On his 2001 track “Breathe Easy,” by way of declaring his supremacy over the entire rap landscape, Jay-Z bragged, “My interviews are hotter.” But Jay hardly ever does interviews anymore. So it’s big news that Jay recently sat down with New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet for a long, wide-ranging conversation. In his interview with Baquet, Jay discusses the lyrics of his confessional album 4:44 (which just made Jay this year’s leading Grammy nominee), race in America, OJ Simpson, Colin Kaepernick, and what it’s like to be the only black person in a room full of rich people. And while it’s not a remotely gossipy interview, Jay does get into a couple of subjects that have been the focus of a whole lot of speculation lately.
Toward the end, Baquet asks Jay about something that many of us have long wondered: Jay’s reaction to Beyoncé’s Lemonade, as well as Beyoncé’s reaction to 4:44, both of which chronicle Jay’s infidelity and a tempestuous period in their marriage. Jay claims that the two of them made both albums while they were working on a planned collaborative album. Here’s some of that exchange:
BAQUET: I’m trying to picture the scene when you and your wife both talked about making these very confessional, open albums. Was it difficult to say: “I’m gonna talk about the problems in our marriage. I’m gonna talk about how we almost lost things.” And for her to say: “I’m gonna talk about my pain and anger at you.” What were those conversations like?
JAY-Z: Again, it didn’t — it didn’t happen in that way. It happened — we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.
And then the music she was making at that time was further along. So her album came out as opposed to the joint album that we were working on. Um, we still have a lot of that music. And this is what it became. There was never a point where it was like, “I’m making this album.” I was right there the entire time.
BAQUET: And what was her reaction to your work and what was your reaction to hers? They must have caused pain for each of you, right?
JAY-Z: Of course. And both very, very uncomfortable, but […] the best place in the, you know, hurricane is like in the middle of it…
And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know. [I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.
You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.
Jay also discussed his recent issues with Kanye West. After West spent some time onstage last year venting his feelings about Jay, Jay tossed a few barbs and Kanye on 4:44. But talking to Baquet, Jay says that he recently spoke with West:
JAY-Z: I [talked to] Kanye the other day, just to tell him, like, he’s my brother. I love Kanye. I do. It’s a complicated relationship with us.
BAQUET: Why is it complicated?
JAY-Z: ‘Cause, you know — Kanye came into this business on my label. So I’ve always been like his big brother. And we’re both entertainers. It’s always been like a little underlying competition with your big brother. And we both love and respect each other’s art, too. So it’s like, we both — everyone wants to be the greatest in the world. You know what I’m saying? And then there’s like a lot of other factors that play in it. But it’s gonna, we gonna always be good.
BAQUET: But there’s tension now, right?
JAY-Z: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that happens. In the long relationship, you know, hopefully when we’re 89 we look at this six months or whatever time and we laugh at that. You know what I’m saying? There’s gonna be complications in the relationship that we have to get through. And the only way to get through that is we sit down and have a dialogue and say, “These are the things that I’m uncomfortable with. These are the things that are unacceptable to me. This is what I feel.” I’m sure he feels that I’ve done things to him as well. You know what I’m saying? These are — I’m not a perfect human being by no stretch. You know…
It’s just that there’s certain things that happened that’s not really acceptable to me… And we just need to speak about it. But there’s genuine love there.
You can read the whole conversation or watch it on video here.