Jay-Z's 'Decoded': From Hip-Hop to Barack and Beyond


On President Barack Obama's calling him for help prior to the 2008 election: Having met the man, I felt like Barack wasn't going to lose. I ran into him again at a fund-raiser at L.A. Reid's house and he pulled my coat: "Man, I'm going to be calling you again." ... He did eventually call me and ask me to help. It was in the fall of the year and he told me he wanted to close it out like [Michael] Jordan. So I did a bunch of free shows all over the country before the election to encourage young people to register to vote.

On Kanye West's saying "George Bush doesn't care about black people" at NBC's 2005 Hurricane Katrina telethon: Kanye caught a lot of heat for coming on that telethon and saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," but I backed him one hundred percent on it, if only because he was expressing a feeling that was bottled up in a lot of our hearts. It didn't feel like Katrina was just a natural disaster that arbitrarily swept through a corner of the United States. Katrina felt like something that was happening to black people, specifically.

On the importance of President Obama: Since he's been elected there have been a lot of legitimate criticisms of Obama. But if he'd lost, it would've been an unbelievable tragedy -- to feel so close to transformation and then to get sucked back into the same old story and watch another generation grow up feeling like strangers in their own country, their culture maligned, their voices squashed. Instead, even with all the distance yet to go, for the first time I felt like we were at least moving in the right direction, away from the shadows.

On black men in America: The statistics on the incarceration of black men, particularly of men of my generation, are probably the most objective indication that young black men are seen in this country as a "problem" that can be made to literally disappear. No one in the entire world -- not in Russia or China or Iran -- is locked up like black men are locked up in this country.

Cops, Cristal and Crack Cocaine

On how police target rappers, and a cop who tailed him for seven years: The hip-hop cop stayed outside the clubs I was in. Every time I walked into a club he'd joke with me. "You got a gun?" I would f**k with him right back: "Do you?" For seven years that cop was there, at every club, every show. But I still have to ask myself why. Rappers, as a class, are not engaged in anything criminal. They're musicians.

Some rappers and friends of rappers commit crimes. Some bus drivers commit crimes. Some accountants commit crimes. But there aren't task forces devoted to bus drivers or accountants. Bus drivers don't have to work under the preemptive suspicion of law enforcement.

The difference is obvious, of course: Rappers are young black men telling stories that the police, among others, don't want to hear. ... The fact that law enforcement treats rap like organized crime tells you a lot about just how deeply rap offends some people -- they'd love for rap itself to be a crime, but until they get that law passed, they come after us however they can.

On his denouncing Cristal, the champagne he once rapped about: A journalist at The Economist asked Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of the company that makes Cristal: "Do you think your brand is hurt by its association with the 'bling lifestyle?'" This was Rouzard's reply: "That's a good question, but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it."

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