Jay-Z discusses his life and politics with much of the candor that permeates his Grammy-nominated album “4:44” in his new cover story for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. It debuted online today (November 29) ahead of the issue’s December 3 print edition.
Jay-Z is on the cover of our 2017 Holiday issue. @nytimes executive editor Dean Baquet sat down with the rapper and music mogul to discuss politics, marriage, the state of rap — and being a black man in Trump’s America. The T Holiday issue is out on newsstands inside the @nytimes this Sunday. Click the link in our bio to watch the interview and read the story. Art by © Henry Taylor (@chinatowntaylor), courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe (@blumandpoe), Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo, created exclusively for T.
The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet spoke to the rapper and music mogul about a constellation of topics that feature in the album, including racism, Donald Trump’s presidency and reconciling with his wife, Beyoncé. Here are five must-read excerpts from the interview:
On “The Story of O.J.”:
Jay-Z: It’s a nuanced song, you know. It’s like, I’m specifically speaking to us. And about who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing it forward and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions. Because in America, it is what it is. And there’s a solution for us: If we had a power base together, it would be a much different conversation than me having a conversation by myself and trying to change America by myself. If I come with 40 million people, there’s a different conversation, right? It’s just how it works. I can effect change and get whomever in office because this many people, we’re all on the same page. Right? So the conversation is, like, “I’m not rich, I’m O.J.” For us to get in that space and then disconnect from the culture. That’s how it starts. This is what happens. And then you know what happens? You’re on your own, and you see how that turned out.
Baquet: Was it a reminder, too, that the thing O.J. forgot, maybe, was that as rich as he was, as entitled as his life was, he was reminded very forcefully when he became a subject of racial debate that he was also a Black man, whether he accepted that or not?
Jay-Z: That’s right. Absolutely. And for us, like I’m saying, to speak to that the point is, “Don’t forget that,” because that’s really not the goal. The goal is not to be successful and famous. That’s not the goal. The goal is, if you have a specific God-given ability, is to live your life out through that. One. And two, we have a responsibility to push the conversation forward until we’re all equal. Till we’re all equal in this place. Because until everyone’s free, no one’s free, and that’s just a fact.
On raising Black children:
Baquet: Do you worry at all that as much as you will teach them history, and as much as you yourself are seen as an important figure among Black people in America, that there’s something they’ll be missing? Or do you think that’s silly, [that] in fact they’ll have so many advantages that that’s too negative of a way to approach it?
Jay-Z: Exactly. Like, they’ll be who they are, right? And it’s just certain tools that you would hope for your child to have. You know, like, again, fairness and compassion and empathy and a loving heart. And those things translate in any environment. Those are the main base things that you want—well, for me, I would want my child to have. You know? Treat people as they are, no matter who they are, no matter where they sit in the world, not to, like, be super nice to someone at a high position or mean to someone who they’ve deemed to be below them. I can’t buy you love, I can’t show it to you. I can show you affection and I can, you know, I can express love, but I can’t put it in your hand. I can’t put compassion in your hand. I can’t show you that. So the most beautiful things are things that are invisible. That’s where the important things lie.
On Donald Trump and Donald Sterling:
Baquet: Some people think that the election of Donald Trump has revived the debate about race in America. Some people think that, in fact, there’s always been racism in America; that it hasn’t changed and that the debate isn’t any different. It’s just people are paying attention to it. What do you think?
Jay-Z: Yeah, there was a great Kanye West line in one of [his] songs: “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it.” [“Never Let Me Down,” from West’s 2004 album, “The College Dropout.”] Take a step back. I think when Donald Sterling got kicked out of the N.B.A., I thought it was a misstep, because when you kick someone out, of course he’s done wrong, right? But you also send everyone else back in hiding. People talk like that. They talk like that. Let’s deal with that.
I wouldn’t just, like, leave him alone. [There] should have been some sort of penalties. He could have lost some draft picks. But getting rid of him just made everyone else go back into hiding, and now we can’t have the dialogue. The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation.
On confronting pain through music:
Baquet: I’m trying to picture the scene when you and your wife both talked about making these very confessional, open albums. Was it difficult to say: “I’m gonna talk about the problems in our marriage. I’m gonna talk about how we almost lost things.” And for her to say: “I’m gonna talk about my pain and anger at you.” What were those conversations like?
Jay-Z: Again, it didn’t—it didn’t happen in that way. It happened—we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.
And then the music she was making at that time was further along. So her album came out as opposed to the joint album that we were working on. Um, we still have a lot of that music. And this is what it became. There was never a point where it was like, “I’m making this album.” I was right there the entire time. … And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know. [I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.
You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.
T also published this video version of Hov and Baquet’s conversation: