Jay Z on Kanye
I think it’s a bunch of people who don’t know anything about rap, and have probably never even heard a Kanye West album, are doing the nominating, and they say, “Kanye West. I know that name. That’s the guy who made the comments about the president that time! He’s nominated!” That’s how the process works, and I think that’s part of Kanye’s frustration. Me, I look at it for what it is. But Kanye is so passionate about it. I mean, the guy shot three “Jesus Walks” videos. Three. Two of them he shot with his own money just so he could get it right. He really cares about it. And then, back to the original point, his passion kicks in and he takes things too far . . . He doesn’t realize that that girl, Taylor Swift, is just like him. That was her moment. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do anything. It’s not her awards show. So he just did the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.

On his music
I think it comes from me trying to tell the story in the most clear, concise, and truthful way—taking those everyday words and phrases and capturing them in a way that they become something else.
The people who write the headlines at places like the New York Post do something similar. They turn these phrases that you know into hooks. Sometimes they’re clever. Sometimes they’re stupid, like TIGER’S TALE. [laughs] Actually, that was pretty clever. Rakimsaid, “I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard/Flip it/Now it’s a daily word” [from “Follow the Leader,” off Eric B. & Rakim’s 1988 album Follow the Leader]. That’s what I’m talking about.

On the success
Well, what I was trying to do with this album—which is the same thing I was trying to do on Kingdom Come [2006]—is go somewhere that hadn’t been gone before, to try to chart a new territory in rap. The reason I’ve been grounded, though, and able to make albums, is because I’ve allowed my friends to come with me and voice an opinion. That’s who keeps you grounded—the people who have known you longest. People who don’t know you, you don’t know their motives. They smile at you all day, “Oh, that’s great. You’ve done it again! You’re the greatest!” And that’s not good for an artist. You’ve gotta keep the people that have been around you, who saw you when you didn’t have anything, so they have the confidence to say, “Get out of here. That shit is bullshit!” I welcome that.

On the President Barack Obama
It’s unbelievable because it’s so far away from where I come from. We were the kids who were ignored by every politician. We didn’t have the numbers, the vote, to put anybody in office, because no matter who was in the office, we didn’t think that it would affect change where we lived. So nobody went out and voted. For me, being with Obama or having dinner with Bill Clinton . . . It’s crazy. It’s mind-blowing, because where I come from is just another world. We were just ignored by politicians—by America in general.

On how he has developed
Well, when I did my first album, I was 26, so I was a little more mature than a lot of other guys—you know, to a lot of the rappers’ credit, they’re making albums when they’re 17. I can’t imagine the shit I would’ve said when I was 17. I can’t even tell you how reckless my thinking was at that age. Nas made Illmatic [1994] when he was 19, which was an incredible accomplishment—I can’t even understand it. But when my first album [Reasonable Doubt] came out, I was 26, which is why it was a little bit more introspective. Plus, I was already out on my own at 15, 16 years old. My mom didn’t put me out, but she did the best thing for me. She allowed me to search. She gave me a long leash, like, “All right. It’s tough out there. Go ahead.” So I grew up really early and I’ve always been aware of these things. My awareness of them just intensifies with every year.


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