Whether it's "Jay-Z," "President Carter" or "Coach Carter," Shawn Carter is way more than the man who signs checks and approves budgets in his new position as president of Def Jam. One night you may catch him in the studio critiquing music by the Young Gunz or Foxy Brown, another he may be in the lab laying some guest vocals for Memphis Bleek. And no matter how busy he is, he'll still find time to hold a meeting with LL Cool J or take Ludacris' phone call.
"I feel that artist pain," Jay said Tuesday evening in New York at his own 40/40 Club, which had temporarily closed its doors to the public so that Memphis Bleek could shoot party scenes for his new video, "Like That." "It's not a confrontational thing. What usually happens is it's the artists against the company, the artists against the machine. It's not like that with us. They know I been through the same thing. They know they not gonna bullsh-- me, but at the same time I'm not gonna bullsh-- them. I'm on the artists' side.
"Ludacris calls me all the time for what he says is his 'monthly Shawn Carter call,' " Jay added. "[Me and LL Cool J] had a great meeting. The first time we sat down to chat, we chopped it up. I was a little worried about the meeting, I didn't know how he was gonna take [my new position] because that's the pillar. But he was real cool about it. I'm anxious to work on that project."
When asked if working on LL's album meant laying a verse on the LP, Jay answered with a smile, "I'm on my president thing, so I don't know what I'mma do. I'm a [microphone] fiend. I'm trying to stay away, but I'm a fiend."
Jay did record a whole song called "Dear Summer" that will act as the intro for Memphis Bleek's upcoming 534 LP, and Hov appears three times on Foxy Brown's new album.
"Three for three, too," Hov boasted about his work with Brown. "I got the first single right now. If I make a better one than that, then I don't know what to do."
Photos from the video shoot
It's fitting that the first release off of Jay-Z's new Roc-A-Fella label, which is a Def Jam imprint, is from Memphis Bleek. Bleek was the first artist not named Jay-Z to drop during the last Roc era.
"I just seen the guy grow his whole life," Jay said about the man with whom he used to eat syrup sandwiches, sardines and grits, and peanut butter on a spoon. "I took him from his apartment — he grew up two floors under me — to this point right here. I'm letting him go now. He's on his own. He's come into his own, he made the album of his life, and he's in his zone."
"This is [album] number four," Bleek said at the 40/40. "It feels good to say that. Not too many people make it to number four. This album I tried a bunch of new stuff I never done before. M.A.D.E. was the album for me to vent. It let out my frustration, my anger. This album is fresh energy. It's not like your average rap where I'm talking about watches, bracelets, cars. The album is totally different. We got real subjects on this album that mean something."
Bleek says there's a huge difference now that Jay is steering the boat alone, without Dame Dash at his side.
"It's weird because from the other three [albums], what I actually learned is that it takes promotion and a real team behind you to win," Bleek explained. "I feel like with Jay as the president, he's had time to be in the office, so I have that now. The music was always hot. It was more hot in the street than in the public eye. We gonna put it in the public eye now.
"When it was Dame up there, Dame worked on several different projects: Kanye, Young Gunz, me, Cam'ron, Juelz," he added. "He couldn't give everybody the same attention. As you can see, they was just putting out albums on top of albums. When I first came out, you set up a single and put it out. Even if the record ain't hot, they make that record work. We fell in a zone where we just start putting out records. If it works, we run with that. If it don't, we gonna just continue to put out records. That to me took away from the quality of the music, 'cause I don't make records to just put out and see if it works. All my music should work."
Another artist to look out for under Jay-Z's watch is just-signed Detroit singer Tierra Marie. Jay will executive produce her debut along with songwriter Sean Garrett, who's penned 112's "U Already Know," Usher's "Yeah!" and part of Destiny's Child "Lose My Breath." Garrett will be writing six songs for Marie's album.