Decoding Jay-Z

By Drum Digital
01 December 2010

ROLLING through New York City in the back seat of his black Maybach, Jay-Z touches a button to let more light through the sunroof, then tugs back a window curtain to peek out at the rainy streets of his hometown.

The rapper went from a Brooklyn housing project to a top corner office near Times Square, a path traced in Empire State of Mind, his anthem to the city.At age 40 and still rapping, Jay-Z finds himself in the rare zone where cultural standing and corporate power meet.

He’s had partnerships with Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, Budweiser, Reebok and Microsoft. Influential business publication Forbes magazine put him on the cover of its current 400 Richest People in America issue, even though at $450 million (R3,15 billion) he’s only on his way to cracking the list ($1 billion ? R7 billion ? was required this year). He’s posted more No 1 albums on the Billboard 200 list (the music industry’s most important chart) than anybody but the Beatles, has won 10 Grammy awards and sold 45 million albums.

Apart from his music company, Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s business ventures include an ownership stake in basketball team the New Jersey Nets; a sports-bar chain called the 40/40 Club and a restaurant in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village called the Spotted Pig; creative and operational control of the Rocawear clothing line he sold in 2007 for $204 million (about R1,4 billion); and the Carol’s Daughter beauty line he co-owns.

In the early days of his entrepreneurship there were awkward exchanges with whitecollar guys trying to relate to him.

“In the beginning it was, ‘Sup, man!’” he says in his soft speaking voice. “But at this point it’s pretty much accepted that I walk both worlds naturally.”

And yet he is annoyed at the lack of respect for the genre of hip-hop, which some people still dismiss because of ugly words and violent imagery.

When he shares strawberry milkshakes with billionaire businessman Warren Buffett, meets with the president or goes on holiday in the south of France, he does so on behalf of “the culture,” he says, by which he means hip-hop.

And to state his case more clearly, the rapper born Shawn Carter has turned his hand to writing something other than songs.

His first book, Decoded, is a mix of music history, social commentary and memoir, with an emphasis on his move from the crack trade to the music business.

The 336-page book is structured around the lyrics to 36 Jay-Z songs, each handily footnoted to explain his images, slang and double meanings.

The revealing line, “No lie, just know I chose my own fate/I drove by the fork in the road and went straight,” is explained in a footnote to the song Renegade: “I went straight – stopped selling drugs – but I also didn’t accept the false choice between poverty and breaking the law.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 9 December 2010

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