On the tagline “This is his 13th studio album” and why it’s so personal:
JAY-Z: I want everything to be in a simple and honest place. Even the videos, I didn’t want videos, music videos. Each one is a doc. Or even the cartoon that we made for “[The Story of O.J.].” I just wanted it to be an honest portrayal in everything I was saying. “The Story of O.J.” is about us moving forward. For us to move forward, we have to take a look back. And when we took a look back, “OK, this is where we come from.” This is real images—this was shot by Warner Bros. and not to single them out. These were shot by major studios. Like, these cartoons were on TV. This imagery of how we were presented was this, and I wanted to draw a thread between what’s happening now. And it’s still happening. It’s just not as overt.
On No I.D. approaching him with his next The Blueprint:
JAY-Z: He called me a while before we started this and was like, “Man, I got your next Blueprint.” He said something like, “I know this is a lot to say.” [And I’m like], “Yeah, that’s a lot to say.” And just dismissed it. Somehow we got up and we was at Roc Nation offices out here in L.A. and he played me what he was working on. I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing.” I liked different samples. Like, he had sampled The-Dream and these samples. I was like, “No, no, no. I got where we could take this.” I made him a playlist that I wanted to address and talk about on these different songs. He already had “4:44” and he had “Kill Jay-Z” and he had “Family Feud.” I think aside from that, all the songs I brought him in [to do], we like worked on them together.
On learning something new from people in his inner circle (even Ty Ty):
JAY-Z: After we played the music, we had conversations for like four hours, just about life. Strange thing—I learned more about the people I’ve been around during this process than any other. Like, people I’ve known 20 years I’ve found new things about them. I was like, “Oh, shit!” I guess what was happening and what was being said on the album allowed people to open up. It was this cathartic process where people were just like, “OK, well, since you shared that intimate detail, let me share this.”
On ranking 4:44 in his discography:
JAY-Z: It’s definitely up there, and time will see what happens. Certain things – you can’t tell. American Gangster aged really well. Some people put it at No. 1. They put it in top 5, top 3, a lot, and it wasn’t like that when it came out. It like grew. Things like Blueprint 3 will go backwards because it had big records on it like “Empire State of Mind,” “Run this Town,” and “Young Forever.” As an album, when the record is that big, it seems like ubiquitous. It’s hard to sit down and chill with.
On songs that didn’t make 4:44:
JAY-Z: There’s a song called “Black Gold.” And “Part 2,” this other song is actually a response to “Kill Jay-Z” before “BAM” came in. It had this beautiful Al Green sample. Pretty much the ones that were on the cutting room or whatever, I put on the bonus [tracks].
I knew there was so many real subjects that we were touching. Each subject is a four-five hour conversation. Just discussing all these things – everything I discuss on the album, like “Legacy.” Your children and what happens after that. You can go on for days discussing that. I didn’t want the album to get so long we missed out on what’s important.
On “Y’all on the ‘Gram holdin’ money to your ear/ There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here”:
JAY-Z: I’m not against young guys versus old guys. I didn’t even tell people to stop using the money phone. I didn’t say that. It doesn’t say that anywhere. How is this being misinterpreted? I just said that this ain’t money to us. It ain’t. That’s just an honest statement.
On possibly dissing Kanye West on “Kill Jay-Z”:
JAY-Z: Think about how I got to that point. It’s not even about Kanye. It really isn’t. His name is there because it is truthful [on] what happened. I’m saying the whole point is you got hurt because this guy was talking about you on the stage, but what really hurt me [was] you can’t bring my kids and my wife into it. Like, Kanye is my little brother. He talked about me a 100 times. He made a song called “Big Brother.” We’ve gotten passed bigger issues. But you brought my family into it – now that’s a problem with me. That’s a real, real, problem. He knows it is a problem. Cause me and him would have been resolved our issues. But he knows that he crossed line. I know him, he knows.
On namedropping Future on “Kill Jay-Z”:
JAY-Z: I thought about that line. I thought about hip-hop. I was like, “I really don’t mean any malice.” What I mean by that is, the way his situation plays out because he’s such a public figure, mine would have played out that way and maybe even four-times more. Like his child is in a loving environment from what I see. I don’t know. I’m not discrediting step pops and the whole world. It was a line that say that could happen to me in my future. It just so happens that his name was Future and I just made a scheme out of it.