Five interesting lessons from Jay-Z interview with Terry Gross

NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed rapper and cultural icon Jay-Z last month and it proved one of the more interesting episodes of one of the best, longest-running radio shows around. Jay-Z was promoting his new book Decoded (about which Amazon has an interesting video interview).

You should go ahead and listen to the interview right now.

All the highlights are here, but you should look for these discussions in particular, all of which can be found in this transcript, in addition to another longer-form interview.


Five clearest lessons from Jay-Z’s interview:

  1. We created a drug-addicted generation and put them in charge of raising our poorest, most vulnerable children: Jay-Z talks about “crack-head” adults and violence fractured a rooted respect for authority and elders. Everything has been broken since.
  2. The illegal drug trade is an endemic part of the local economy: Jay-Z said he had a job interview, sorta, to start selling crack, and it speaks to a yearning for structure. He also spoke about his mother knowing he dealt because, he said, everyone in the 1980s was either using or benefiting from the flow of trafficking. Yup, urban blight and cyclical violence and chronic poverty is awfully complicated.
  3. Rap music and its culture come more from scared and overwhelmed teenage boys than violent killing machines: Jay-Z says ‘the music leads first,’ so, unlike rock stars who spend years playing in front of crowds first, rappers are thrust onto a stage without any experience. they’re nervous and look like it, but now that’s become a part of the culture.
  4. Boys act like they hate women and then older rappers just follow the musical form: the genre and a rapper’s first music comes from teenagers and that immature worldview.
  5. Memorizing lyrics gives the sense of power and talent, but nobody can do it flawlessy: Jay-Z said he’s ‘lost plenty material’

It interests me, though, when someone like Terry dives deeply into an interview like this. Because, while the past 15 years or so Jay-Z has had this businessman style, some accounts seem to describe his youth as being the good kid. Whenever Jay walks around with those dark sunglasses and suits, I think of an earlier sidekick role he played that, in addition to other tracks, produced Hawaiin Sophie.

Perhaps because of that long tenure, he still has plenty of interesting things to say.

In his interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I was particularly interested in the 40-year-old rapper talking about changing the genre to welcome aging artists like himself.

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