapper explained. "There's a couple of [extra] songs floating out there, but for the most part, I make 14 records and those are the 14 records that come out. I'll start a record and I'll know if it's not good — I'm not like other artists that make 40 records to pick 10. I know if it's not good. If it's not good, there's no time to waste on it."
Jay-Z Dissing R. Kelly On 'Drop It Like It's Hot' Remix?
He doesn't name names, but there's plenty to read between the lines.
Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams are trying to drop it and make it hotter. The duo recently hooked up for a remix of "Drop It Like It's Hot" with none other than Mr. President himself, Jay-Z.
It's a brand new bounce beat with Pharrell — who calls himself ''Chef Boy R.P.''- batting leadoff,
Snoop cleanup and S. Carter sandwiched in between. If you caught any of his Jay-Z and Friends tour dates or his recent appearance on "106 & Park," you may recognize the first part of Hov's rhyme where he teases hatas and cops, rapping, "Thank God for hip-hop or I'd be in the bizz-ox/ Jail or dead, whichever way you rizz-ock/ But now I'm so fresh you can smell me through a Ziploc/ Mr. S Dizz-ot, it's not gonna stizz-op."
The last few lines of Jay's raps, however, seem to take a jab at R. Kelly. Although Jay doesn't mention the Pied Piper by name, he does talk about a man who had to leave a stage and is now taking him to court (see "R. Kelly Sues Jay-Z For $75 Million, Claims Sabotage").
"It's Jizz-ay, homey, you got pizz-ayed/ Take it like a man, the flow ran you off the stizz-age/ Wasting your time trying to sue S Dot/ Tell your lawyer to take the civil case and drop it like it's hot."
The "Drop It Like It's Hot" remix has leaked to the Net and mixtapes, but a representative for Snoop would not comment on the possibility of the song being officially released. The retired Jay-Z, on the other hand, has a bunch of new records coming out soon. In May, Hov is putting out the DVD of his recent "Fade to Black" movie.
Jay-Z: 99 problems, hundreds of rumors
Jay-Z is one of the few MCs who command such respect that people feel compelled to dissect everything he says or does. And when he announced last year that he was retiring, fans listened even more carefully to every word and every lyric, hoping to find a clue that he wasn't serious.
Many thought they'd found a glimmer of hope in February when Kanye West released The College Dropout, which features Jay on "Never Let You Down": "Every fourth quarter, I like to Mike Jordan 'em/ #1 albums, what, I got like four of 'em/ More of them on the way/ The Eighth Wonder on the way/ Clear the way, I'm here to stay."
You don't have to be Perry Mason to figure out that Jay is rapping about making a comeback, right? Well, maybe not. While visiting MTV News last week, Jay clarified himself, explaining that the song was actually done a couple of years ago and that the Eighth Wonder album he warned was coming was actually a reference to The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.
A new album is still way off Jay's radar. He wants to drive that home so much, he gets killed off in his latest video, "99 Problems," a simplistic masterpiece that blends ghetto grit with abstract cinematography. Jigga isn't promoting violence or making some Tupac-like prophecy. Rather, he used his staged death as symbolism.
Here Jay tells MTV News' Sway exactly what he was trying to convey with the video, addresses rumors that he's starting a record label with Warner Bros., and explains how Shawn Carter is on Sean Combs' heels.
Sway: "99 Problems" is a graphic video. You see everything from naked men in prison to pit bulls fighting, and at the end you're essentially being shot and killed. What made you decide to do that scene?
Jay-Z: First of all, I want to say no rappers were harmed in the making of that video. ... I really just wanted to ... do powerful images in Brooklyn. The last two videos, I mean, they're cool, but I was pretty much just going through the motions. [This time] I was like, "Man, we can't shoot the same old thing." So I called Mark Romanek ... he's like the director's director. Every director is like, "Mark is the one." He's the best right now.
Sway: What's some of the work he's done in the past?
Jay-Z: He did Johnny Cash's "Hurt," did some work with Lenny Kravitz, the Michael Jackson joint ["Scream"] with him and Janet. ... I just really wanted him to shoot, like, where I'm from in Brooklyn and shoot the 'hood, but shoot it like art, not shoot just a bunch of dudes or a bunch of cars around it — shoot it like art. And shoot it powerful and strong. So that's basically what we came up with, but at the end, the whole [being] shot thing is just really symbolic to the whole retirement thing and putting the whole Jay-Z thing to rest.
Sway: So is it comparable to when Prince went to the symbol? "Jay-Z" is officially dead now?
Jay-Z: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. We still in the street like, you know, "What up, Jay-Z?" It's all good. It ain't on that level. It's just like, you know, the artistry, I'm putting that down, to the side. ... It's just symbolic. It's artsy.
Sway: It's some artsy stuff?
Jay-Z: We trying to show the artsy side in hip-hop.
Sway: OK, and that's a good thing, 'cause I think hip-hop has hit a wall in a lot of areas, especially with video making. But I heard that the symbolism also represented the death of Jay-Z and your retirement, so to speak, and the birth of Shawn Carter as an artist.
Sway: There's also talk that Shawn Carter might have his own label with other artists. Do you want to speak on any of those things?
Jay-Z: Yeah, everything's early, you know what I'm saying? But everything's about growth. Especially the album thing, it's too early. Like, my whole thing with moving on, like you said, I feel like I hit a wall. Like, I just didn't want to just go into the studio and just record music and put out an album just to make money, just to be doing it and going through the motions. I gotta be passionate about it, and I wasn't feeling that passion, so I put it down. I still feel the same way. I've still got a lot of other things to do. So that's a long way away, and as far as the label, I know I'm going to have to come back to music, 'cause it's my first love. And I know I love working with new artists and seeing them go through that transformation and putting out new artists and seeing a new guy blow up or whatever. I just don't know if that's this year or three years from now.
Sway: OK, well I'll tell you what they're saying.
Jay-Z: Yeah, yeah. I done heard everything, but you tell me.
Sway: They're saying that you're signing a label deal with Warner Bros., that you're going to sign possibly Talib Kweli, Foxy Brown and maybe some other artists.
Jay-Z: Well, I like those artists, so I don't know. Maybe next year, maybe three years, but we'll see.
Sway: OK, OK. You're not saying no, but you're not saying yes.
Sway: You did a record with Kanye West, "Never Let You Down," where you rap, "The Eighth Wonder on the way." I assume that's the title of an album?
Sway: Is that still coming? What was that about?
Jay-Z: What happened was that that song was done when I was recording Blueprint 2. I was going to name Blueprint 2 The Eighth Wonder. So I was saying, "The Eighth Wonder on the way." And if you notice, I say [I have] four #1 albums [in that song]. I have six. So it was before Blueprint went #1 and Black Album went #1, so that was done two years ago.
Sway: That was an old lyric. All right ... Now, when you shot this video, it had to pass through your mind that with all these different graphic scenes, MTV would say, "No, absolutely not." Especially with the climate the way it is now.
Jay-Z: Well, that was my biggest worry, as far as younger kids seeing me get shot — that was it, really, because all that other stuff is part of life. You know, when you go to prison you're gotta get strip-searched. I know we're not gonna show full nudity on TV. I know that's blurred out. I know DMX had dogs in a video before, so I never really thought about the dogs being a problem, you know? But as far as me getting shot, I just looked at it as seeing Denzel [Washington] in "Training Day," or seeing any other actor, you know? I was just acting out a part. I was trying to show Hollywood I got some chops too. Maybe I'll get a little job.
Sway: You know, Puff is doing Broadway now.
Jay-Z: Yeah, yeah. I'm on your heels, Puff.
Sway: Is that a possibility?
Jay-Z: Hey, we'll see how it goes.
Sway: Jay, tell me, man. I know somebody must've thrown a script at you.
Jay-Z: I've got a couple right now. ... I'm really excited with how many people want to work with me. You know, ["Training Day" director] Antoine Fuqua, everybody.
Sway: Are you excited about that? I mean, have you actually taken acting lessons?
Jay-Z: Yeah, yeah. I'm going through that right now. But I really just want to touch everything, like as far as writing, as far as directing, everything. I feel like we never really ever had an East Coast movie that really, really told the story of the struggle. The closest thing we had was "New Jack City," you know? I think you guys [on the West Coast] had "Boyz N the Hood." That was good. Y'all had "Menace II Society." I think that captured L.A. life the best. So I'm interested in doing stuff like that, and even going left with it. You know, I'm an artist first.
Jay-Z: What More Can I Say
Jay-Z's career is about to slip away. The world will never know Shawn Corey Carter as Jay, Hov, Jigga, Iceberg Slim, S. Dot or any of his other aliases. There will be no Roc-A-Fella, no platinum jewels to match the slew of platinum plaques, no Beyoncé by his side, no Mayback Benz, no Bentley coup, no spitting a myriad of flows on wax and no laying stake to the title of greatest to ever get on the mic. Instead of big pimpin', it's about to be big time — as in a stiff prison sentence.
It's 1994, two years before Shawn makes himself known to the masses with his classic debut, Reasonable Doubt. Back in '94 the lanky Brooklynite was a coke dealer, and on this day, S.C. is a little more comfortable cruising the pavement than he should be, considering his cargo. All of a sudden, his car gets stopped by police.
It doesn't matter why the "Jakes," as Shawn refers to them, pulled him over. What's racing though his mind is what will happen if the officers find out what's in the car.
"They were waiting for a K-9 to come," the now-reformed hustler, nine years removed from his run-in with law, remembers while sitting in his main recording home, New York's Baseline Studios. "But police can't search your glove compartment or your trunk if it's locked. You need a warrant for that. They can just search where your eyes can see, and I knew that. That, I think, got me out of it, that intelligence. But they were waiting for a dog to come. If the dog smells [drugs], then they have the right to impound the car. I think the dog was on another job or really far and the officer was just like, 'Get out of here!' "
Close call, but Jay survives, and goes on to record his instant classic Reasonable Doubt. His ability to flip metaphors and intricately weave stories on the LP pushes the project into the realm of the other classics of the day, like Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Nas' Illmatic and Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. The album vaults Jay-Z onto hip-hop's main stage.
Almost a decade later, Shawn Carter is preparing to step down from that stage. But not before one last hurrah, The Black Album.
There will be no quietly fading into oblivion when Jay bows out of life as a rapper. Just as his pride won't let him stay in the game until his skills diminish, it also won't let him leave the game without the fanfare befitting a living legend. There's no question in his mind: Girls will scream for him, men will roar with approval, all will be misty-eyed with nostalgia and the proverbial trumpets will blare as he stomps out on his own terms. There will be a victory lap consisting of a monumental concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, an autobiography called "The Black Book," another version of his S. Carter Collection Reebok sneaker and a second Rock the Mic tour, all to come in the weeks and months after The Black Album.
"I don't really think Jay-Z should retire," P. Diddy says. "I can't really digest that."
"Jay-Z ain't going nowhere, man," Ludacris laughs. "He might be able to tell y'all that. I don't think Jay is going nowhere."
You can't blame his peers and fans for being a little skeptical. After all, in 1996 Jay said that Reasonable Doubt would be his first and only album. He also threatened to call it quits when he was releasing Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life and The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. This is the same guy who, just a couple of years ago, said, "I can't leave rap alone, the game needs me." Still, Hov says this time he's not selling wolf tickets.
"Some people are in denial," Hov continues about his career termination. "Some people are like, 'I never seen it happen before.' I never seen it happen before either. No one has ever left at the top of the game and really, truly left. A lot of people get addicted to fame. That's been the good thing about me, I've never been that person that really wanted to be in the spotlight. My love has really been for the music. I'd rather be able to eat my spaghetti without a camera over here [in my face]."
Hov started talking about his last LP before he even started recording his last LP, 2002's The Blueprint 2. Jigga said his game plan would be to spread his gift of gab mainly through word of mouth. Yes, he intended to sell millions of records, but a little differently this time. No heavy promotion by Roc-A-Fella/ Def Jam, no videos, no singles. He was going to drop the album and let the music speak for itself.
Thematically, The Black Album would be a prequel to Reasonable Doubt. Hovi would talk about his life from birth to the release of his first album. Imagine, an entire album filled with graphically honest and poetic first-person accounts of his pre-fame existence. More classics in the vein of records like "You Must Love Me," "Song Cry" and "Soon You'll Understand," where Jay is devoid of arrogance and swagger, showing a little vulnerability and disclosing his insecurities and missteps.
Obviously, given the fact that Jay decided to put out a single and make a video for the party record "Change Clothes," where he rhymes about the latest fashion trends and rides around in the new Phantom Rolls Royce, Hova hasn't stuck to the original script.
"I think some people wanted 'Star Wars Episode IV,' " Jay's longtime friend and album engineer Kimel "Young Guru" Keaton assesses. "That's not exactly where the album is. It still has to be current to sell records. 'Change Clothes' is the type of song where you know exactly what it is and how it's going to be perceived. It's an ' '03 Bonnie & Clyde,' another big radio record."
"In a way," Jay answers about whether the project turned out the way he initially envisioned it. "I mean, just as far as the attack of it, what I'm saying. The approach of it is introspective — this is probably my most introspective album — but it has a lot of current things in it. A lot of things that I wanted to happen really didn't happen with the album, but then again, it's music. I didn't want to overthink it and make it boxy. I didn't want to make it programmed — it should just flow the way it flows. I just got to go with what feels good."
Listening to his records, there is no indication that Hov needs to be put out to pasture. He doesn't sound like he wants to leave, either. This isn't a 33-year-old man who's bored with the hip-hop game as a whole and is now only competing with his own established greatness — this dude's fire is burning.
"I don't know if Jay-Z's going to retire," Wyclef Jean opines. "Every time I see Jay-Z, it's like he keeps getting better and better at his craft. I think Jay-Z is probably going to put out The Black Album and he's probably going to sit back, run the company, and then the Jones is gonna hit him. The art is his passion, you can see it when he grabs the mic."
What felt good for Jay while recording the LP was reliving some hairy moments from his past as a hustler, like on "Allure" and "99 Problems" ("The year is '94 and my trunk is raw," Jay raps with bluster, "In my rearview mirror is the mutha----in' law"), his place as the "best rapper alive" on "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "What More Can I Say," and expounding on his most personal issue, his relationship with his father, on "December 4th" and "Moment of Clarity."
"Pop died, didn't cry, didn't know him that well/ Between him doing heroin and me doing crack sells," Jay's recorded voice seethes out of the speakers at Baseline during a listening session for The Black Album hosted by Hov.
While the Eminem-produced track, "Moment of Clarity," plays on, catching the ears of his guests, including Pharrell Williams, DJ Clue and President of Def Jam Kevin Liles, Hov sits stoically bobbing to the beat.
He explains later in the night about the seemingly callous lyrics about his dad, Adnis Reeves, who passed away on June 18 due to liver problems. "When I went to the church [for his funeral] and I seen him, my first thought, it was a smirk. I was smiling a little bit, like, 'Yo, this guy looks so much like me. We look just alike.' "
Jay and his father had been estranged until earlier this year. Reeves left the household and his family's life (Jay has an older brother and two sisters) when Shawn was just 12 years old. The separation had served as a major "block" for Jay over the years. He struggled with being hurt and harbored resentment, yet deep down, he still yearned for that connection with his pops.
His most vocal tongue-lashing toward his dad was on the Dynasty: Roc La Familia cut "Where Have You Been," where he rapped "F--- you very much/ You showed me the worst kind of pain." A few months later on Beanie Sigel's "Still Got Love For You," a more remorseful Jay rapped about still feeling neglected, but being ready to forgive: "N---a you did me wrong/ But the love is strong, let's move on."
In January Jay got his wish when his mother, Gloria Carter, orchestrated a meeting between her son and her ex-husband. The heart-to-heart would kick off a six-month-long reconciliation process until Reeves' death.
She served as the Don King," Jay laughs about his mother's intervention and mediation. "She Don Kinged that whole situation when he came to my house. I just really got the chance to air it out. Tell him everything that I felt. Yo, my pop is stubborn. I see where I get it from. When I was talking to him I was like, I understand why I am the way I am. I got the chance to tell him how I was affected by him leaving and things like that. Then I was cool with it. That's what that verse [on 'Moment of Clarity'] was about. I'm like, 'Yo, it wasn't your fault.' All the things that I was blaming him for through my career and through the albums, as I grew I realized it wasn't all his fault."
The reunion provided one of the most sought-after resolutions in Jay's life. He cleaned out his closet and was ready for a new beginning. But Reeves was suffering and knew he didn't have much longer to live.
Aware of his father's condition, Jay bought his father an apartment and furnishings so he could live out his last days in comfort. Reeves died on June 18, the same night pro athletes, rappers, singers and actors were helping Jay celebrate the grand opening of his 40/40 Club in New York.
The relationship between Jay and his father serves as a blueprint of how he does not want to end up with his children in the future. He literally wants to be a hands-on dad. "I don't know, a big boat somewhere, throwing a couple kids in the air," Jigga said about where he wants to be in six years.
Flashes of his new desires appear in his music, like in "Excuse Me Miss." He's lived the life, indulged in the women, and now he's ready to settle down and have a few young, Young Hovas.
"I carry my nephews like my sons, always have and they have filled that void for me. But it has definitely come a time where I want to have my own family. Absolutely."
Jay's paternal instincts are making it easier for him to step out of the limelight. Instead of being in a club surrounded by models, he'd rather be at home, with his family. People close to him say this is the happiest they've ever seen him and that his relationship with Beyoncé has had the heaviest impact on that. Jay, however, won't talk about his relationship with the singer.
He'll speak about retirement, though, his definition of which doesn't match that of the average working-class Joe. Jay's left the door open for us to yell "Welcome back, Carter," saying that he won't make any albums or guest appearances for at least "a year, maybe two," unless somebody disses him on wax. Then he may decide to "have a little fun."
And he of course has other work he wants to do. He has his eyes set on acting. He wants to open his own movie house. An S.C. clothing line is coming down the pike to go along with his S. Carter Collection tennis shoe. And don't think he'll be giving up any of his interest in his already thriving companies Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc-A-Wear and Armadale vodka.
Despite his unwillingness to commit to a real retirement, per se, we've probably heard the last Jay-Z album. With The Black Album's debut at #1 on the Billboard albums chart (more than 463,000 copies sold), it doesn't seem like Jay has any unturned stones to bring him back for another full-length. The victory lap has begun and he's successfully passed the first leg in his run.
Besides, he's already seen what happened to the man he calls his sports equivalent, Michael Jordan, when the basketball legend made his most recent re-entrance into the game as only a shell of his former self.
"He's still the greatest basketball player ever, but he could have left it on such a perfect note," Jay laments. "He could have left it with 'Six [championships]. My second time I three-peated. It's done.' I'm not here to judge him, I guess he wasn't fulfilled within himself. Mike didn't have a prototype [before him to show] how bad it could be. I do, I have him. So it's going to take that much more for me to come back now. I already know how that movie ends. I don't know if I want to do that."
Jay-Z 's rhyme in time
He invented an entire rhyme in his head and committed it to memory, without ever writing it down. That skill is still evident, as Jay-Z is known to create an entire album by playing the sample track in the studio in a trance, with the eventual lyric spewed out on the spot before recording it for good.
After scoring some underground success, Jay-Z learned from other rappers who got a raw deal from the music business, and opened his own label, Roc-A-Fella, with friend Damon Dash. His subsequent debut Reasonable Doubt went gold and spawned the hit "Ain't No Nigga" with Foxy Brown. The mainstream audience failed to take notice but the newcomer with the smooth voice and rhyme pattern astounded true devotees of the genre.
The anticipated sequel, In My Lifetime Vol. 1, debuted at Number 3 in November 1997 and featured a slew of big names in the world of rap, from Too Short to talented producer DJ Premier. The album was a personal revelation for Jay-Z as he spun the tale of his hard knock upbringing and in trademark Jigga style, had a few seductive anthems for the clubs.
It's more than alright for Jay-Z
The true sign that a rap artist has arrived is how ubiquitous he becomes, as others clamor for a rhyme or guest appearance. With two albums under his belt, Jay-Z had become the undisputed leader of the rap pack but he still kept setting the bar high. His soundtrack to the self-directed, produced and written short Streets Is Watching featured the smash "It's Alright."
Mainstream success and more street cred came with the album Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life. It remained atop the Billboard chart for five weeks and cemented the reputation of Jay-Z as a major talent and producer of urban anthems. Each subsequent album has raised the status of the rap and fashion mogul at the head of the Roc-A-Fella empire, with The Blueprint making the biggest splash with critics and fans to date.
Jay-Z has become the biggest name in hip-hop, a title that he has earned and claimed for himself at the same time with a cool, collected braggadocio evident from the first lyric he spit on his classic debut, Reasonable Doubt. Back in the day when the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur were mired in the most infamous battle on wax, Jay-Z was the quiet challenger, waiting for his shot at the title.
When the lives of the two talented microphonists were taken, Jay-Z emerged to claim the throne of King of New York. The prophecy laid out on the track "Brooklyn's Finest" with B.I.G. had come to fruition.
But when you sit atop the rap world, you have to deal with the playa haters intent on knocking you off. And Jay-Z has had his share of battles in and away from the recording studio, where he has responded to lyrical attacks by reputed rhymer Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep with the witticism and mic stealth associated with the Jiggaman.
Although Nas did seem to get the better of Jay from a lyrical standpoint, you can expect a devastating response on the sequel to the smash LP The Blueprint. Nas can claim to be the thug street poet extraordinaire but when it comes to selling records, churning out blazing club hits and making mad cheddar, H to the Izzo is the man.
Rest assured for the uninitiated and ignorant that the rap game is no joke. Stereotyped and vilified at the same time, the observant knows that in order to succeed, you need to have a serious set of skills in your stable. But how is success defined in the world of hip-hop? It used to be a strict parameter of pure lyrics and a slammin' bass track.
Back in the day when Rakim, Chuck D and Big Daddy Kane had the sick flow, the mainstream was tuned in to candy rappers with zero street credibility. But times have changed and now the separation of record sales, fame, money, and skills is a thing of the past. Jay-Z helped to redefine the game, as a rapper with one eye on the street and the other on the stock ticker.
He has been accepted by mainstream middle America and has a loyal urban following as well. Jigga has been able to squash criticism because he has talent, straight up. Listen to the intricate rhyme patterns he lays forth on a cut like "Who U Wit" and try to find a duplicate anywhere in the rap world. His casual, lazy but precise flow has him lounging in a niche all his own.
If you thought the track "Big Pimpin'" was a fantasy, think again. When you bling bling like the Jiggaman, you can have your pick of the finest honeys out there. "Money Ain't A Thang" and "Money, Cash, Hoes" are two songs that provide you with a glimpse into the life of Shawn Carter.
With a net worth into the tens of millions and a gangsta-lean groove that would make Curtis Mayfield proud, Jay-Z is beyond the chase. When you can lace a woman in ice and Prada without even blinking, all you need to do is sit back and choose. Listen to the song "Girls, Girls, Girls" to peep the steez of a bona fide mack.
Jay-Z is this close to being a household name, an amazing accomplishment considering his humble roots in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn. He can now hold court with Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson in the same week, so formidable is his clout. But Jigga has not coasted to the revered position he now holds. He may just be the most industrious rapper of all-time. Since his debut hit the shelves in 1996, Jay-Z has put out seven albums, including an MTV Unplugged release and his recent collaboration with R. Kelly, The Best Of Both Worlds.
He is at the helm of his own successful record label and clothing empire, Roc-A-Fella, along with partner Damon Dash, proving that his genius is as compatible in the world of business as it is in front of a mic. As the title of his hit duet with Mary J. Blige states, "Can't Knock The Hustle." It just don't get no cooler than Jay-Z right now. He has managed to stay on top of the hip-hop heap for longer than most, with a sound that is still relevant and of more importance, as John Blaze as can be.
His work ethic has resulted in market saturation but with the quality and butter hits that you would expect from an artist taking years to create a dope LP. And if you want to talk cool, what could be better than introducing new slang into the lexicon of the youth? With each hit release, Jay-Z has millions imitating his fresh phrase work, from "Can I Get A..." to "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." When he started out in the game with Reasonable Doubt, the Jiggaman was known to rock the Mafia Don look, with zoot suit and hat to match. Just check the debut album cover. But since then, Jay-Z has toned down the act to reflect more of an urban chic and casual style.
His fashion label Roc-A-Fella has him draped in the latest style with every appearance. As the head of the company and most visible spokesman, would you expect anything less than shameless promotion from the noted street hustler?
Jay-Z Brings Pal Foxy Brown Back To Def Jam
Signing is his first since becoming label's president and CEO.
Jay-Z's barely had time to print up new business cards, but already Def Jam's new president and CEO has signed an artist to the label: Foxy Brown.
Foxy's reps aren't giving away too many details right now, but they said she's been in the studio
working on her next album and that she spent part of Tuesday in the Def Jam offices.
Foxy and Jay's official reunion certainly comes as no surprise. She performed several dates with him during both the Best of Both Worlds and "Jay-Z and Friends" tours last fall, and even before that, Fox was telling everyone that she was going to be a part of Jay's S. Carter imprint — an imprint that has yet to come into existence in light of the rap mogul's new Def Jam job. Jay-Z was appointed the head of Def Jam in early December, and his first official day on the job was January 3 .
After her last LP, Broken Silence, dropped on Def Jam four years ago, Foxy recorded an LP called Ill Nana 2: The Fever, which was never released . She then left her only recording home and has been in the lab recording material for an album tentatively titled Black Roses. Barrington Levy, Dido and Luther Vandross are among her collaborators on that material.
Besides Foxy's new LP, projects on the horizon under the Def Jam umbrella include records from 112, Mariah Carey and Memphis Bleek.
Jay-Z joins ranks of artist CEOs
Def Jam: Star executives are often tapped to scope new talent, but joint-venture deals have had mixed success.
As a rap star, Jay-Z has a lifestyle that all but demands that he occasionally sleep as late as 6 p.m. But even in the freewheeling music business, a chief executive who doesn't get up until sundown may be a first.
And now that the Brooklyn-born rapper has been named to the top job at Universal Music Group's Def Jam Recordings, synchronizing his diurnal rhythms with those of the corporate world -- or getting those of the corporation to match his nightowl proclivities -- is just one of the many challenges he faces. "He'll be up early and out late," predicts a former associate of Def Jam's new president and chief executive.
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, is a multiplatinum-selling rap star whose most recent solo album, "The Black Album," is nominated for three Grammy Awards.
Carter, 35 years old, has claimed that he is retiring from making new albums. But even during his performing career he has had a hand in several high-profile business ventures, most demonstrating an uncanny touch for marketing and branding. He is a partner in the New Jersey Nets basketball team and his name is on a hugely popular line of sneakers made by Reebok International Ltd.
Until he was named to his new post he was also a partner in Roc-A-Fella Records, a highly successful joint-venture operation with Def Jam, whose parent company, Universal Music Group, is a division of Vivendi Universal SA of France. In addition to releasing a string of hit albums, Roc-A-Fella has diversified into clothing, electronics and liquor.
In all these ventures, say past and current associates, Carter has had no trouble making it to early morning meetings.
Carter's Def Jam appointment extends a phenomenon that has been rampant in the music industry for the past decade: artists and music companies collaborating on record labels as joint ventures. In naming him to the post, Universal is taking to the extreme the idea that successful artists are among the best qualified people to identify and sign new talent.
In the most aggressive, and financially risky, of such arrangements, major record labels underwrite smaller subsidiaries operated by star artists, then split the profits evenly.
The most artist-favorable terms often include a buyout provision. In theory, the artist acts as the creative partner, scouting talent, developing artists and producing albums.
Meanwhile, the major label acts as a financial backer and business partner, handling duties like marketing and promotion. The notion that an artist could actually run the parent business that underwrites the partnership has rarely, if ever, been explored.
Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal's Interscope Geffen A&M label, has entered into numerous joint ventures, many lucrative, some less so. He says he looks for certain qualities in an artist before joining such ventures.
"You have to have the kind of ego where you don't mind the artists on your label being bigger than you," Iovine says. "Or as big as you."
Global music companies have entered joint ventures with musicians as diverse as Dr. Dre, Mariah Carey and Sean "P Diddy" Combs, with varying degrees of success. On the high end of the spectrum, a person familiar with G Unit Records, a joint venture between rapper 50 Cent and Interscope, estimates that G Unit generated roughly $30 million in revenue last year.
On the low end, Sony Corp. folded. Carey's Crave label died within a year of its 1997 launch after a string of costly flops. Carter's Roc-A-Fella is considered one of the standout successes. Universal Music Group, the largest music company in the world, accounts for about 30 percent of all U.S. music sales; Def Jam accounts for about 10 percent of these, or 3 percent of the total market, making it one of the largest rap labels in the business.
Fred Durst, lead singer of the hard-rock band Limp Bizkit, operates a label called Flawless Records jointly with Interscope, which distributes his band's music. Durst is also a high-ranking talent scout for Interscope, although he has signed only a handful of bands during his tenure, either to his own label or to Interscope. One of them, Puddle of Mudd, has had a fair amount of success.
Other people at Interscope say Durst is only an occasional presence at Interscope's Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters, and that his longtime office -- located close to Iovine's executive suite -- was recently given to another executive. (Durst moved to another office.) Iovine says Durst has managed to keep Flawless in the black.
Jay-Z vaulted to his new position after Universal bought out the half of Roc-A-Fella Records he controlled with two partners. The joint venture has delivered some of the company's biggest recent commercial and critical successes, including Kanye West, Jay-Z's longtime producer, whose solo debut was just nominated for 10 Grammys.
But Jay-Z's elevation comes as the very phenomenon that gave him the boost is on the wane. More often than not, people in the music industry say, such joint ventures end up as vanity projects that generate little if any revenue for the parent label.
The pivotal moment in this turnabout was the acrimonious termination of Maverick Records, a joint venture between Madonna and Warner Music Group. Maverick had a few profitable years but lost $60 million over the last five years of the deal, according to court documents filed by Warner in the lawsuit unwinding the deal.
But even in Maverick's high-flying days, the notion that Madonna could have assumed an executive position at the parent company was never seriously explored. Even within Maverick, most business duties were handled by Madonna's partners, not by her.
As a result, prominent musicians who a few years ago could have handily landed multimillion-dollar joint-venture deals today have had to shop around even for much smaller deals.
Even Combs, whose first joint venture deal for Bad Boy Entertainment, with Bertelsmann AG's Arista Records, netted him an estimated $74 million, ended up settling for a three-year contract guaranteeing him $5 million when he signed a new deal last year with Universal Music.
He had been seeking $100 million, according to people familiar with the matter. Combs declined to comment, as did Carter.
Rap Star Jay-Z Gets Into The Christmas Spirit
Rapper JAY-Z showed off his generous side on Christmas morning (25DEC04) by handing out toys to Brooklyn, New York's disadvantaged kids. The recently retired star handed out gifts at Brooklyn's Marcy Projects Recreation Center.
Jay-Z donated more than $10,000 (£5,260) worth of toys and hosted a Christmas dinner for residents of the neighbourhood he was raised in.
He wasn't the only hip-hop star helping out at Christmas - LUDACRIS delivered more than 1,000 toys to hospitals and community centre in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, Georgia.
Jay-Z Named Def Jam President/CEO
Jay-Z -- artist, producer and entrepreneur -- has been named president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings. He will report directly to Antonio "LA" Reid, chairman of the Island Def Jam Music Group. Based in IDJ's New York offices, Jay-Z will officially take his new post on Jan. 3.
Jay-Z (real name: Shawn Carter), will continue to run his record company Roc-a-Fella. IDJ recently bought the remaining 50% stake in the label from Jay-Z and his business partners Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke.
Def Jam announced Wednesday that it had wholly acquired the label, which includes acts such as Grammy shoo-in Kanye West, Cam'ron and the recently jailed Beanie Sigel.
"After 10 years of successfully running Roc-A-Fella, Shawn has proven himself to be an astute businessman, in addition to the brilliant artistic talent that the world sees and hears," Reid said in a statement. "We are fortunate that he has agreed to take over as president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings.
"I can think of no one more relevant and credible in the hip-hop community to build upon Def Jam's fantastic legacy and move the company into its next groundbreaking era."
Jay-Z, who is scheduled to take up the reins at Def Jam on Jan. 3, created shock waves when he announced that the Grammy-nominated The Black Album would be his final solo production.
The album debuted at the top of the charts, a feat Jigga made look easy during his tenure as a hip-hopster.
Jay-Z's ongoing musical acclaim didn't end with the success of The Black Album. Since cutting his solo career short, two of Jay-Z's collaborative efforts have debuted at number one--Best of Both Worlds: Unfinished Business, with sparring partner R. Kelly, and the current number-one album, Collision Course, with Linkin Park.
To complete Jay-Z's going-out-on-top extravaganza, he has been nominated for three Grammys--Best Rap Album for The Black Album and Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song for "99 Problems."
Beyoncé's beau was upbeat about the next stage in his career.
"I have inherited two of the most important brands in hip-hop, Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella," Jay-Z said in a statement.
"L.A. Reid and the Universal Music Group have given me the opportunity to manage the companies I have contributed to my whole career. I feel this is a giant step for me and the entire artist community."
Jay-Z and Linkin Park Collide on Top
Big day for Jay-Z.
On the same day the hip-hopster was officially named president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings (he starts Jan. 3), his latest CD topped the charts--the second time in just over a month that he's debuted at number one.
The supposedly retired rapper teamed with alt-rockers Linkin Park on Collision Course, which outsold all comers last week. The Jigga's last high-profile collaboration, the litigious disaster Best of Both Worlds: Unfinished Business with R. Kelly, hit the top spot in early November. Now, five weeks later, Jay-Z repeated the feat with Linkin Park.
The mash-up disc Collision Course moved 368,000 copies for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures released Wednesday, making the new release better than the Best. The new tally topped the R. Kelly-affiliated disc's first-week numbers by a whopping 153,000 copies.
This is the third time this year that Jay-Z has been mashed-up to make headlines. The trend, which mixes together songs from different artists, went mainstream when DJ Danger Mouse mashed Jay-Z's farewell solo release, The Black Album, with the Beatles' White Album to create the Grey Album. Soon after, Cheap Cologne mixed Jay-Z's The Black Album with Metallica's own Black Album for--you guessed it--the Double Black Album. Upon hearing these bootlegs, Jay-Z contacted Linkin Park about doing an official mash-up.
Originally planning just one song, Jay-Z and Linkin Park wound up creating six new tracks, including mash-ups of "Papercut" with "Big Pimpin'," "Faint" with "Jigga What?" and the radio smash mix of "Numb" with "Encore."
The Jay-Z-Linkin Park pairing bumped U2 from the top spot. The Irish rockers slipped to number two as How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sold 288,000 copies to bring its two-week tally to 1.1 million.
Inaugural American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson bowed at three with her sophomore disc, Breakaway, selling 250,000 units. In 2003, her debut album, Thankful, topped the charts, and season two stars Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken followed suit with numbers ones later that year. Though American Idol's star power seemed unstoppable at the time, all four Idol solo albums released in 2004 failed to repeat the top-charting glory.
Erstwhile Jay-Z rival Nas opened at number five with his double-disc Street's Disciple moving 232,000 discs. The rapper's dad, jazz trumpeter Olu Dara, appears on the single "Bridging the Gap." The most controversial track is "These Are Our Heroes," with jabs at Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant.
Jay-Z Party Enrages NYPD
Plans to hold the New York Police Department's (NYPD) Christmas party at rapper JAY-Z's Manhattan nightclub 40/40 have allegedly enraged a number of officers, who believe the rapper's past convictions and the club's violent reputation make the venue inappropriate.
The committee that organises NYPD functions negotiated a deal to hold the bash at the Chelsea nightspot tomorrow night (15DEC04) but many policemen are refusing to attend, because Jay-Z accused the NYPD of "racial profiling" in 2000, after he was charged with assault following a knife attack on a record producer.
They also cite his 2001 arrest for possessing a loaded gun, and criminal activities at 40/40 as reasons why the club is unsuitable for the NYPD party, reports website PAGESIX.COM.
An insider says, "It's caused outrage, divisiveness and tremendous bitterness. Some officers are very upset. Jay-Z, whose real name is SHAWN CARTER, was arrested on gun charges, and he trashed the guys who did it as racist. And we've arrested bouncers at 40/40 in the past. It's just wrong to hold it there."
An NYPD spokesman had "no comment".