Jay-Z in Conversation

T Magazine, the style magazine for The New York Times, just released an in depth interview with Jay-Z covering a range of topics, including the current state of racial politics in America, what it means to be an aging hip hop icon, and what responsibility black artists have to the larger culture.

Kadahj Bennett, who plays Verb in Hype Man, sent along the video of the interview below — we’ve been talking a lot about Verb’s emotional journey, his response to court-mandated therapy, and the way his relationship to music and his role within the group shifts over the course of the play. Some of Jay-Z’s statements here seem like they would resonate with Verb, and it’s interesting to think about how an icon like Jay-Z might serve as a model to younger artists grappling with questions about their place in the industry.

The feature on the NYT website has the full transcript and also includes some cool visual art and annotations — a few excerpted questions from NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Jay-Z’s responses are below, but it’s worth checking out the entire interview.

BAQUET: …Do you expect black people and white people and young people and old people to hear different things in your music? I’m sure I heard some things in that song that you may not even have thought of ’cause I’m a different generation. What do you want a young white kid to hear in that song that maybe a young black kid would not hear?
JAY-Z: That’s a great question. 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.”

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.”

BAQUET: Do black artists have a different obligation than white artists? Do you feel you have a different kind of obligation to the people who listen to you than if you were a white musician?

JAY-Z: …I have an obligation to further the conversation and always, you know, our stature in America. Our emotional maturity. And so on and so forth. It’s humbling; at the same time it’s like, you know, 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.”

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21 Rappers Explain What Hip-Hop Means to Them

As we dive into table work this week, we’re exploring each character’s relationship to hip hop and asking questions about how they all fell in love with music, what made them want to work and perform in the industry, and what motivates each of them to keep pursuing success (however they may define it). This XXL Magazine piece featuring 21 rappers responding to the question “What does hip-hop mean to you?” is an interesting snap shot of how some current artists think about their own relationship to the genre.

We’ve excerpted a few of the XXL interview responses below — how do these answers align with the way Verb, Pinnacle, and Peep One might answer the question?

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Hip-hop, to me, is definitely a lifestyle. It’s definitely more than just a genre of music. I think every genre of music has a lifestyle, but it’s more. It’s really a culture, man. It’s more than a lifestyle, it’s culture. It gives people a way of life. I think why a lot of conscious artists are cherished these days is because it’s so much commercial. It’s not even what it’s about, it’s just because there’s so much of it. You know when you see a video, you know it’s gonna have cars and hoes in it. You know somebody is gonna be talking about the same ol’ shit, but it’s about balance. It’s not bad to talk about it, it’s about the balance. I’m not always in the club and I’m not always hanging out with model bitches in front of a car. But I do it. I’m also into other shit as well. I kind of give the people the best of both worlds.  — B.o.B

 

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Like anything else, it grows and evolves and changes. Any art form never stays in one place. To me, it started out as a way to express myself, a way to turn ideas into something tangible. And as a vehicle; a vehicle to make something out of nothing. I never knew what the fuck I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t wanna go to school, I just wanted to stay in Oakland and just figure it out. And when I got a scholarship to go to school in New Orleans and my mom pushed me to go, I got down there and was even more convinced that I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted to do with my life. I definitely knew I didn’t want to work a regular-ass job and I didn’t want to be miserable forever. Music became the vehicle to, like I said, make something out of nothing and make a living doing something I loved to do so much. And to talk to people and tell my story and to watch that impact people, and just connect to people through music. This is the best fuckin’ job in the world.  — G-Eazy

 

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Hip-hop means progression to me. Life—everything for me. It’s a way I support my family. It’s the way I escape reality when shit gets too rough. It’s a way for me instead of going and getting mad or doing something dumb, I can just go write a song about it. It’s a way of refuge. It’s brought on a bigger meaning these last couple of years just because of the impact it has on my life and how I can affect others. I loved that. I loved the fact that I can make somebody who is having a bad day listen to one of my jams and now they not tripping no more. That’s a lot on it, dog.  — Problem

 

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It means everything in a sense. It means the outlet, the voice. It means the voice, especially coming from the environment that I come from. It’s almost like our guidance. It’s our school. It’s our news channel. It’s our everything. So for me, hip-hop is basically a way of life.  — Young Buck

Read the full list of responses on XXL’s website.

The World of Hype Man: Scenic Inspiration

As our design for Hype Man begins to come together, the team has been looking at research images for inspiration. Here’s a peek at some of the photos that have been informing our design process!

Most of the play’s action takes place in a mid-level rehearsal/recording studio space — these scenic images are informing our sense of how equipment is set up in the space, the way acoustic panels and rugs are used to control sound, and the overall quality of the materials that might be in the space:

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We’ve also been looking at some images that visually depict sound waves and EQ bars in abstract ways:

For the Tonight Show performance in the play, images from late night shows have been a valuable resource for scenic and lighting concepts:

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More exciting design updates to come!

Verb’s Top 5 Hype Men: Flavor Flav

“So obviously Flavor Flav is the diamond standard” — Verb in HYPE MAN, p. 84

The first well-known hype man that Verb name drops in the play is Flavor Flav, a founding member of the group Public Enemy.

Flav’s onstage persona is playful and loud, and he’s best known for yelling his name or interjecting his catchphrase “Yeahhh, boyeeee!” during performances. His primary role in the group — getting crowds excited and pumped up — was crucial in bringing some levity to balance the group’s politically-charged music. He’s also known for his flamboyant appearance, often sporting an oversize clock around his neck and wearing bold clothing and accessories that add even more flair to his hype man antics. See him in action below: