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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