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 The death of Jay-Z and the birth of Shawn Carter the artist ...



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— Interview by Sway Calloway, with intro by Shaheem Reid

Jay-Z is one of the few MCs who command such respect that people feel compelled to dissect everything he says or does. And when he announced last year that he was retiring, fans listened even more carefully to every word and every lyric, hoping to find a clue that he wasn't serious.

Many thought they'd found a glimmer of hope in February when Kanye West released The College Dropout, which features Jay on "Never Let You Down": "Every fourth quarter, I like to Mike Jordan 'em/ #1 albums, what, I got like four of 'em/ More of them on the way/ The Eighth Wonder on the way/ Clear the way, I'm here to stay."

You don't have to be Perry Mason to figure out that Jay is rapping about making a comeback, right? Well, maybe not. While visiting MTV News last week, Jay clarified himself, explaining that the song was actually done a couple of years ago and that the Eighth Wonder album he warned was coming was actually a reference to The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.

  "99 Problems"
The Black Album
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
A new album is still way off Jay's radar. He wants to drive that home so much, he gets killed off in his latest video, "99 Problems," a simplistic masterpiece that blends ghetto grit with abstract cinematography. Jigga isn't promoting violence or making some Tupac-like prophecy. Rather, he used his staged death as symbolism.

Here Jay tells MTV News' Sway exactly what he was trying to convey with the video, addresses rumors that he's starting a record label with Warner Bros., and explains how Shawn Carter is on Sean Combs' heels.

Sway: "99 Problems" is a graphic video. You see everything from naked men in prison to pit bulls fighting, and at the end you're essentially being shot and killed. What made you decide to do that scene?

Jay-Z: First of all, I want to say no rappers were harmed in the making of that video. ... I really just wanted to ... do powerful images in Brooklyn. The last two videos, I mean, they're cool, but I was pretty much just going through the motions. [This time] I was like, "Man, we can't shoot the same old thing." So I called Mark Romanek ... he's like the director's director. Every director is like, "Mark is the one." He's the best right now.

Sway: What's some of the work he's done in the past?

Jay-Z: He did Johnny Cash's "Hurt," did some work with Lenny Kravitz, the Michael Jackson joint ["Scream"] with him and Janet. ... I just really wanted him to shoot, like, where I'm from in Brooklyn and shoot the 'hood, but shoot it like art, not shoot just a bunch of dudes or a bunch of cars around it — shoot it like art. And shoot it powerful and strong. So that's basically what we came up with, but at the end, the whole [being] shot thing is just really symbolic to the whole retirement thing and putting the whole Jay-Z thing to rest.

Sway: So is it comparable to when Prince went to the symbol? "Jay-Z" is officially dead now?

Jay-Z: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. We still in the street like, you know, "What up, Jay-Z?" It's all good. It ain't on that level. It's just like, you know, the artistry, I'm putting that down, to the side. ... It's just symbolic. It's artsy.

Sway: It's some artsy stuff?

Jay-Z: We trying to show the artsy side in hip-hop.

Sway: OK, and that's a good thing, 'cause I think hip-hop has hit a wall in a lot of areas, especially with video making. But I heard that the symbolism also represented the death of Jay-Z and your retirement, so to speak, and the birth of Shawn Carter as an artist.

  "Jay-Z" is officially dead now?
Jay-Z: That's been coming, you know, the whole time. People seen that coming, you know what I'm saying? But I don't want to get extreme with it where I'm in the paper like, "Don't call me Jay-Z no more."

Sway: OK. You don't want to P. Diddy this one.

Jay-Z: Nah, nah, that's Puff. You take that one, Puff.

Sway: There's been so many rumors swirling about your retirement. There's been talk that you will come back as Shawn Carter the artist, that we might see Shawn Carter albums.

Jay-Z: Yes.

Sway: There's also talk that Shawn Carter might have his own label with other artists. Do you want to speak on any of those things?

Jay-Z: Yeah, everything's early, you know what I'm saying? But everything's about growth. Especially the album thing, it's too early. Like, my whole thing with moving on, like you said, I feel like I hit a wall. Like, I just didn't want to just go into the studio and just record music and put out an album just to make money, just to be doing it and going through the motions. I gotta be passionate about it, and I wasn't feeling that passion, so I put it down. I still feel the same way. I've still got a lot of other things to do. So that's a long way away, and as far as the label, I know I'm going to have to come back to music, 'cause it's my first love. And I know I love working with new artists and seeing them go through that transformation and putting out new artists and seeing a new guy blow up or whatever. I just don't know if that's this year or three years from now.

Sway: OK, well I'll tell you what they're saying.

Jay-Z: Yeah, yeah. I done heard everything, but you tell me.

Sway: They're saying that you're signing a label deal with Warner Bros., that you're going to sign possibly Talib Kweli, Foxy Brown and maybe some other artists.

Jay-Z: Well, I like those artists, so I don't know. Maybe next year, maybe three years, but we'll see.

Sway: OK, OK. You're not saying no, but you're not saying yes.

Jay-Z: Right.


Next: Jigga looks toward Hollywood ...
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Photo: Roc-A-Fella

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