Ringing in the holidays on a sleigh full of Grammy nominations (26 for Def
Jam overall and five of his own, including best rap album for "Kingdom Come"
and song/record of the year for his featured role on Rihanna's "Umbrella"),
Def Jam president Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter has more than music on his mind.
He's set to open his third 40/40 Club in Las Vegas (Dec. 30) and recently invested in a real estate development venture called J Hotels. Billboard.biz caught up with an ebullient -- and frank -- Jay-Z, who addressed those deafening rumors about his executive future at Def Jam and what else 2008 holds for him.
So, 26 Grammy nominations; that's not too shabby. Were you surprised?
Yes, I was. But we definitely put the work in and it's great to be recognized for it. And "Umbrella"'s nominations for song and record of the year were fantastic. Rihanna came out of the gate with huge records; our whole thing was to make sure she didn't get buried under those records and become the "'Pon the Replay" girl. So to see her come full circle and get her Grammy nods was an incredibly rewarding feeling.
What was your reaction to the public's reception of "American Gangster" versus last year's "Kingdom Come?"
"American Gangster" seems to be overwhelmingly a critics' darling. I knew immediately it wouldn't sell more than "Kingdom Come." It could, but who knows? If I were a cynical person, I'd just say that people are hypocrites. [They'll say] I want a record with no obvious singles but just great music. Well, here it is. It should sell more than 10 million copies, more than any of the other albums I've ever made. It's just the way this industry works. But of course, I love the reception to "American Gangster."
I wasn't completely surprised by the reception to "Kingdom Come." I knew it wasn't for everybody. I was trying to do different things sonically and with the subject matter; stretching the things you can talk about as far as being an adult. And I know that's not popular because hip-hop is a young man's sport.
Does it have to remain a young man's sport? You're still recording.
That's the cross I have to bear. I have to take those shots to keep doing it. And I'm going to keep doing it. I have no choice, whether it be me or the artists I align myself with.
Where do you see hip-hop a year from now?
As a person who is optimistic about hip-hop, I look at albums like "American
Gangster" and Kanye West's "Graduation" as albums that people can emulate because they were made with nothing but the highest of integrity and passion about putting your all into the music. People tend to emulate success, so hopefully they'll emulate the blueprint of those albums and we'll have some great music. I believe that if you are a musician making great music, all the smart guys will figure out the model for what's next and how to monetize it.
What do you think of the Radiohead model, asking consumers to pay what they think is appropriate? Will any acts on the R&B/hip-hop front embrace that model?
What Radiohead did shocked everybody. It was a genius idea. I'm sure someone
[in R&B/hip-hop] will follow that model.
What's your take on 360 contracts?
I believe that 360 becomes a bad deal unless you're doing artist development. Being an artist, I'm an artist-friendly executive as well. You can't take someone's rights, profess to be an expert in that field and then not do anything for it. If you're sharing and partnering with an artist, you better build an artist. Or the record company is going to lose out. You could make a 360 deal with an artist and maybe you don't have that artist two years from now. We can't -- as record executives -- expect to take someone's rights and not add value. If we're adding value, it's a partnership. If we're not, then we're just trying to find another way to make up for the money being lost on the Internet. And that's not cool.
It sounds like THE party to be at will be Dec. 30 in Las Vegas when you launch another 40/40 Club in The Palazzo.
I'm very excited about that. The club is right there on the strip, and it's our third in four years. Macau is next and then Singapore. We were working with Magic Johnson on a 40/40 in Los Angeles but it never materialized. So we moved on to Las Vegas. We hope to start building in Macau in 2008 and maybe open it at the end of '08 or the beginning of '09.
That night you're also staging a show whose vibe is reminiscent of Frank Sinatra and the heyday of the Rat Pack.
As far as the show, we're talking about white tuxedos, the whole bit. Hopefully, I can persuade some people to come out and capture the whole feel of it; bring out the Roots and have them do some creative things. We want to add our twist on it: the new version of the Rat Pack.
So, what about the all the rumors that you're leaving Def Jam?
The rumors are about only because my contract is up. If we can work something out that's beneficial to all parties involved, we'll see. But it's not about money. It's really about trying to invest in the future, trying to invest in maybe coming up with a new model. Because going in hard making records with artists and throwing those records into a system that's flawed is not exciting for me. It's not the music; people ingest music the same way. It's just that the model of selling CDs has changed. So doing things the typical way is not in the best interests of anyone and not exciting for me. My whole thing is, how do we invest in the future? If everyone is committed to doing that, then I'm sure there's a deal to be made.
Do you enjoy being an executive or do you love being an artist more?
I'm an artist first; that is my first love. However, being an executive is fun because it's a different way of being creative. You still have your hand in setting the tone and in what the culture is hearing and following. It's just that someone else is driving the wheel.
Will there be a new Jay-Z album next year?
(Laughs heartily) If I'm inspired. To be honest, I've been thinking about that lately. I have one album left on my contract, and then I've really come full circle.
This is all hypothetical but I've been thinking on the fly: I have one album left, right? If I'm inspired to make that album, then my contract is done and I'm not in the music business anymore as far as being an artist. I can still make music. But how I reach people with that music ... I can do anything with it at that point. It's kind of exciting in a way. I'm not in the music business so I can drop a single every month. Who knows? The possibilities are endless -- and without any pressure to sell anything. I could make whatever and do whatever with my music. Maybe the songs would just play in 40/40.
Which hip-hop artist has got next?
I don't know. The obvious choice would be Lil' Wayne. That's on the front of everyone's mind unless you don't include Kanye in the equation. I think everyone would agree that Wayne is the closest.
What other projects are on your to-do list?
Maybe produce a couple of movies. As far as acting goes, though, that's not really my thing. "Fade to Black" was pretty much a concert movie. I haven't produced any real movies. I'm talking something with some real acting and drama to it.
Is there anyone you still want to work with?
There are new artists sprouting up all the time. I just like creative people. I'm riding with that Feist album right now. Her voice is so distinctive and beautiful. And Amy [Winehouse], I'd love to work with her again. I hope she keeps herself together. Her voice is so incredible. I'm really drawn to voices. That's my thing.
Ringing in the holidays on a sleigh full of Grammy nominations (26 for Def