Jay-Z Talks About Trump, Karmic Debt, And His Legacy After Rap
Hip-hop artist, and entrepreneur Jay-Z talked about O.J. Simpson, compassion and getting older — that, and a whole lot more — in a two-hour video interview with Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times.
Here are some excerpts from the New York Times interview, which was published on Nov. 29, 2017:
On inequality, being Black and politics:
Jay-Z: If I come with 40 million people … I can effect change and get whomever in office because this many people, we’re all on the same page. Right? … 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 the most important thing to teach his children:
Jay-Z: The most important thing I think out of all this is to teach compassion and to identify with everyone’s struggle and to know these people made these sacrifices for us to be where we are and to push that forward — for us. I believe that’s the most important thing to show them, because they don’t have to know things that I knew growing up. Like being tough.
On lessons from O.J. Simpson:
Baquet: What do you want a young white kid to hear in that song (the song “The Story of O.J.” from the album “4:44,” 2017) that maybe a young black kid would not hear?
Jay-Z: I think when you make music, you want people to hear different things, and then you want it to start a dialogue. Because that’s how we get to understanding. “Oh, you felt that way about it.” “This is actually what I meant, because this happened, and these things happened, that led to me saying this specific thing.”
On hiding biases, concealing racism, and the great thing about Trump:
Jay-Z: 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. (In 2014, Sterling, then owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was banned for life from the N.B.A. after a recording emerged in which he made racist comments about black people to a female friend.) 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.
You can’t have a solution until you start dealing with the problem: What you reveal, you heal.
On being in therapy:
Baquet: Have you been in therapy?
Jay-Z: Yeah, yeah.
Baquet: First off, how does Jay-Z find a therapist? Not in the Phone book, right?
Jay-Z: No, through great friends of mine. You know. Friends of mine who’ve been through a lot and, you know, come out on the other side as, like, whole individuals.
Baquet: What was that like, being in therapy? What did you talk about that you had never acknowledged to yourself or talked about?
Jay-Z: I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.
And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.” … You don’t want me to see your pain … So you put on this shell of this tough person that’s really willing to fight me and possibly kill me ’cause I looked at you. You know what I’m saying, like, so … Knowing that and understanding that changes life completely.
Baquet: Was that a moment that came from therapy?
Jay-Z: Yeah — just realizing that, oh my goodness, these young men coming from these … they just in pain … 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.
Baquet: You can’t connect because of the way you feel about yourself, you mean?
Jay-Z: Yes. In my case, like it’s, it’s deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity …
On taking the conversation back to Trump:
Jay-Z: Again, back to our president. You would think, Man, after the composed manner in which Obama stood at that podium, the dignity he brought to that place, that this couldn’t exist. But it does.
Baquet: Is there a part of you, because you have a certain amount of money, that gets a little more conservative, or has having money not changed your politics?
Jay-Z: No. No, because I believe in people. I want what’s best for people. I love people. You know, so I don’t have that sort of thing, like, I want to vote Republican just to save more money.
On what’s next after rap:
Jay-Z: 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… 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.
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 play forever. And so my whole thing is to identify with the truth. Not to be the youngest, hottest, new, trendy thing.
On selling drugs, and karmic debt
Baquet: One of the things you rap about also is the pain you caused the people you sold drugs to. Have you ever had conversations with people like that you caused pain to as a young man and talked about it?
Jay-Z: No, I haven’t … you can’t sacrifice others for your life. There’s a karmic debt that has to be paid. Had I had the level of consciousness then that I have now, things would have turned out differently. And just knowing that … I definitely want everyone to know that.
Baquet: Do black artists have a different obligation than white artists?
Jay-Z: Yeah, ’cause I have an obligation … to further conversation of an entire race of people. And to . . . Not me — all of us. But specifically me … It’s O.K. to think. It’s O.K. to be smart. You know, there was a time when people was like, “you talkin’ white.” It’s like, what does that even mean? … Intelligence is not a tribute to color… You know, so I have an obligation to further the conversation and always, you know, our stature in America. Our emotional maturity… it’s what you’ve been charged with in life. And I believe since the beginning of time the poets have been charged with that. Like it was the poets that’s explaining the emotions and making these songs that people like, “Oh, that’s what I feel.”
On the spate of documentaries about O.J.
Baquet: Which message feels like the right [one]?
Jay-Z: They both, they both dual messages at the same time. It’s like, be proud of who you are and realize that we’re gonna get further together. Don’t check out. You can’t just turn your back on the place you come from. You come from a community. Your job is to uplift it now.
On dealing with marital strife and infidelity:
Jay-Z: 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. So, you know, most people don’t want to do that. You don’t want to look inside yourself.
And so you walk away.
Read more at New York Times.