Digital Cover: The Making Of Michael Jackson's 'Xscape' Album

Michael Jackson's posthumous Xscape album is truly a treat.

Out tomorrow (May 13), the nostalgic-yet-modern LP unites the likes of Timbaland, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins and Justin Timberlake to update unreleased tracks from the MJ archives.

To celebrate the release, VIBE unearths an art piece commissioned to Mr. Brainwash for the album cover—one that was ultimately not chosen for the final project—and rounds up the album collaborators for an in-depth making-of piece.

Remember the times with us. And let the King of Pop rock your world once more. —John Kennedy

- The Making Of: An Oral History Of Michael Jackson's Xscape Album
- Exclusive: Mr. Brainwash Talks Creating Unreleased Xscape Artwork
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Slave To The Rhythm"
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Love Never Felt So Good"
- Stream: Michael Jackson, "Xscape"

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Karl Ferguson Jr.

Swizz Beatz Is In A Zone...All Of His Own

Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean has a room in his New Jersey home that is essentially a mini-museum, an art house man cave on steroids. He showcased the same room on his Instagram page in 2017, in a video where he gleefully roller skated with a cigar in one hand and a beverage in the other. Straight ahead in the back of the room stands a giant, 20-foot tall wooden sculpture designed by renowned Brooklyn artist KAWS (its companion piece is currently at the Brooklyn Museum, where Swizz is on the board of trustees). On the right wall is a large, two-panel painting by Kehinde Wiley, the renowned black artist who created Barack Obama’s presidential portrait, and around the room are an assortment of creatively-crafted chairs, chests by luxury fashion line MCM, books and other pieces of art. In the corner stands a modest table with a laptop and two 12-inch speakers resting on top.

Last night, Swizz Beatz deejayed an event in SoHo to honor his cover story in the “Freedom Issue” of fashion's Spirit and Flesh magazine. The scene was a vivid illustration of the spaces that Swizz operates in these days: a room full of hoity-toity fashion folks and hip-hop heads alike, servers walking around with trays of finger foods, and clothing racks with an assortment of pieces, as Swizz plays early ‘90s bangers from the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. With his signature ad-libs (“hanh!”) and energetic, nostalgic song selection, a group of breakers eventually forms a circle with dancers taking turns in the center. “I take hip-hop with me wherever I go!” Swizz triumphantly yelled to the crowd.

A day before celebrating his 40th birthday, Kareem Dean is notably turned down. He opened the door and sauntered down the mini stairway wearing a pair of Bally sneakers, blue sweatpants, and a black hoodie with the word “Poison” emblazoned across the front. He briefly greets me and my colleague and chats about some of the artwork in the room. “This is the biggest one he’s ever done,” he smiles, pointing to the Wiley piece. He then sits down at the table, pours a glass of wine for himself and a rep from his label Epic Records, and explains what to expect from Poison, his first solo record in 11 years.

The album begins with a woman named Aine Zion giving a spoken word poem over searing violins, and is immediately followed by “Pistol On My Side (P.O.M.S.),” the debut single featuring Lil Wayne that he’d release the following day. The song has Swizz’s signature military drums and a piano loop, which later transitions into a beautiful piano solo by wife and 15-time Grammy  Award winner Alicia Keys, and the frenetic, hyperactive mixtape Wayne spitting his signature venomous, extra-terrestrial flows. It’s a theme of Poison: Nas, Pusha T, Young Thug, Jim Jones, The LOX, and others all deliver some of their most inspired verses in years, with Swizz offering timely adlibs, anthemic chants and reverent intros throughout. It’s the first of at least four albums he has on the way: after Poison he’s planning to release an R&B album, an “energy” album, an “acoustic” album, and a “global” album. Oh, and he has another album in the can with Nas, depending on if God’s Son ever decides to release it.

“I’m more dangerous now than I’ve ever been,” Swizz says with conviction.

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Nine years ago, Swizz Beatz decided to leave music altogether. His legacy had already been solidified. Like all of the other GOAT producers, he had a period of rap that was unquestionably his: the Ruff Ryders era of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, where his thunderous drums and pounding Casio keys sold millions of records for Double R stars like DMX, The LOX and Eve, along with side work for Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, and more. He would later add poppier, more versatile sounds for Beyonce and R&B/pop stars like Mya and Gwen Stefani. If there’s a name in black music over the past 20 years, Swizz has probably worked with them. He attributes the trust artists have in him to his understanding of what makes them best.

“I've been gifted in that area since day one, which is the reason why most of the artists kept me on the choruses and things like that,” he says. “I know concept and I'm so much of a fan of music that I know how I want everybody to sound, not from a Swizz Beatz standpoint, but from a fan standpoint.”

Hip-hop fans were reminded about the Monster–Swizz’s self-ascribed nickname–catalog in February 2017, when he and fellow hip-hop producer luminary Just Blaze competed in a late night beat battle at an undisclosed location in New York City. The Instagram Live stream was trending in real time, and has since been viewed some 1.3 million times. The battle was one of the purest hip-hop moments in recent cultural history. For nearly three hours, both faced off in scratching, making new creations on the spot, and running through their most popular hits. “Everybody in here, you are privileged to be in this space tonight, where we invited you cause we wanted to keep it clean,” Swizz said, nearly 30 minutes into the stream. “...This ain’t no library. We’re turning up for the culture tonight.”

The two producers went back and forth, playing classics from their respective pinnacles: Just Blaze playing the sample-heavy gems from the nostalgic Roc-A-Fella Records heyday, Swizz unleashing the pounding street bangers from the iconic Ruff Ryders era. The battle was close early on, but Swizz saved most of his best ammo for the second hour, beginning to pull away by getting the crowd to sing along to Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Upgrade U,” Drag-On and Juvenile’s “Down Bottom,” and DMX’s “Party Up.” And in the final hour, Swizz brought out the big guns: snippets of an unreleased track with Jay-Z, DMX, Jadakiss and Nas, a quartet of rap royalty who had never collaborated on the same song together. The spectating Busta Rhymes had a stank face that got more dumbfounded with each verse, and the song itself has become the subject of Internet folklore. “They don’t want no f**kin’ problems tonight!” Swizz exclaimed to an awestruck audience. (Swizz told VIBE that he may hold the song to release later, so it doesn’t take away attention from the rest of the album.) The battle was an illustration of just how accomplished his career had been: tons of records produced, loads of gold and platinum plaques, with radio and street classics alike. Both producers had their share of great songs, but Swizz’s treasure chest of hits gave him the victory.

“I'll battle anybody because I know what I have in my arsenal is my dynamic as a producer even though I never really hired a publicist to talk about it,” Swizz says. “I got respect for all those guys, man. I felt the pressure from all of them at some particular time. When Just came with “P.S.A.” (from Jay-Z’s The Black Album), I went to the studio and probably made about 80 beats. If I hear something that I wish I made, I would go to the studio and make 50, 60 beats until I know that I made five records I could play in the club. I’d go to the studio and make things that I feel personally can compete with that record sonically.”

Despite his usual competitive spirit, for some time, Swizz had grown disenchanted with the music industry. He felt like he was getting exploited by the labels, and the illegal downloads of the pre-streaming era began to take their toll. Swizz was well on his way to his current benchmark of 380 million records sold, and in 2006 he had production on Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It” (reaching No. 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100), and several songs on Beyonce’s hit album B’Day (“Get Me Bodied,” “Ring The Alarm,” “Upgrade U”). There was also the respect of his peers, a steady workload, and the support of his then-future wife Alicia Keys, but he wasn’t happy.

Swizz crafted the future Grammy-winning “On To The Next One” for Jay-Z’s 2009 album Blueprint 3, and considered the song as his exit from the business. “That song was for my album, but I gave it to Jay because I felt his voice was bigger than mine,” he says. He stopped producing music altogether and began to focus on other ventures instead. Swizz wasn’t even touching the royalty checks he was getting from music that he had already released.

 

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“Theoretically I do what I wanted to do, but on the business front, you're probably a slave. Getting some up-front money making you feel like you're doing something but you're not,” says Swizz. “I had to get off the titty. I had to be a man and really take responsibility for my own life and my kids and my family, and not base it on a fan base that's not loyal like that and the infrastructure that's definitely not loyal. The only way to be a boss in this world is to have ownership, so I started creating situations where I had ownership.”

From there, he began to spread his creative and business wings further. Swizz partnered with Reebok, where he launched a collection inspired by iconic Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I'm not coming in here as a big shoe icon or a celebrity,” he recalls. “I'm coming in as a student starting at a lower level because I wanted to have more respect.” He designed the Aston Martin Rapide, became a consultant for luxury watch company Audemars Piguet, and began working with luxury shoemaker Christian Louboutin.  He would later curate a collection with Bally, a company he still works with. Perhaps most importantly, Swizz enrolled in and completed the Owner/President Management Program at Harvard Business School, where he built businesses like his No Commissions art project (more on that later).

“I didn't want that to be my legacy, being this disgruntled producer...blaming other folks for sh*t that I know I can change. I knew I had to get my education up, I had to diversify my portfolio as a creative getting into design, getting into my fashion zone, build up just different layers of what I know that I love,” he says. “It took the music pressure off of me as far as like not being happy with the business side of it, and I built it up to where now, when I come back to it, I don't feel like I'm enslaved.”

The only way to be a boss in this world is to have ownership, so I started creating situations where I had ownership.

Swizz doubled down on his passion for art. As a child, he was inspired by the graffiti he saw around his hometown of the Bronx, and he’s spent the last ten years looking to introduce art to new audiences. “I used to collect for status–Warhols, Chagalls, Sam Francis–to impress guests that come to the house. Now, I hang new and living artists that I know, and it feels better. I collect from the heart.” He and his wife founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums around the world. But he also aims to give back: this year’s The Dean Collection 20 St(art)ups will give $5,000 to 20 artists, and his No Commissions project with Bacardi combines music and a traveling exhibit where artists can sell their work and keep 100 percent of the proceeds, without the normal commission that art houses or galleries would usually charge.So far, in the six No Commissions shows around the country, 175 artists have sold more than $3.5 million in art while exposing their work to some 50,000 people.

He wants to empower other artists the same way that he wants to empower musicians, by creating a system to give artists royalties. As of now, an artist can create a piece, sell it once, and get none of the future profits as the piece amasses more value over time. He wants to give artists royalties the same way that musicians get them, with artists getting a cut of future sales. Swizz expressed the idea during a speech at the Contemporary Curated sale at Sotheby’s, and according to ArtNet News, art advisor Joel Straus feels the same way: after Swizz’s speech, he revealed plans to share a portion of sale proceeds from a Kerry James Marshall piece with Marshall himself. “It’s always been my belief that artists should be compensated for secondary market sales, just like writers and performing artists,” Straus told ArtNet News. Swizz thinks other art dealers should do the same.

“People are always giving us something and taking it out of the side pocket,” says Swizz thoughtfully. “To be able to give the artist 100 percent, something real, I didn’t see it existing. If you support the art, support it 100 percent. Don’t do it as a business play.”

On To The Next

When he returned to music years after his hiatus, Swizz was determined to do so on his own terms. He signed with Epic Records, but he has an ownership stake in all of his deals inside and outside of music. He considers himself a partner, not an employee: he has multiple calls during the photo shoot with Epic Records President Sylvia Rhone (who he previously worked with at Universal Motown), from boss to boss.

That includes making a record that wasn’t focused on mainstream radio or trying to keep up with trends. Poison features less than a dozen songs, with its guests in street mode. It’s unmistakably Swizz, with its booming bottom ends and catchy hooks, but Swizz also continues to step up his game, even bringing in co-producers from the likes of Bink!, DJ Scratch and Araabmuzik for the first time to push songs over the top. The Nas-featured “Echo” and the Pusha T record “Cold Blooded” feature street narratives over soulful, orchestral arrangements that some may see as uncharacteristic from him.

It’s unmistakably Swizz, with its booming bottom ends and catchy hooks, but Swizz also continues to step up his game, even bringing in co-producers from the likes of Bink!, DJ Scratch and Araabmuzik for the first time to push songs over the top.

“It took so much discipline not to add drums to those [two songs],” Swizz slyly grins. The lack of percussion makes each emcee’s voice even more of an instrument, with their storytelling providing all the movement each song needs. There aren’t the bloated, star-studded collaborations characteristic of a DJ Khaled album; each song allows its one or two guests to breathe and stretch on their own. Someone with Swizz’s pedigree shouldn’t have to pander, and Poison makes that clear: he’s doing substantial work in the art and fashion worlds, but street hip-hop is where his heart is.

“Everybody goes so big that only the announcement happened, but the actual intake of what you’re supposed to take from it never happened past that particular day,” Swizz said. “I don’t need the instant hype. I’ve been cool since 17. A lot of people think I’m crazy because I took off some real, maybe number one fronting records for Billboard. But I feel like when what you do is passionate, who knows what could be a number one? I’m not all of a sudden bringing some f***ing EDM vibe to try and make a pop record. Don’t compromise your craft for status because the people don’t care anyway.”

The approach, he says, was further validated by J. Cole, the album’s unexpected executive producer. Cole and Swizz have a close friendship, and Swizz initially set up a meeting for the two to contribute to each other’s projects. When Cole was listening to the records Swizz had already done, he suggested cutting songs that were potential hits, but that were “f**king up the flow.”

“I played the first five tracks. He was like, ‘Damn.’ Then I played him the ‘big’ sh*t,” Swizz recalls, his eyes briefly widening while thinking about the songs. “He was telling me everything I was [already] feeling. ‘It’s going to go, but I need more of (the previous songs).’ He was the first person to say that. I could see people’s body language say it, but nobody said it. Not even people on my team.”

Cole also suggested a sparse approach to music videos. “I wanted something different, and J. Cole gave me that. Don’t shoot no expensive videos. Drop the video on WorldStar. Feed it to the kids,'” Swizz repeats. “He and my 18-year-old son were telling me all types of different vibes, and I want to credit [Cole] because I used those things. I’m not too cool to give him his props.”

Then there’s the business of the Nas album that Swizz said they completed. He confirms that the Poison highlight and DJ Scratch-produced “Echo” was recorded during those sessions, and it seems like the aforementioned Nas/Jay-Z/Jadakiss/DMX song was as well, with Nas’ chants of “Escobar Season” on the chorus. When Swizz is asked about the album and a release, he responds hopefully.

“That's his album, so he’s gotta address that. I think it's happening, he's speaking positively about it but that's like something he gotta answer back because he might change his mind,” Swizz says. “But he's in the musical zone, he’s got super fire. There's no reason not to do it. Maybe he wants to do another album, it don't got to particularly be my album. As long as he's making music, that's what I f**k with. I'd like it to be my sh*t, but whenever that man’s got a plan, I let him do his thing.”

40’s The New 30

A month after our first interview, Swizz and his team met VIBE for the photo shoot at Jungle City, the Chelsea, Manhattan studio where Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Drake, and other stars record. Like his home, the multi-level location is similarly full of art—beautiful paintings and photos of artists like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and a young Michael Jackson. Swizz walks in around 10 a.m. wearing a Saint Laurent sweater, a dark denim jacket, and Prada sweats, his eyes peeking under a bucket cap. He just touched down on the East Coast after a flight from Japan, where he was working with Bally and connecting with Nas. He uses his iPhone to show the room stunning samples from a video he shot for the Nas collab, “Echo,” at teamLab, a digital museum in Tokyo. He and Esco spit amidst multiple scenes of dizzying, shimmering lights. “You have no idea what you’re f**king with,” Swizz says. “Once we move past the darkness, this is where we poise on.”The hitmaker found his way back on the charts days earlier with his production of “Uproar,” Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V-highlight inspired by the 2001 G. Dep hit, “Special Delivery.” “I thought it was important for me to help (Young Money President Mack Maine) make sure Wayne was straight cause this album was so important for him,” Swizz emphasizes, adding that he gave additional input on the album as well. “Uproar” was done days before the album was released, but it’s an overwhelming success: it has peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, fueled by the viral Uproar Challenge that has people around the world, including Wayne’s own children, dancing to the song on Instagram.

And he hasn’t taken his foot off the pedal for Poison, either. He’s released a new single every two weeks. First, “Pistol On My Side (P.O.M.S.).” Next, the video for “25 Soldiers,” which challenges Young Thug to tap into his harder, lyrical side instead of his signature melodies. Then “Preach,” a sparse, swaggy offering with Jim Jones. He’s also previewing songs that he just recently recorded with Meek Mill and French Montana. When playing the album for people today, he’s not as calm as he was at his home the previous month: he’s more of the “Showtime!” Swizz, shouting and dancing by the mixing board.

 

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“Swizz said, ‘Bro, I want you to co-pilot this one with me,” Grady Spivey, Poison’s co-executive producer and Swizz’s teenage best friend/business partner shares with VIBE. “After 11 years of [us] not doing a full-fledged studio album, there was a learning curve. We took it very seriously. When we started [this] we were kids 18-21 years old, now we are grown, with focus and vision. We came into this project non-compromised. We wanted to do this album as a contribution to the culture. That was Swizz’s main focus.”

Days later, riding a creative high and still enjoying birthday love, Swizz would glow up on the ‘Gram at a surprise party thrown by Alicia Keys at the World On Wheels skating rink in Los Angeles. As if the party itself wasn’t enough, Keys presented him with a hell of a birthday gift: a stunning, yellow 2019 Aston Martin Vantage (the car reportedly starts at $150,000). Jay-Z would lead a toast to his longtime collaborator at the party, reminiscing on old times. But for Swizz, the celebration will be short-lived—he still has more work to do, as always.

“If I’m not in my son’s top five, that’s a problem,” Swizz insists in the studio.  “That’s the real top five. All the other sh*t I did, he wasn’t around for.”

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Aretha Franklin Is America

“I, too, sing America.” —Langston Hughes. Her words cried, they cried for her, they cried for us. From Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, to the presidency of Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter, there has been Aretha Franklin. She was not only the voice of America, but also its heart, its guts, its joy, and, yes, its sorrow songs. I cannot recall when I was introduced to her music, but Aretha, or “Ree Ree” as she is affectionately called by Black folks, has always been there. It was my mother who taught me about her, about her supernatural powers. Aretha, now gone at age 76, is one year older than my mother, and my ma, like far too many women, tragically, has known ugly torrential storms with names like sexism and heartbreak and sickness.

Like Ms. Franklin, my mother has been ill the past few years. Like Ms. Franklin, my mother has had her share of trauma, pain, loneliness. Like Ms. Franklin my mother has had to fight off no-good men and unequal treatment, professionally, privately, only because she is a woman. Like Ms. Franklin was, my ma is resilient, strong, determined to live and be true to herself, to the final breath.

My mother does not sing. Aretha does, for her, for the masses of people throughout the world. Perhaps that is why my mother’s favorite album ever is Amazing Grace, the stunningly classic gospel compilation Aretha recorded live in the early 1970s. It is there that we hear Aretha Franklin rip apart every single word she utters, like a guardian angel, and delivers us reborn, baptized, for a brand-new day.

Alas, how would I describe the voice of Aretha Franklin? It is the mighty work of the God she believed in fiercely, with the Lord’s nimble fingers scooping chocolate-brown mud from the earth and shaping it into a hypnotizing human trumpet. That trumpet, like the trumpet of unknown Black Civil War soldiers who helped to create jazz. That trumpet, like the elastic rhythms of Louis Armstrong, Valaida Snow, and Dizzy Gillespie. That trumpet, like the unknown Black women of yesterday, today, tomorrow, in their living rooms, at their places of work, in their bathrooms, on their porches or their stoops, at their sanctified churches, harmonizing the entire history of a people, through dreams and danger, through heaven and hell, through freedom and fried chicken, through love and liberation.

Perhaps this is why, on a very recent road trip to our family roots in the Low Country of South Carolina, my mother requested my wife and I play “Amazing Grace” as we drove. With so much happening in America, including the terrible possibility of our being pulled over by the police along the route, there was Aretha promising us we could make a way out of no way. Because Aretha Franklin, in her essence, is not just a storyteller, but also a healer, one of unparalleled genius. Her inflections, her wails, yes, are the cure-all potion for us, if only we’d listen to the words, and listen, even, to the silent spaces between her words.

This is why Aretha is a goddess to a multi-cultural and multi-generational march of women when she belts “Respect.” That tune made her, instantly, a feminist champion. And she was a champion for Dr. King and Civil Rights. And she was a champion for legendary activist Angela Davis. And she has been a champion for Elton John and his crusade against AIDS. While she may have never made very outwardly political or socially conscious music, for the most part, there is no denying that “Respect” was and remains one of the signature anthems for women’s empowerment, and easily a one-song soundtrack, in these times, for the #MeToo movement.

This is also why men like me love her because in her music Aretha has not only taught me to hear and listen to women, but to also understand toxic manhood, and what it does to women, and to us men as well. I do not ever want my wife to feel the depths of anguish that jolts me every single time I hear “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” That song is my mother’s life, beginning with my father. Because of Aretha, I do not want to be my father, I do not want to be, ever again, any man who would bring a woman, any woman, such great despair.

Moreover, it can never be stated too much the unlimited impact of spirituality, of the Black church, on the earthquake-like tremors in Aretha Franklin’s voice. There, additionally, in her royal purse were these ingredients: slave field hollers, the blues, bebop, rock and roll, and the electrifying vocal acrobatics of Black preachers like her daddy, Reverend C.L. Franklin. Artists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding may be the founding fathers of soul music, but Aretha was not only its founding mother but also its midwife and perennial Olympic champion. She is the gold standard by which any other singer of any era and any genre of music is forever measured. She was, arguably, the best singer ever.

That is because Aretha Franklin forced us to understand the soul of America, the soul of Black America, because of the raw nakedness in her voice’s yearning. She comes from a grand tradition, one which includes Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Big Mama Thornton before her. And, quite obviously, there would have not been a Whitney Houston, a Lauryn Hill, an Amy Winehouse, an Adele, an Ariana Grande, a Jennifer Hudson, or a Beyoncé, without the towering influence of Aretha Franklin. Not only was she universally hailed as the Queen of Soul, but Aretha Franklin is indisputable proof that American music is Black music and vice versa. Then, now, eternally, you simply cannot have one without the other. For as long as things like hate and violence and division and a lack of compassion fester in our America, there will be Aretha Franklin giving color and texture and meaning to what we witness, to what we endure.

And we must not forget that she was a self-taught folk artist, in every sense of the phrase. Aretha is among the countless African Americans who never had formal vocal training but were bestowed, from birth, with the ability to sing. Aretha could not read music, either, but she instructed herself, from childhood on, how to play the piano, and became an underrated master at that. We also must not forget that her first recordings happened when she was still a youthful prodigy as a teenager in the 1950s, or that her first major label deal, in the 1960s, did not yield any big hits, but did cement her endless love affair with jazz music, with Broadway numbers, with classical music, nurturing in the process a creative giant who would become, over the span of six decades, a bridge-builder, a unifier, a global ambassador across race and gender and gender identity and class and any other boundaries that segregate the human race. Yes, the Queen of Soul was a direct manifestation of Dr. King’s dream, one spoon-fed, relentlessly, in the Black experience to the very end, but who belonged to us all.

I recall only seeing Aretha Franklin perform live once in my life, at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans in the early 2000s. As we say, church was all up in her that night. She lifted herself from the piano, she kicked off her shoes, and she danced the way I remember church folks swaying and hopping and chanting and sweating when I was a child: in that moment Aretha’s life-long balancing act between “God’s music” and pop music laid fully exposed, and she did not care; in that moment put on pause was the fact that Aretha Franklin first became a parent at age 12, a second time at age 14, and was married by age 19 to her first husband, a pimp and a businessman, who allegedly beat her savagely for years, sometimes in public; in that moment put on pause was the fact that her own daddy had fathered a baby, while married to Aretha’s mother, with a 13-year-old girl in his hugely popular church; in that moment put on pause was the fact that Aretha’s mother took her son from a previous marriage, left Reverend C.L. Franklin and Aretha and her sisters and other brother, left their adopted hometown of Detroit, went to Buffalo, New York where the Queen of Soul’s mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, would die but a few years later, at the tender age of 34, they say from a heart attack, but just as likely from the sort of massive heartbreak Aretha Franklin would suffer through in her own life; and Aretha, on that New Orleans stage, could have easily been my mother, back home in the kitchen with the radio piped up and the grits bubbling in an old pot, alone, talking to herself, talking with the spirit of her mother, talking in tongues with Jesus, lost in the music, completely, with sadness shoved aside by a ferocious ecstasy that only a Black woman who done seen some things could understand. And feel.

Finally, a couple of weeks before we got word that Aretha Franklin was gravely ill, I spent one sleepless night watching an old documentary about her on YouTube. How and why I landed there, I do not know. It was about the first magical year of her enormous success, and there she is, shy, baby-faced, being hailed as a game-changer in the world of American music. And there is Dr. King, friend of her father’s and friend of hers, proudly presenting Aretha with a special award. Ain’t no way Aretha Franklin could have known what she would become, what her life would become, what it would mean to America, to the entire planet. That a Black girl from Detroit’s working-class community, because of her great natural gift, could grow up to be a queen, forever.

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Kevin Powell is the author of 13 books, including his newest title, My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man. It is a collection of blogs and essays about America, past, present, future. You can order it now via Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can email Kevin, [email protected], or follow him on Twitter, @kevin_powell.

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Lenny S.

44 Artists & Industry Elite On The Legacy Of JAY-Z & His Discography

It’s no surprise the release of JAY-Z’s 4:44 is at the forefront of 2018’s Grammy nominations. To mainstream media, it was the response to Lemonade they were fiendin' for. To the rest of us, it was the confessions of a black man who has lived from behind the beige bricks of a public housing complex to the high mansion ceilings of the one percent. Underneath marital confessions bared an emotional molding of the man he has become; it’s also the memoir rap didn’t know it needed. With the hip-hop generational gap getting wider by the stream, JAY’s olive branch to acts like Young Thug (“Family Feud”) and callouts of wypipo’s fascination with black pain (“Moonlight”) were just a few gems 4:44 had to offer. The music may have caught the attention of fans, but those appreciative of rich cinema received a treat through thought-provoking music videos and short films featuring figures like Chris Rock, Trevor Noah, Meek Mill, with adored directors Ava DuVernay (“Family Feud”) and Neal Brennan (“Footnote Series”) behind the camera.

With Mr. Carter’s eight Grammy nominations comes a strong possibility of winning Album of The Year, an award that has only been held in the hands of two other legendary hip-hop rooted acts; Lauryn Hill in 1999 (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) and Outkast in 2004 (Speakerboxx/The Love Below). With Kendrick Lamar and JAY both being contenders in the category, we’re partially removed from the days when The Recording Academy decided not to televise or include hip-hop and R&B categories. This time, they have no choice. Announced in June 2017, a rap nominations review committee was effectively implemented to reflect this weekend’s show.

2017 may have gifted the mogul with a successful tour, an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a freestyle from his eldest daughter, Blue Ivy, but 2018 can very well match that magic.

VIBE spoke to a long list of artists, creatives and friends of Mr. Carter to truly understand what makes JAY, well, JAY. What we've learned was the importance of perspective and how well the legend has impressed fellow MCs like Talib Kweli, singers like SZA and inspired social justice warriors like Van Jones. “Outside of his art, the most important thing I’m excited about is his activism,” explained the activist, news commentator and author. “He’s willing to see through any situations to talk about the, the bigger problem, the bigger issue. I think most civil rights guys have a megaphone, but no one has a bigger megaphone than JAY-Z."

From albums to lyrics to influence, see some of the best takes on JAY’s legacy below. And yes, a cut from Kingdom Come is mentioned.

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24hrs

Singer, rapper 

I got put on to Reasonable Doubt when I got older, but my first JAY-Z album was The Blueprint. When it comes to songs, I have three favorites--and people are going to think I’m crazy--but, the first two are, “Change Clothes,” [and] “Money Ain’t A Thang” with Jermaine Dupri. He told me that story of how he picked up JAY from the airport “in the Ferrari or Jaguar, switchin' four lanes/with the top down screamin' out money ain't a thang,” heading to the studio to record that song. The last JAY song, would be “Hard Knock Life.” I remember listening as a kid and thinking, ‘Who is this? Why is this so hard?’ What I appreciate about JAY-Z is that he made his projects for the world. He made people connect with Marcy [Projects]. He’s the reason why I bought my first NY fitted and it was faithful. It was the reason why I walked around with the du-rag not tied up. For our age range, JAY is still a living legend. When you see him talking with Elliott Wilson, or tweeting about Tee Grizzley or Playboi Carti, it just shows that he’s in the know. He's our hip-hop Dad.

Aminé

Platinum-selling rapper, songwriter, director

I love JAY. “The Prelude” is my favorite song. The latest album isn’t my favorite, but it impressed the sh*t out of me. To be at his age at this time in life... If I could do that when I’m his age, that would be so sick. I don’t know if I’m that good yet, but yeah, hopefully. He’s amazing to me, a true idol.

Andrew Barber

Founder of FakeShoreDrive.com

My favorite lyric would have to be, “A wise man told me don't argue with fools/‘cause people from a distance can't tell who is who.” To me, he’s a testament to longevity and to what he means in the game. He’s had a strong 20-plus [year] career. He’s still one of the most relevant rappers and he constantly finds a way to break the internet or make headlines. Every time he drops something or does something, it's an event. I don't think any of his peers can do that. You can probably count those people on one hand. He has a strong chance of winning a Grammy for it. He’s been able to sustain, maintain and be a dominant force for 20-plus years. A lot of artists can learn from that.

Ashanti

Grammy-winning singer, songwriter

What turned me onto JAY was “Feelin It.” He’s just a pioneer and a force. What he’s done for the culture--just as he’s grown into the music and mogul that he is--is just so admirable. Apart from him being an awesome lyricist, his great Brooklyn swag and his story is important. Just to hear where he’s come from and what he’s been through to be a boss and a mogul is something that’s really positive for our culture to see.

Big K.R.I.T.

Rapper, producer

Reasonable Doubt is my favorite album and “Regrets” is a standout. That song in itself and that plight of a dealer, in life in general having regrets, was rich. I actually went back to that album because The Blueprint was the favorite, but while going back and doing research, and for that to be his first one, it was amazing. Not only on the production end, but the content, too.

Boogie

Rapper, songwriter

Mine would have to be The Black Album. Dang, he’s got so many lines. My favorite line from him came off his “Grammy Family Freestyle,” when he said, ‘Same sword they knight you they gon' good night you with.’ That was the hardest line to me.

"JAY-Z is like the school counselor when it comes to hip-hop. He has a wealth of information for us that will help us to a college of choice, if you will." —Erykah Badu

Brian Josephs

Freelance editor, writer 

I'd go with The Blueprint because it's solidified him as the people's champion precisely when he (and JAY had beefs to win) needed it. You can argue for other albums, but JAY isn't JAY-Z without The Blueprint in the same way Prince isn't Prince without Purple Rain.

Cyhi The Prynce

Grammy-nominated rapper, songwriter

Reasonable Doubt because it has so many jewels and life lessons that I can live off of 'til today. That album is a souvenir, or better yet, an almanac. You can just bring it out and it can still get you around the world. I think just that alone taught me a lot, so much about manhood. It’s not even about the dope game or anything, it was about manhood.

Dee-1

Rapper, actor

4:44 is my favorite. I’ve been a fan in the past, but I’ve always felt like he could do more with his platform. On 4:44, it was like, ‘I get it.’ I’m not a hater, so I’ve always known how dope he is. You can feel the growth on “Family Feud.” It’s my favorite song, but outside of that, the “F**k living rich and dying broke” line is poignant. That’s the antithesis of what he’s been saying his whole career and it’s the antithesis of what most rappers talk about, especially when it comes to financial literacy.

DJ Khaled

Producer

All [of] JAY-Z's albums are my favorite albums. Why? Because he’s the greatest of all time! I’m just being honest. BLESS UP!

DJ Scratch

Producer, JAY-Z/ATCQ Tour DJ  

My favorite is The Blueprint. At that point, he mastered how to make radio singles, but gave you the Reasonable Doubt street sh*t. A perfect balanced album. On top of that, I watched that album being recorded. He had two rooms going at the same time. Record a song in one room, then go in the other room. When that was done, there was another song ready to record in the first room. He finished that album in record speed and only spent a total [of] $300,000 to do it. Very professional work from Hov.

D.R.A.M.

Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter

The first song that resonated with me was “Hard Knock Life.” I watched a lot of musicals as a kid, so I connected to the Annie sample. We didn’t have cable at my Grandma’s house, but there was this sh*t called The Box we’d watch and the video came on. I went to school the next day and asked my classmates did they know of a guy named JAY-Z, and they all looked at me like I was stupid. From then on, it’s been love ever since. He’s one of the greatest rappers to ever do it.

Dreezy

Rapper, singer, songwriter

I can’t say I’ve heard all of his albums, but I do love The Black Album. I know he has way better ones. I know that motherf**ker front to back. My Daddy bought me that and that was the only JAY-Z album he ever got me. My favorite line comes from the new album though; "Ain't no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I'm cute."

Ebro Darden

Beats 1 Host

Let me go with The Black Album. In retrospect, on The Black Album, JAY-Z is telling you exactly what he is about to do in going to the next level as a rapper in his career. On several points in The Black Album – because remember he was like, I’m retiring this is my last album, etc. etc., right. Did the whole thing, and here we are 14 years after that and he’s telling you, "Yeah, I’m retiring. But I’m about to get to these M’s. I’m about to get to this money. I’m about to level up on y’all. Watch this."

Of course, none of us knew at the time because it had never been done before in rap. JAY-Z is the most important, complete hip-hop artist and rapper of our time. I don’t know how to put it any other way. You can debate all you want about his level of importance to the game, navigating music creation, lyrical content, and skill set on the mic, touring, merch, business, business in music and outside of music. And now in a time where the news cycle features a piece of sh*t president and the sexual assault accusations in Hollywood, JAY-Z, a drug dealer from Brooklyn, the Marcy Projects, is the most positive man in the news. A man who sold drugs and lifted himself up out of the projects is in The New York Times talking about being a father, being married and business accouterments. Hip-hop’s doing that. JAY-Z’s doing that. The fact that anyone can fix their lips and say, "JAY-Z isn’t this or JAY-Z isn’t that." You don’t love hip-hop then. You don’t want to see hip-hop get this far where your brain doesn’t work in a way where you can compute things at this level. He’s changing the narrative and stereotype of what rap is. He has changed what we are, what our capabilities could be to the rest of the world and what’s available to us.

"Civil rights people like myself have a certain amount of credibility or standing in the world, but no one has a platform like JAY-Z. It’s the most unique on the planet." —Van Jones

El-P

Rapper, producer and 1/2 of Run The Jewels 

I’m gonna say The Blueprint. There’s many to choose from, but that album is just it for me.

Emory Jones 

Roc Nation executive

Mine would have to be Reasonable Doubt. [Simply for] the hunger of making the transition to change my life for the better. It's the first time I knew I could be better and do something better than selling drugs my whole life.

Erykah Badu

Singer, songwriter

I would say that the one that I really love is “Song Cry.” JAY-Z is like the school counselor when it comes to hip-hop. He's not an outspoken dictator or anything like that, but if you get into some kind of bind, you'll be sent to the counselor who will help you figure it out. He's not a preacher, he's not a dictator. He has a wealth of information for us that will help us to a college of choice, if you will. That will lead us in the right direction very subtly, you know? And he's always been there, and has always been that subtle counselor. I've been watching him benefit; there's more than listening to him and watching what he does.

Fabolous

Grammy-nominated rapper, songwriter

I like The Blueprint. The direction of the album caught my attention. The samples of Bobby “Blue” Bland, David Ruffin, The Jackson 5 and Al Green were very soulful. It was great that he was able to use those soulful samples while still doing his Hov sh*t. I appreciated the different concepts and feeling it brought to the game.

G-Eazy

Rapper, producer

My favorite album is The Black Album. He was ready to retire and when you retire, you want to retire on the biggest note. That album was pure, excellent and incredible. I was maybe 13 when that dropped and I must have played it 1,300 times. He had the best producers on it. My favorite songs were “Justify My Thug” and “Moment of Clarity.” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” was an international record, but some of his best verses were on the deep cuts. The producers gave him not only their best work, but beats that fit his pocket almost perfectly. He had an incredible, cohesive album from top to bottom.

G-Herbo

Rapper, songwriter

I have a few. 4:44 because it was the inspiration behind my record “Street.” I made that record the day 4:44 dropped. You have to be a Hov fan to appreciate when he talked about stabbing his mans or shooting at his brother. For him to be able to talk about his story, if you’re a real Hov fan, you know already. And the beats were what he wanted, too. When you’re a rapper, you’re often trying to fit into the beat. He might go with this flow and stop and pause for ten seconds and switch it up. I never heard anyone do that sh*t before, so I have to try that. He really took the beats and made them what he wanted it to be. Made the beat sound different, making it skip, just off the bars he said. I could hear it. But the top three are Reasonable Doubt, American Gangster and Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life. 4:44 is my favorite for now.

GTA

DJs, producers 

Julio Mejia: American Gangster. It has that Pharrell beat on there that I love (“I Know”).

Matthew Von Thoth: It’s The Blueprint for me. There’s just so many classics on there.

Jadakiss

Grammy-nominated rapper, songwriter

Hov got a lot of albums that I love. One of my favorites has to be Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life. I just like the time. The game was very golden right there. Everyone would come into everyone’s studio sessions and there was a lot of love, a lot of money being moved around, and it was just a beautiful time. It was also easier to get in touch with him back then.

Jeezy

Grammy-winning rapper, businessman 

My favorite album is American Gangster. [DJ] Toomp produced it so I could feel that. It was the first album where he got back in his bag, back on his sh*t, especially coming off Kingdom Come and all of these albums where he was able to experiment. But that’s when I knew he was back. Lenny S. was talking that sh*t to him, "You gotta go back in there and get 'em!"

4:44 TOUR | when you come back from a long day of work, you take your rope off to relax and say... Hov is Home! #brooklyn #444tour #rocnation #BK #barclays #jayz

A post shared by Tito G. 📷️️️️ Photographer (@gotit_lens) on Nov 27, 2017 at 3:09am PST

Jessie Reyez

Singer, songwriter

"I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)." The opener is so good! [starts singing] "I’m a hustler, baby, I just want you to know" - It’s a favorite.

Kendrick Lamar

Grammy-winning rapper, songwriter

I came in a point in time where who we looked up to was JAY-Z, The Dynasty era. That was me. I was 13 years old...We were like, "Sh*t, you gotta rap to be a rapper." That’s how we thought. You can’t be out here bullsh*tin’ around with it, so I did like I said. I went back and I studied JAY. People actually connected to him, not just as a rapper, but as a person.

"It's the first time I knew I could be better and do something better than selling drugs my whole life." —Emory Jones

Kareem "Biggs" Burke

Co-Founder of Roc-A-Fella Records

Reasonable Doubt. It was the genesis of it all. It was the platform we used to springboard into different businesses and was the proof of concept to show our spirit of independence. JAY lyrically was so ahead of what was out at that time. Sonically, the beats were so crazy. It was and is the Bible for every hustler. It was the project that we all gave equal input and trusted each other blindly on.

Khalid

Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter

I wanna say my favorite project would be Watch The Throne. JAY and Kanye just floated easily across it, but it was like they were playfully battling through. "Take Off" with Beyonce is probably my favorite song on there.

Killer Mike

Grammy-winning rapper, producer and 1/2 of Run The Jewels 

I enjoy The Blueprint and Reasonable Doubt but I’m also a real fan of The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse. I’m on Blueprint 2 (“Poppin Tags”), but that album dropped in the middle of the mixtape era, so the way it took samples and the flow of it had the spirit of a mixtape, but it wasn’t a mixtape. It was literally perfect with the exception of one record I didn’t like on there, but that didn’t have anything to with JAY. It was more of the production. But in all, it’s a perfect double album, much like Biggie’s double album (Life After Death). He doesn’t get credit for making one of the best double albums in hip-hop.

Lenny S.

SVP of Roc Nation

I’m in a battle between Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. Reasonable Doubt was the first indication to the world of what was in store. I have other reasons from being a fan and working with him, but for the most part, I was already a super fan. When he went to St. Thomas ["In My Lifetime" video], rented out the speedboats and bought the entire island out of Cristal – to me that was an indication of who these guys were. Just as a lifestyle guide, as getting money guys, as hustlers making it happen.

He also gave the hustler another voice. The hustler was usually ignorant and getting money, talking sh*t, and being loud. JAY had an eloquent way of moving that was smoother than the average hustler’s way of doing. Most guys don’t get to that reflective state until they’re either in jail or broke. Where’s the person who's out there giving you game while he’s transitioning into who he’s meant to be?

And The Blueprint, it was Kanye, it was Just Blaze, it was just the most soulful tracks that you could get, that you weren’t hearing too often unless you were listening to Wu-Tang or whomever else. JAY was giving you these soulful, f*ckin' sexy tracks, with amazing mature lyrics that were still street, that were still informative, that were still the illest shit ever. That’s my battle between both projects and why they are both equally my favorite JAY-Z albums.

When you think about it, JAY is the blueprint. He’s a guy who never settles. That’s what Roc-A-Fella was built on – him, Dame, and Biggs. They were like, ‘Who says we can't use this club because they don’t book rappers? Their money is the same color as ours.’ It’s something small, but then there’s, ‘What do you mean we can’t have our own streaming service? What are you talking about?’ Everything about him is about finding a solution. I take that same approach to business.

JAY is also a friend who is honestly very compassionate, who cares about what’s going on with you and your family. Sometimes we tend to forget, because they have so much to deal with and we don’t want to bother them, that those things don’t matter when you’re brothers. But JAY is always like, ‘I want to know. I want to help. You want to talk about it?’ He’s really personal and really compassionate and a very, very, caring guy.

MadeInTYO

Rapper, songwriter

I liked the first jawn, Reasonable Doubt. It has a classic hip-hop sound, but I really liked The Blueprint. It was playful with tracks like “Girls, Girls, Girls,” but then he came back around with The Black Album. We had “99 Problems” and “Encore.” Those were moments that really stood out in hip-hop history. Bruh, he has a whole album with R. Kelly.

Pharrell

Grammy-winning artist, producer

Really? I have to choose? Ugh...my faves are between Reasonable Doubt or The Black Album.

Royce Da 5'9

Rapper

Reasonable Doubt is my favorite JAY album. It showed me that you can be a highly proficient wordsmith and a fly n***a at the same time. He did it all on that album.

Redman

Grammy-nominated rapper, producer 

One of the toughest songs ever made is “Come and Get Me.” To me, it’s one of the hardest songs he’s ever done. Real n***as know that one. If you ever see someone in a car riding around to that song, be very aware and careful of that person. Especially if she’s a chick. You got problems. When I put that song on, I feel like sh*t can go down at any second.

Stalley

Rapper, songwriter

My favorite JAY-Z album might be American Gangster. It’s just everything I want in a hip-hop album. The beats, the soul samples, it was a conceptual album, which I’ve never heard him do. I feel like he stayed on topic, throughout the whole album, so it was like creating a whole story. He’s painting a picture. It just touched me and reminded me of the "Old JAY-Z," but it’s not comparable to anything else he’s done. You’ve got jewels you’ve never heard before. You also got that business side, too, so it was a mature JAY-Z before it was cool to be mature.

The most touching JAY song has to be “Regrets.” He painted a picture and put you in a position where you’re chasing the block and you see this dude trying to get his money and watching the block. Not only from the police, but the corner and fiends. It’s like, "I have all these evils behind me and I’m trying to survive."

Steve Aoki

Grammy-nominated DJ, producer

The Blueprint. You know, when you think about my favorite, the first thing that comes to mind is that cover and a line: “Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Hov.” It’s not necessarily my favorite lyric, but whenever I drop that one in the club, everyone sings along to it. It’s got that New York vibe. You feel like you’re in New York. You feel like that O.G. JAY-Z from back in the day.

Sylvan LaCue

Rapper

My favorite album from JAY-Z is Reasonable Doubt because it was a testament to his life up until that point and also a testament to the career that he was about to have. It was the slow opening of being a mogul in rap and the slow closing of being a hustler in the streets. The album showed real duality in the hustler story in rap which, in my opinion, had never been done in a way that JAY-Z did. Just highly introspective, clear, reflective, and classic. For me, he is the epitome of what to strive for when you’re in this industry as an artist, as a rapper, as an emcee, and as somebody that’s also owning his/her business. I believe that he is a model of what one can attain and hope to be.

SZA

Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter

Reasonable Doubt. I love that album, it’s probably the best in the world. It was the first album I had of his when I was little. It was very thorough. I felt like I was in it, living in that world of luxury and hustle. I’m 11, thinking, "I’m living the life right now."

Talib Kweli

Rapper, producer, activist

My favorite JAY-Z album is JAY-Z’s favorite album: Reasonable Doubt. He has a lot of great albums. Some I like better than others. But Reasonable Doubt is the quintessential JAY-Z album. It’s where he created the person, the myth. Legend has it that it was supposed to be his only album. I think that he really recorded that album with that mindset and it felt like it. Nas is considered the top tier lyricist, so people compare him and JAY-Z. Nas is making business moves that are super impressive. When he first came out rapping, he was saying, "all I want is bi**hes with beepers, nickel bag, I’m just a kid from the project window telling these stories," but JAY-Z came out like, "I’m sipping Mai Tais. This is about money, I’m a capitalist." It’s very rare that you see someone put their all into music and business and get equal results. That’s what makes him so special and Reasonable Doubt special. Anyone who doubts his hip-hop credibility, that to me is the album. He had Ski-Beatz, Premier and Clark Kent on there. It made you think, "He really loves hip-hop." I could see why he fought for that album. That album is JAY-Z. I think every album after that is him trying to figure some things out like, "The fourth quarter is coming, Roc-A-Fella needs money so I should put out an album." That was an album that was supposed to be a statement to the world.

T.I.

Grammy-winning rapper, songwriter, activist

That’s difficult. I love them all, but if I had to name one it would be In My Lifetime...Vol 1. That’s the one a lot of motherf**kers don’t like. I just feel like it was a transition. He stepped out of his comfort zone and went to do some sh*t that a lot of people said he shouldn’t have did. But he did it in such a way that it was dope. It still gave you those classic lines: “Cough up a lung where I’m from Marcy, son/ain't nothing nice.” That sh*t there is what I was going for when I made Trap Musik. I was trying to make an album for the hood that had sh*t that wasn’t supposed to be on there, but that’s why I can appreciate it.

Tinashe

Singer, songwriter

The Blueprint. You have to go back to the original. He’s always been consistent after years and years and years which I think is so remarkable. So many people burn out and then they lose all their bars, but he’s always had bars! He has a lot of great songs, but one of his best is definitely “Lucifer.”

Tyran 'Ty Ty' Smith

Co-Founder of Roc Nation 

American Gangster and [from that], “I Know.” It was one of the best ones to rock the entire album. I know it’s one of JAY’s best raps, to me, that he’s ever said. People think he’s talking about one thing, but he’s talking about a whole other thing. It went over their heads, because you don’t know what a lot of the stuff he’s talking about really means. He is heroin, he is the actual dope. You're addicted to heroin, you gotta have it. You know what I’m saying? I remember when he was talking about “9 & ½ weeks is better than 12 steps.” All of those are names of dopes that was selling in the street. All that sh*t is just the best, but what makes it good is that no one got it.

Van Jones

Host of The Van Jones Show

Outside of his art, the most important thing I’m excited about is his activism. For him to step out the way that he did for Meek Mill, a lot of folks wanna run the other way. Rather than running from the situation, JAY and Roc Nation ran to the situation. I’m represented by Roc Nation and it made me feel proud to be a part of their management team. It’s not about being right or wrong, but about what’s fair and the situation isn’t right. Nobody can be on probation for ten years, you or me. You show up to a job or you jaywalk and you're violated. He’s willing to see through any situation to talk about the bigger issue, the bigger problem, the bigger issue. I think most civil rights guys have a megaphone, but no one has a bigger megaphone than JAY-Z. Civil rights people like myself have a certain amount of credibility or standing in the world, but no one has a platform like JAY-Z. It’s the most unique on the planet. In the grace of God that could’ve been JAY, his genius stolen and hidden from the public. I think he needs a whole lot of credit for what he’s doing.

Young Guru 

Longtime JAY-Z Engineer, Producer, Jamla Records Executive

The Blueprint. It was a needed change for the sound of hip-hop.

Happy Birthday Big Homie!! #leicam #leicam10 #leica

A post shared by @ youngguru763 on Dec 4, 2017 at 7:46am PST

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