JAY-Z Details The Making Of '4:44' & Speaks On His Legacy In Hip-Hop
He covers the latest issue of 'T Magazine.'
JAY-Z is the cover star of T Magazine’s Dec. 3 Holiday issue and sat down with The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet to speak on his eventful 2017, along with his career highlights and personal growth over the last few years.
Earlier this year, the Brooklyn legend released 4:44, his 14th No. 1 album (the most by any solo act) and signed a $200 million deal with Live Nation. Just yesterday, JAY received eight Grammy nods for his latest album and has been nominated in three of the ceremony’s four main categories.
During the interview, he speaks on using art as therapy, especially to heal his marriage to Beyoncé.
"It happened—we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together," he says. "And then the music she was making at that time was further along. So her album 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 it was like, 'I’m making this album.' I was right there the entire time."
To catch up with his latest achievements and revisit his past, JAY sat down with T to recap the year, and we've included some highlights from the conversation below.
On telling the story of his life through music:
BAQUET: You've bared your soul so much. Not only in this album — you can sort of see the evolution of a person in your music. Part of me would think, Oh my god, I gotta talk about my marriage, I gotta talk about my mother, I gotta talk about my other ancestors. Part of me would think that would make me nuts. Does it make you nuts, or do you feel like the heart of your art is to tell the story of your life?
JAY-Z: That's who I — that's who I am. And I've done it from the beginning of my career. Two things: one, no one knew the characters [back then]. So it wasn't as impactful. And two, it wasn't coming from a place where it was as evolved. And it's very difficult. It's hard to hear songs back. It's hard to perform ... songs, but, um, I feel it's the most important work that I've done and I'm very proud of it and the effect that it's having on people. Even like the studio sessions, you know, we were having four-hour conversations after playing one song. I learned so much about people that was around me, just my friends, I learned things about them that I didn't know, in a 20-year relationship, just from this one song. So I knew it would have that sort of impact beyond myself. It's my responsibility as an artist to go to these places.
On pain in his past albums and vulnerability:
BAQUET: When I heard this latest album, and then I thought about the earlier albums, one theme was sort of reaching the promised land. You know, you've acquired influence, and not just money, but your life is good. And then when you listen to the newest album, you're thinking: He must have been in a lot of pain when life was good.
BAQUET: Is that true?
JAY-Z: Yeah. I did this song called "Song Cry."
JAY-Z: And the idea of the hook — "never seen it comin' down my eyes, but I gotta make the song cry." It tells you right there what I was, I was hiding. The strongest thing a man can do is cry. To expose your feelings, to be vulnerable in front of the world. That’s real strength. You know, you feel like you gotta be this guarded person. That’s not real. It’s fake.
BAQUET: Does that mean you were unhappy during that period and didn't have a handle on it, or what?
JAY-Z: Well, you compartmentalize, right? So you can be, you can be inside your body and be happy, but at the core of it, something else is going on.
BAQUET: As a parent, I thought one of the most painful scenes in the album was when you are talking about having almost lost your marriage, and what it would have been like to watch another man play football with your kid. Given that you have talked so much about your life in your music, are there things that you put a wall around? You've talked about the pain of growing up where you grew up, how you grew up, your father leaving early, the pain of your marriage, being in therapy: Are there things [about which] you say, "I'm not going there"?
JAY-Z: Yeah. And it mostly involves other people 'cause when other people are involved, you may be ready to expose these things, [but] it's also other people truth as well. A perfect example is my mom. I didn't have permission to do that song first. It's just like we had a beautiful conversation.
You can stream JAY-Z's entire discography here.