Jay-Z on making Fade to Black
Sometimes I really love this gig. Just when I think it's all actors and their pretentiousness, the opportunity comes to meet someone I really respect. Jay-Z, the Jigga Man, Sean Carter, hands down the best rapper out there. Year after year, he's released the most solid hip hop albums. His catalog of work is extraordinary and he's done it in a cool, low-key way. A lot has happened since this interview. The incident with R. Kelly and the pepper spray took place the following weekend. It looks like their friendship and professional relationship is over. R. Kelly is suing Jay-Z for ending the tour, all this when their new album is number one in the country. I'm not sure if Jay would have still done the interviews promoting Fade to Black, but it would have made the questions a lot more interesting.
How long did it take you to prepare and rehearse for the concert?
Jay-Z: Not long. I like to leave that feeling that you can mess up any second, like every time I rehearse the shows. I did Unplugged, that album for MTV, we rehearsed Saturday and we recorded Sunday. As far as the preparation for the show, getting people there was longer than the rehearsal time. I hadn't rehearsed with R. Kelly, I did two rehearsals with Mary [Mary J. Blige] and I hadn't rehearsed with Foxx [Foxxy Brown]. I hadn't rehearsed with Beyonce. You can add that up. It's very short.
It says "A Shawn Carter Film" in the opening credits, but you didn't direct the film. What was your input in putting it together?
Jay-Z: Just my voice and shot selections and different things like that. And the tone and the feeling of the movie, that's basically it, nothing special.
Did you already have the movie in mind when you were recording the "Black" album?
Jay-Z: No. The recording of the CD was supposed to be for an extra bonus on the album, some DVD footage, but of course we missed that. I'm not as efficient as you think. Then, we shot the Garden because we thought something special would happen to put it out as a DVD. Then we got the first fifteen minutes and it was like hold on. This is more than just a DVD. This is a journey for a kid from Brooklyn to play the biggest stage in the world. This was much bigger than that. It was inspirational also, because of where I come from and the fact I couldn't get a deal in the beginning. It just became this thing.
Was there anything that you didn't put in the movie that you wanted to?
Jay-Z: Not in the movie, but there is some extras in the DVD that will probably come out next year some time.
You could feel the tremendous energy from the Madison Square Garden crowd. Describe the feeling you had onstage?
Jay-Z: I couldn't feel it at the time. It took for me to watch the movie to really say like "Wow, that was huge". Because at the time, like I said, with such little rehearsal time, I'm focused on what's coming on next. I was just focused on what was going on, the technical aspect of it, the emotional aspect kicked in later when I looked at it. I was like, "This is crazy". When I saw the first 15 minutes, that's when I was blown away.
You say in the film, "I feel myself tearing this place down." Where do you get your focus from?
Jay-Z: I watch a lot of sports, so that's just some sports jargon. I really adapted that into my real life. You know what I'm saying? You have to go through it first. You have to see it. That it's some Zen Phil Jackson shit. Excuse my language.
Do you get nervous when you're on stage? Do you use that to make the shows more edgy?
Jay-Z: Not after the first song. I get butterflies, but by that time, I'm still thinking about the execution of what I'm going to do. I'm preoccupied. And then when the first note hits, I'm in it. I'm so far in it, I'm not nervous at all.
Why did you decide to narrate the movie yourself?
Jay-Z: Who else could tell that story? That's how I felt. It had to be in my voice. This is one of the most personal things I put out. I never allow people in the studio during my recording process or listen to my conversations with friends. I'm not that type of person, so I figured it had to be in my voice.
Do you have other movie projects in the works?
Jay-Z: No, I'm going to take this one at a time. This has been a long day for me. I still have a show tonight.
There are a lot of backstage moments captured in the film? Which one was your favorite?
Jay-Z: When I seen the film, my backstage favorite moment was Slick Rick passing Ghostface [Killa] the chain. That's a huge hip-hop moment right there. But I didn't see that live, I was too busy running back and forth. Like when I wasn't on stage, I was changing, so I was in the change booth. When I come out, I run back on stage, so I didn't really get in on the act too much backstage. But when I seen the film, seen that moment, I was like, "Wow, you caught that?"
What are your favorite songs to perform live?
Jay-Z: Right now, my favorite two songs to perform are "PSA" and "Encore". Forget about it.
I thought it was fascinating watching you record. Was there any added pressure once the cameras were on you?
Jay-Z: You forget about them. You hear people that do reality shows say you forget they're there. You forget after a second. It's there every day, for a minute you're conscious and you have your extra cool on, but after fifteen minutes you just relax and you forget.
You've been so prolific in your career, releasing great album after album. You say this is the retirement album. Where are you going to put that energy?
Jay-Z: Hopefully into new artists, maybe I can channel that through new artists and you teach them how to be artists instead of making the hot club record or just one record. Make albums and have lengthy careers.
Why retire in the first place? What's the motivation behind that decision?
Jay-Z: Just to do something different and challenge myself somewhere else. I have this opportunity to open doors for the next generation of artists on the executive level. Why not at least try?
You mention in the film that the fans are making rappers afraid to be themselves. Is that something you're going to work on with new artists?
Jay-Z: That's my goal right there. All the real artists and the people that these guys look up to growing up have their vulnerable moments, Tupac with "Dear Momma", Biggie Smalls. Right now, it's so much pressure to get the hot single now and get the audience. No one is concentrating on the album.
Has the music business become too corporate? Is that the reason?
Jay-Z: It's the business of music now, instead of the music business. Exactly, we're putting the carriage before the horse. We have to make music first and then everything else is a by product of that.
How did you choose the songs that you played at the concert?
Jay-Z: It was two and a half hours. Trust me, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel after a minute. I just pick the songs that I knew either they was just hugely popular or they was songs that stuck with people forever like "Where I'm From" and "You Don't Know."
Are there any songs that you're tired of doing?
Jay-Z: I don't do them. If I'm tired of them, I just don't perform them. I never perform "Girls, Girls, Girls" or "Sunshine" or "Change Clothes". I don't perform a lot of songs that was quote unquote "hits". I don't care.
After a big concert like this, where does it go? Do you start playing stadium gigs like Giants Stadium?
Jay-Z: Giants Stadium is not the great place to play. Madison Square Garden is the perfect place to play. Giants Stadium because of the acoustics, its outdoors, and it's huge, so the sound is hitting you back. It's echoing and you don't feel it in your heart as much. When you're in an arena, you feel the music in your heart and the lighting is perfect. There's nothing like Madison Square Garden.
You spoke earlier of moving your career in a different direction. Everyone's talking about you taking over Def Jam records. Can you comment on that? Also, Def Jam has a big Alt Rock scene, what can you bring to help market those guys?
Jay-Z: I'm rock and roll, man. That's not a done deal. We're just talking. We'll see what happens with that situation. I'm an artist across the board. I know what good music is no matter what. I believe in good music and bad music, and that's it. Bad music is bad in rock, is bad in bluegrass, or whatever.
Do you think being a label head would put you at odds with Damon Dash, competing for acts?
Jay-Z: No, if it did, it would be fun. (laughs)
Dont't forget to also check out: Fade to Black