Peedi Crakk is wearing a suit like Tom Brokaw's, he's got an ultra-proper inflection in his voice reminiscent of Ted Koppel's, and he's holding an MTV News microphone with all the on-camera swagger of Tavis Smiley. Ron Burgundy's got nothing on him.
"We're live on MTV News at the XXL photo shoot. This is your anchorman Peedi Crakk, Crakk Daddy, signing on," he says in a deep monotone as Kanye West walks in.
"Yeah, what up, Kanyeezee live!" he continues, not breaking his faux-newsman character. "Kanyeezee, ladies and gentlemen!"
Peedi and Kanye join Foxy Brown, Memphis Bleek, DJ Clue, the Young Gunz, NBA All-Star LeBron James, 17-year-old singer Teairra Mari, and the head of the family — Jay-Z — for an XXL cover shoot at a studio in New York's Chelsea Piers.
"It's the whole Roc family and a presidential theme, that's why I'm looking classy and classic," Teairra Mari, the young lady Jay has dubbed "The Princess of the Roc," said of the shoot's concept as she stood in a mock Oval Office wearing a black veil, white blouse and black skirt. "It's a very '60s-ish vibe, it's JFK and the whole cabinet. It's great."
"It's the first time we're taking the Roc's new generation — it's sort of a re-launching of the Roc," says Jay-Z, dressed in a swank blue suit. "I just wanted to show the artists, and show the reach with LeBron James."
Jay says James' inclusion in the shoot is just a show of solidarity between chums and nothing more — especially not a business relationship.
"It's absolutely no Def Jam Sports or anything like that," Jay says, quashing a rumor that he might be managing LeBron. "No tampering going on; just a good friend of mine. He's been a friend since before he was in the NBA. If you look back on the tapes, I'm there at the McDonald's High School [All-American] games, supporting him. We're just friends, we have no business dealings at all. I can't do it because I have an interest: I sit on the board of the [New Jersey] Nets. It's a conflict."
Jay also clarified that LeBron will not be signing to the Roc as a rapper or, for that matter, rhyming at all: The superstar is sticking to the court. "I want him to be the greatest," Jay says. "My job is to keep him focused, not to take him outside of his arena."
The side of the studio where Jay and company are getting dressed is hectic but loose. Freeway is walking around wearing a dress shirt, tie and his boxers; stylists are frantically scurrying over to the Gunnerz for last-minute tie changes; Kanye is playing Common's new video for LeBron on his laptop; and Memphis Bleek is searching for a cool hat to rock. Meanwhile, on the Oval Office set on the other side of the studio, you can see various members taking flicks while songs from Kanye's forthcoming Late Registration and Foxy Brown's Black Roses play at full volume (see "Kanye Previews New LP, Modestly Exclaims: 'This Is Killing Everything Out There!' " and "Jay-Z Jumps On Three Tracks For Foxy Brown's New Album")
Click for photos of the Roc-A-Fella family
From the way Jay raps along and bobs his head to the music, it's obvious Mr. Prez gives his approval.
"Kanye is his own institution," Hova says. "He knows what he wants and he has pretty good taste. Like, when it comes to singles, he'll come and we'll discuss what should be next, but as far as music-making — if I hear something I might say, 'You should add a little bit of choir right there' — but as far as music goes, that's what he does. That's his strong point. So I just leave him alone. He does the whole thing."
No one at the Roc, with the exception of Jay himself, has gotten busier lately than Kanye West, who will be featured on the front cover of the mag along with Jay, LeBron and Foxy (the rest of the crew has been relegated to the interior of the gatefold cover).
"Ever since I got my [Roc] chain, I felt like I was in the game," Kanye says before diving into lunch. "We got this shot where it's me and Jay, it's like the famous shot where Kennedy is talking to his brother. That feels like, 'Damn, I'm right here. This is Jay, I'm right next to him.' It's an incredible feeling. It's overwhelming. I got this song, the first song on the album, that says, 'I think I died in the accident, 'cause this must be heaven.'
"Sometime I wonder, 'Damn, am I still on earth?' " West continues. " 'Is this real life I'm living?' I can make things happen. I want a video like this and it happens. I want my artists to be successful — John Legend goes platinum, Common is a success."
Shooting the cover of XXL with her entire musical family was surreal experience for Teairra as well.
"I can't believe that, this time just last year, I was looking at these people on TV," Mari, whose debut single, "Make Her Feel Good," has become a hit, marveled. "Now I'm here, and they're embracing me. It feels great."
"We're making history," says Peedi — who, since the shoot, has changed his name to Peedi Peedi — as he stands with Freeway, who is now fully dressed in a black suit, hat and shades ("I just got fresh to death," Free smiles). "This is the front cover, the new Roc-A-Fella family. Jay is controlling the whole set. We're here representing, promoting. I feel like a hip-hop hero."
The Roc issue of XXL is on some newsstands now, but hits nationally next week.