Jay Z is patiently waiting in a studio in London to play me some tracks from his much anticipated Blueprint 3, the final album in a trilogy which began in 2001 and set a precedent that most other rappers and hip hop artists have yet to achieve.
At almost 40, the man also known as Beyoncé’s hubby is still on top of his game. In fact, he is dead focused on his iPod, which contains much of the tracks off Blueprint 3. As he presses play, I realize that he remains the undisputed king of modern hip hop.
Q. Is this new album, Blueprint 3, yet another new blueprint for rap?
A. Yes. I call it the new classic because it takes the traditional approach of making music, but it’s a blueprint for the next generation because the first generation was based on the soul samples and the music that I heard growing up. The second Blueprint was all over the place ’cause it was all my musical influences and I was pulling from Lenny Kravitz in rock to Sean Paul in R&B. This one is like we’re becoming those icons that we all looked up to.
Q. A lot of rap nowadays sounds the same, doesn’t it?
A. Yeah, only for those reasons. It’s like a Catch-22 situation. Before, a person could make an album and not have a record on the radio and still go gold. It’s not happening in today’s climate so there’s a lot of pressure on artists.
Q. Your songs often read like journals. They’re very introspective at times. Is it therapeutic for you?
A. Yeah, because as a person I’m not really talkative. My whole family’s like that. We keep a lot of things in. So for me, music is like therapy. It allows me to say what I want to say.
Q. What would you be doing if you hadn’t become a musician?
A. I’d probably be locked up or something to be honest. I don’t think I would have stopped doing music had I not found something that I loved more or something that could occupy my time and pay well. Something would have happened. I would either have gone to jail or gotten killed. Hip hop saved my life, like that Lupe song (starts signing): “Hip hop, you saved my life.”
Q. Do you think you’ve given hope to other young people in difficult situations?
A. Definitely. My journey has been well-documented and people have seen where I came from and where I am and they’re like, “Man, this guy’s from Marcy Projects. He’s not from somewhere that we can’t relate to.”
Q. There’s an hommage to your native New York on Blueprint 3. What is it about that city that captivates so many people?
A. It’s a melting pot of all different types of people, co-mingling and hanging out at the same places; the speed in which it moves, 24 hours a day; you can catch a cab to anywhere. Just the excitement and the feeling of the city is the centre of the world. It really is. It’s an incredible city.
Q. You announced your retirement a few years ago. It didn’t work out too well!
A. I sucked at that (Laughs).