Jay-Z Talks Exit Rumors, Grammys, 360 Deals

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 rol

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.com 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.

Would you?

Of course.

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.

To continue reading Billboard's interview with Jay-Z, click here.