There are plenty of great scene details in Mark Binelli’s Jay-Z Rolling Stone cover story, going on newsstands this Friday: Jay discussing tie knot sizes with his personal stylist in his 39th-floor corner office overlooking Times Square; Jay gushing over Drake’s enunciation skills; Jay mispronouncing a former Frasier star’s name at a public charity function (Chelsea Grammer!). It’s also just a great snapshot of this particular odd moment in the 40-year-old’s career, where hit singles and meetings with eccentric Russian billionaires come in equal measure: Yeah, annoying bloggers like us take potshots at his rapping skills, but he’s still, as he gladly points out, just, if not more, relevant to hip-hop — and not just pop culture in general, like, say Diddy — than he’s ever been. (Plus, at one point Binelli calls Jay out for wearing Timberlands even though they were declared passé on “Off That.”) Our favorite bits, though, come when Jay discusses why he cut short his tenure as president of Def Jam.
When asked if he can remember specific meetings where he felt frustrated by the label’s inability to change, he says, “Honestly? All of them. The culture there has been institutionalized. You had record executives who’ve been sitting in their office for 20 years because of one act. ‘But that’s the guy who signed Mötley Crüe!’ Seriously? That was fucking 25 years ago.
Excellent point! Also:
When you look at what’s happening, the record business is purging itself,” Jay continues. “Def Jam released 57 albums one year. Are there 57 good artists in the world, let alone on one label? If you have 57 artists and four of them break, that’s bad business. What a terrible model. I told them, ‘How about this idea — instead of spending $300 million to break four acts, why don’t you guys give me a credit line, and I’ll just do things. I won’t make music. I’ll go buy some headphones, or buy a clothing line, just be part of the culture.’ But the money scared them off, because they’re not used to thinking in that way.
Honestly, if we’re Def Jam, hearing Jay-Z tell us to “give me a credit line, and I’ll just do things” would make us a little skittish as well. But things are falling apart anyways, and it is Jay-Z … so maybe it’s worth trying, just in case?
How Jay-Z Became King: Inside the New Issue [RS]