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


He also said that he looked on the association between Cristal and hip-hop with "curiosity and serenity." The Economist printed the quote under the heading "Unwelcome Attention." That was like a slap in the face. ... When people all over started drinking Cristal at clubs -- when Cristal became a household name among young consumers -- it wasn't because of anything Cristal had done. It was because of what we'd done. If Cristal had understood this dynamic, they never would've been so dismissive. The truth is, we didn't need them to tolerate us with "curiosity and serenity." In fact, we didn't need them at all.

On the n-word: Oprah, for instance, still can't get past the n-word issue (or the n***a issue, with all apologies to Ms. Winfrey). I can respect her position. To her, it's a matter of acknowledging the deep and painful history of the word. To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. "N***a" becomes "porch monkey" becomes "coon" and so on if that's what's in a person's heart. The key is to change the person. And we change people through conversation, not censorship.

On crack cocaine's effect on Marcy, the Brooklyn projects where he was raised: No one hired a skywriter and announced crack's arrival. But when it landed in your hood, it was a total takeover. Sudden and complete. Like losing your man to gunshots. Or your father walking out the door for good. It was an irreversible new reality. What had been was gone, and in its place was a new way of life that was suddenly everywhere and seemed like it had been there forever.

On his comparing former president Ronald Reagan and Osama bin Laden in "Beware of the Boys" with the lines, "Before bin Laden got Manhattan to blow," "Before Ronald Reagan got Manhattan to blow:" Ronald Reagan got Manhattan to "blow" -- slang for cocaine -- through the whole Iran-Contra scandal, which got the United States involved in the drug trade that brought crack to the hood so they could finance the Contras in Central American. In the worst years of the crack epidemic -- the late '80s and early '90s -- there were literally thousands of homicides annually in New York. So juxtaposing Reagan and bin Laden isn't as crazy as it may seem.

Russell Simmons, Eminem and the Grammys

On how Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam records, changed what it meant to be a CEO: Russell also made being a CEO seem like a better deal than being an artist. He was living the life like crazy, f**king with models, riding in Bentleys with his sneakers sticking out the windows, and never once rapped a single bar. His gift was curating a whole lifestyle -- music, fashion, comedy, film -- and then selling it. He didn't just create the hip-hop business model, he changed the business style of a whole generation of Americans.

On his work ethic: When you're on tours like the ones I've done over the last decade, you're like a professional athlete, except that night after night, you're the only one with the bat. When it comes to signing up new talent, that's what I'm looking for -- not just someone who has skill, but someone built for this life. Someone who has the work ethic, the drive. The gift that [Michael] Jordan had wasn't just that he was willing to do the work, but he loved doing it, because he could feel himself getting stronger, ready for anything.

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