JAY-Z Details The Pain & Progress That Came From Making 4:44 & Lemonade (Video)
Published one day after he led the 2018 Grammy nominations with eight, JAY-Z’s latest New York Times interview, with Dean Baquet, has been released. The 35-minute video conversation delves heavily into “The Story Of O.J.,” one of the individual 4:44 moments for which Jay was nominated. Additionally, the two Black men discuss race relations in America, Barack Obama’s Presidency, and family.
JAY-Z, the same artist who forecast his nine-figure wealth on 2001’s “U Don’t Know” opens up about what he is learning in his current space. Dean Baquet proposes that Chapter 1 of Jay’s career focused on his street exploits. Chapter 2 emphasized the wealth and power. Replying, Jay describes his current period’s mantra as “Oh my goodness, oh, the most beautiful things are not these objects. The most beautiful things are inside. The most beautiful things are the friendships I have. I have really golden friendships. The compassion and the person I’ve become — that’s what this chapter is. You know? And the conversation with my mom. Those are the real enriching experiences.” Jay learned his mother was lesbian during what he says were his teenage years. Recently, he has been able to have deep conversations with his mom about her sexual orientation and other aspects of life.
Asked where he can draw inspiration moving ahead, Jay says “I think that Rap in particular is a young man’s sport, that I’ll move out of that white-hot space. Rap is about the gift of discovery. The white-hot space is when it’s fresh and new, and it’s like, this is the hottest song ever. I mean I pushed the window…I stretched it. Oh, I stood in that window a really long time. But still, no, I don’t think people are looking to me as like, The Thing.”
If 4:44 becomes JAY-Z’s first “Album Of The Year,” he will receive the award at 48 years old. That challenges notions of Hip-Hop and ageism. In the discussion, Hova explains why while his “white-hot” days may be closing, he’s proving new value to the medium. “At the end of the day we gonna find out it’s not about the white-hot space, but it’s about finding the truth. That white-hot space — people think it’s the biggest thing, but it’s really small. It’s almost like a trend.” He proposes, “Would you rather be a trend, or you rather be Ralph Lauren? You know what I mean; like, you rather be a trend, or you rather be forever? I’m the person that looked at the ‘Mona Lisa’ and be like, Man, that’s gonna be cool in 40 years. I play forever. And so my whole thing is to identify with the truth. Not to be the youngest, hottest, new, trendy thing.”
Jay also discusses his therapy. While some (including Dean Baquet) have compared the June 30 album to a process of therapy, it was a byproduct of one of music and pop culture’s toughest exteriors seeking professional help. Since 1996’s “Regrets,” Jay has been more vulnerable than many seem to properly acknowledge. However, just like his persona in business, those flashes are always on Jay’s terms. 4:44 goes to challenging places in the artist’s marriage, race relations in America, and tensions with superstar “little brother” Kanye West, all in a way different than Jay’s previous 12 albums.
The artist whose ’90s and early 2000s lyrics emphasized a detachment in many relationships says, “You have to survive. So you go into survival mode, and when you go into survival mode what happen? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect.” Asked if the disconnect comes from the way he sees himself, Jay replies, “Yes. In my case, like it’s, it’s deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity—”
Infidelity is a theme of both 4:44 and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Both sides of the married couple put their private matters in public, through music. “It actually started out [that] we were working on material together,” Jay reveals at 16:30 in the video interview (this segment is not included in the transcript). “And it became Lemonade; [Beyoncé] went off and did her thing. It just felt like she should go first and she should share her truths with the world. So [4:44] wasn’t based on [responding to her album]. It wasn’t even like that. It was just really honest.” Jay adds that while the plans of a collaborative album shifted, it evolved for the best. “The music she was making at that time was further along. So [Lemonade] 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 [Beyoncé and I had a conversation like], ‘I’m making this album.’ I was right there the entire time.”
Later, he admits the Carters healed through creativity. “We were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.” While he describes that process as “uncomfortable,” he also likens it to safety during destructive forces. “The best place in the, you know, hurricane is like in the middle of it…We were sitting in the eye of that hurricane.” Jay, who offered charitable aid to Hurricane Maria along with Fat Joe, also added sensitivity to the illustration. “But the best place is right in the middle of the pain…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.”
JAY-Z points to many families who are not able to weather that storm, as he describes. “You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50% 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…most people don’t want to do that. You don’t want to look inside yourself…and so you walk away.”
The extensive interview also confirms reports that JAY-Z and Kanye have recently spoken, and are working to mend relations.